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Improving Voting Rules

writeinimage.05.GIFElection Administration Issues Follow Up Briefing Background Material to Press Call

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 /U.S. Newswire/ — A bipartisan group of former secretaries of state and elections experts held a conference call today to brief reporters on what voters can expect at the polls this November. Many new voting laws will have a profound impact on what voters experience when they go to the voting booth for this year’s midterm elections. Participants on today’s call included, Secretary Miles Rapoport, former Secretary of State, (D-Conn.); Rev. DeForest Soaries, former Secy. of State, (R-N.J.)and former chair, U.S. Election Assistance Commission; Ray Martinez, fellow, policy advisor for Pew Center on the States, former vice chair, U.S. Election Assistance Commission; and Tova Wang, democracy fellow at the Century Foundation, staff person on Carter-Ford Commission.

Our democracy works best when more eligible voters participate in elections. After a series of flawed elections, we need to make elections run more smoothly and ensure that eligible voters are encouraged to vote and can vote. With three weeks to go before the November elections, the following new voting rules and procedures could have a profound impact on what voters experience when they go to voting booths for this year’s midterm elections. As a nation, we must work harder to develop a voting system that encourages more eligible voters to participate and correct problems that discourage voters.

Voter ID Requirements:

Recently enacted voter identification requirements and subsequent lawsuits challenging their constitutionality have created the potential for significant confusion among the public and poll workers. Challenges to voter ID laws in Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Arizona and Michigan are moving through the courts. For example, voter ID laws in Georgia and Missouri were found to be unconstitutional. The Missouri state Supreme Court affirmed Weinshenk v. State of Missouri; the Georgia Board of Elections has indicated it will appeal a state court decision in Lake v. Perdue, invalidating that state’s voter ID law. A federal appellate court recently stayed enforcement of Arizona’s proposition 200, which requires proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, along with showing identification at the polling place in order to vote.

One only need look no farther than the conduct of elections officials to appreciate that there is significant potential for confusion about what type of requirement is required to vote. Even though the Georgia ID law has been invalidated, the Board of Elections recently mailed out 200,000 notices to voters erroneously informing them that a valid photo ID was required to cast a ballot on Election Day. Similarly, even though the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit stayed a lower court’s decision in Gonzales v. Arizona, at least one Arizona County posted on its website a message listing proof of citizenship as a requirement for registering to vote. And the state Supreme Court Missouri upheld the decision of a lower court’s decision invalidating that state’s voter ID requirement. With the decision coming so close to the election, there is concern that voters and poll workers will be confused about what form of identification will be required in November.

Poll Worker Training:

Confusion about voter ID requirements, along with other issues that voters will face at the polling place, highlights the importance of adequate training of poll workers. Other areas that require sufficient poll worker training include ensuring that there are an adequate number of fully operational voting machines assigned to each polling place, understanding the circumstances under which voters are entitled to vote by regular ballot as opposed to provisional ballots, voting booth assistance and procedures for resolving Election Day polling place issues. Various organizations, including groups in Missouri, are taking steps to ensure that poll workers receive accurate, uniform training in each of the areas identified above. These steps include attempting to work with the Secretary of State Office and County elections officials to provide input into the training manuals and other materials that will be distributed to poll workers, and requesting that a representative be present to monitor poll worker training sessions. Many training sessions conducted by County election officials are scheduled to have occurred by late October.

Voting Systems Equipment:

Well-publicized reports during the primaries of equipment failure have raised concerns about the likelihood of similar incidents in November. These failures were associated with programming errors and the omission of components from polling place packets, such as memory and ballot cards. Other problems included inadequate poll worker training concerning the operation of the machines, which resulted in long lines at the polling place. Some organizations are developing plans that might include seeking independent experts to observe testing conducted by officials, ensuring that there will be a sufficient number of optical scan ballots in the event of problems with electronic machines, ensuring adequate polling place staffing to handle equipment issues, ensuring that paper ballots will be counted as “regular,” instead of “provisional” ballots, and having lawyers or election teams capture the names and contact information of those affected on Election Day in the event of post-election litigation.

Provisional Ballots:

There are a number of issues associated with the use of provisional ballots, ranging from what the requirements are for casting a provisional ballot to how those ballots are counted. As a general matter use of provisional, as opposed to regular ballots should not be encouraged by poll workers and/or election judges because in many jurisdictions the circumstances under which provisional ballots are counted is unclear. To the extent voters are entitled to cast a provisional ballot if they lack appropriate identification, are claimed to have come to the wrong polling place to vote, or are on an list of “inactive voters,” election judges must have uniform, accurate information about when those ballots are counted, and that information should be made available to the public.

Although some states are working with nonpartisan organizations to ensure that their elections will be fair, uniform and administered in a way that promotes, instead of impedes, maximum voter participation, other states have made decisions that will effectively disenfranchise eligible voters. Procedures should be in place that promote, not impede voting by all eligible voters.

Voter Registration:

Voter registration deadlines have passed in most jurisdictions and election officials are examining the registration cards to verify them and check for completion and accuracy in a process known as “canvassing”. Many registrations are submitted by nonpartisan organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, with a long history of assisting voters who find it confusing or difficult to register on their own, including the elderly, disabled, poor, minorities and students. Not only do these organizations explain the registration process to members of these communities, they collect the cards, turn them in to the appropriate officials, and work with election officials to screen out duplicates or identify registration cards with incomplete or inaccurate information.

New laws enacted in a number of states impose onerous requirements on civic voter registration organizations that have caused the League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration activities in Florida and other organizations to severely curtail their voter registration activities. Although these laws were purportedly adopted to secure the voter registration process, they do little or nothing to actually reduce or prevent improper voter registrations. Many of the restrictions, like prohibiting photocopying completed applications, interfere with the quality control activities of voter registration organizations. The situation is compounded by the fact that many officials improperly refer to duplicate forms, or forms with incomplete or inaccurate information as “fraudulent.” But many duplicate registration applications are submitted by people who are uncertain about whether they are registered to vote, and canvassing activities performed by election officials, including matching the information to voter data in state databases, prevents people from voting twice. Even in instances where inaccurate or incomplete voter registration forms have been collected, these inadvertent errors are discovered by the organizations during their quality control processes. Although periodic allegations surface of registrations of fictitious persons or “Mickey Mouse,” those registrations wouldn’t result in the casting of an improper vote. On the other hand, thousands of eligible voters are being prevented from registering to vote by the excessively burdensome laws directed at voter registration organizations. Courts have recently invalidated such laws in Ohio, Georgia and Florida.

Election officials should be working with civic organizations to facilitate registration of eligible voters to ensure that the maximum number of eligible citizens participate in the election process by exercising their civic duty to vote. Cooperation among civic organizations and election officials will secure the voter registration process and ultimately increase voter participation.

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