Weekly Voting Rights News Update
This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
Featured Story of the Week:
More than half of California voters are not fully confident that their votes are accurately counted, prompting the assessment of a “huge change in the country's attitude,” according to John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday. The recent Field Poll findings from the country's most populous state are a clarion call for voting rights advocates to press election officials to be more transparent about the election process and in addressing the system's flaws.
Lack of confidence in the vote count is split evenly between paper ballots and touch screen voting machines, however, those with most concern about election integrity are more skeptical about electronic systems. One out of every seven “likely voters” who vote every election and pay attention to politics do not believe their votes are being counted.
"'The truth is, the Florida 2000 presidential election rocked public confidence in the voting system,'" California Voter Foundation president, Kim Alexander said. "Some election officials believe that if people like me would stop talking about election security, voter confidence would go up, but that's not a solution." The group did a 2004 study of occasional and nonvoters that found an even greater percentage of voters believed their votes would not be counted properly as compared to the “likely voters” in the Field Poll, Wildermuth wrote.
Project Vote argues that the plunge in voter confidence is not just a result of how ballots are counted, but in the exposure of wrongful voter purges, experiences with long lines at the polls, and the plethora of so-called voter fraud stories that have plagued the news in recent years. All of these election administration issues have the potential to deter or disenfranchise voters.
For example, as we reported in a recent blog, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 - designed to alleviate the very problems that caused voter concern after the 2000 presidential election - has raised issues in how states must implement the law, particularly regarding list maintenance. HAVA requires each state to have a statewide voter database that must be routinely cleared for address changes, felony conviction or death. A lack of clear and specific criteria for performing list maintenance programs has resulted in inconsistent standards within states for federal elections. In the November 2006 election, Florida had approximately 150,000 fewer voters than were on voter lists the previous November as a result of a shaky list maintenance program, part of which Secretary of State Kurt Browning called “inane.”
Additionally, voter confidence is compromised when lack of planning and of effective statewide, uniform pollworker training creates confusion, long lines, shortage of machines, and worse, the improper denial of the right to vote. This was evident in battleground state of Ohio in 2004, where voters were waiting in lines for hours at a time, among other issues. Poll workers are the interface between voters and the election system. Therefore, training should be developed at the state level to ensure accuracy, uniformity and comprehensiveness. Read more on poll worker training in this Project Vote report here.
And finally, the partisan insistence that the repeatedly debunked myth of voter fraud is a major problem by way of media frenzy and voter ID laws has undoubtedly raised more voter suspicion about the integrity of elections. This Election Assistance Commission study found that states with voter ID laws have a 2.7% decrease in overall turnout in states that required documentary ID compared to states that required voters to give their names. Voter ID is promoted to supposedly protect against “voter fraud,” which has virtually no evidence of actually occurring in recent elections. “We need better data, better election administration, transparency and more responsible journalism to improve public understanding of the legitimate ways in which electoral outcomes can be distorted and manipulated,” wrote Barnard College assistant professor Lorraine Minnite in this Project Vote report on voter fraud.
For democratic elections to function in the interests of all citizens, voters need to be confident in the voting process. Having more than half of the most populous state in the nation's voters lacking confidence in how ballots are counted says a lot about the voters' faith in the integrity of our voting system as a whole. We need higher profile, transparent election administration that is governed by clear cut laws and standards and is monitored and enforced by voting rights groups and a non-partisan Department of Justice. By being open and honest, election officials have the opportunity to gain American confidence in the integrity of elections and thereby strengthen democracy.
We've provided links below on election administration, including several sources with recommendations by Project Vote.
“Key Recommendations to Improve Election Administration.” Project Vote. December 2005.