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Primary Precinct Problems Presage General Election Chaos Unless Addressed Immediately

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Message Project Vote

Weekly Voting Rights News UpdateAn increase in turnout among historically underrepresented voters Tuesday brings hope for outstanding voter participation that represents all Americans in November. Project Vote's Super Tuesday exit poll analysis found young and minority voters made a strong presence at polls in key states across the country, including record-setting turnout among Latinos in California. While voter participation appears to be on the rise in this critical presidential election year, polling place problems persist as some voters – and their precincts' poll workers – were unaware of state and federal voting procedures, creating the risk of intimidation and disenfranchisement. In order to maintain fair and open access to voting for all Americans, it important to prepare voters and facilitate effective poll worker training before November.

Confusion over ID requirements and voting machines in St. Louis County, Missouri precincts brought complaints from voters when poll workers wrongfully asked for photo ID and mishandled optical scanning machines malfunctions, reported Elizabethe Holland of the Post-Dispatch Tuesday. Poll workers appeared to still be confused about the state's voter ID law, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in October 2006. Repeating mistakes from the 2006 midterm election, poll workers in some precincts requested ID from voters, claiming "voter registration and notification cards weren't sufficient to prevent fraud." Election officials and state law says voter registration and notification cards are, in fact, acceptable forms of ID when voting.

"I'm not blaming anybody, I just don't want this to happen in November," said voter Nancy Caldwell, who complained about uneven enforcement of the non-existent voter ID law at her precinct as well as a shortage of working machines. "This November is going to be very important and people aren't going to want to play around. This ticks people off."

Much of the confusion may be resolved through the advent of statewide uniformity in poll worker training as well as self-education of voting rights and procedures by voters themselves. As reported in Project Vote's 2007 brief, "Elements of a Successful Poll Worker Training Program," Missouri was the only out of four examined states that  did not require local jurisdictions to adopt state training. The report offered some important points for states to consider when implementing statewide uniformity in poll worker training include: (1) collaboration with local elections officials for input on regional nuances; (2) consulting inclusively with representatives of different voting constituencies; and (3) taking into account poll workers' diversity and their need to refer to materials after formal training. The latter materials should be created to not only reflect different styles of learning but also acknowledge poll workers' varying skills and competencies.

The following Project Vote recommendations for poll worker trainings may also be helpful for voters to note when heading to the polls again in November:

Polling Place Locations: "Providing polling places with a comprehensive list of all registered voters in the jurisdiction, rather than just the voters assigned to any specific polling location, greatly facilitates directing a voter to her correct polling place."

Provisional Ballots: Utilized when a person's name does not show up on the poll book, it must be determined that the person is in the correct polling location before being provided with a provisional ballot. Some voters may be "flagged" in the poll book and required to show ID before voting. "This is often the case for first-time voters who registered by mail but have not yet had their identities verified. If people who are flagged in the poll book arrive to vote without the proper ID and so vote provisionally, poll workers must be trained to instruct voters as to what they must do to have their ballots counted."

Replacing Spoiled Ballots: If a state uses paper ballots, the voter has a right to get a second ballot if the voter made an error on the first. Poll workers must be trained to administer this process.
ID at the polls: If ID is required of any voters on Election Day, there must be clear direction for poll workers on which is needed and what forms are acceptable. "If the person does not have the proper ID with her, poll workers must be able to clearly explain the voter's options."

Brining Someone In the Booth to Help: "Pollworkers should know that voters have a right to bring anyone of their choosing into the voting booth with them, except for their employer and their union representative."

Using New Machines: Poll workers must not only be familiar with how to operate voting machines themselves, but also be able to clearly explain it to voters needing help.

Challenger Rights and Limitations: Challengers will likely have little training on the rules and limitations guiding polling place behavior. "While their intervention could ensure that someone is not inappropriately voting, intervention can also result in disruption and disenfranchisement. Poll workers are ultimately responsible for imposing the state guidelines when necessary, and so must be instructed on challenger management."
Quick Links

"'Super Tuesday' Exit Poll Findings for Five States Show Young, African-American and Latino Voters Surging.'" Project Vote. Feb. 6, 2007.

"Elements of a Successful Poll Worker Training Program." Project Vote. Feb. 2007.
In Other News

"The Maryland Attorney General’s Office appealed Monday a ruling issued Friday by an Anne Arundel County judge that 17-year-olds have the right to vote in nonpartisan elections as long as they are 18 by the date of the general election." Read more of this Gazette.Net story here.

"The audience, admittedly, was captive. But in a year of record turnouts for the presidential primaries, perhaps no place saw a bigger uptick in voter registration than Los Angeles County jails." Read more of this Los Angeles Times story here.

Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote’s Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).
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Project Vote is the leading technical assistance and direct service provider to the civic participation community. Since its founding in 1982, Project Vote has provided professional training, management, evaluation (more...)
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