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Wilms Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Sep-17-08 01:12 AM
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1. More (from the Full Report)
In this report, we examine what, if any, progress has been made since 2006 in seven battleground states: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. We also have added three states to our survey, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia, whose new status as possible swing statesand potential for election administration difficultieshave made them newly relevant to our survey. We have broadened the list of issues we are examining, and looked in greater depth at poll worker training and recruitment, student voting rights, and voter education. Other criteria we examine include laws and policies regarding voter registration and statewide databases, voter identification, challenge laws, deceptive practices, provisional ballots, and allocation of voting machines.

The results, once again, are mixed.

Voter Registration: Many of the most pressing problems from 2006 have gone unaddressed, or have worsened. States are still failing to comply with certain provisions of the National Voting Registration Act designed to make registration forms more accessible to traditionally disenfranchised voters. Many of the states examined here still have either vague or unacceptable standards for verifying the eligibility of a would-be voter: statewide registration databases are still not working the way they should be. Furthermore, states continue to place overly burdensome restrictions on third party voter registration drives to the point where groups like the League of Women Voters may have to shut down their operations. This is especially troubling given these nonpartisan voter registration drives are the way in which very often our most traditionally marginalized communities are brought into the voting system.

Voter Identification: In spite of the ever-mounting evidence that has emerged since 2006 demonstrating that fraud committed at the polling place by the voter is extremely rare, fraud is still regularly used as a justification for passing harsh voter identification laws by state legislators and other elected officials. These laws exist in many of the states we surveyed, and are of a particularly disenfranchising nature in Georgia and Florida. Moreover, legislatures
throughout the country have considered passage of strict voter identification bills within the last two years, and some of those bills have come very close to being enacted. Stringent voter identification laws potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters and disproportionately impact minorities, young people, the elderly, poor people, and voters with disabilities, while serving no benefit to the integrity of the election system.

Caging and Challenges: In 2006, we reported that states laws on this issue often made it too easy for people to challenge a voter on too slim a basis. None of the seven states reviewed in both reports has changed their laws since then. This includes both challenges to a voters registration eligibility and right to vote at the polls on Election Day. Our new battleground states, Colorado and New Mexicotwo states that have been targeted for challengeshave acceptable, though not ideal, provisions regarding challenges. Virginias law has serious weaknesses.

Deceptive Practices: In every election, flyers, mailers and increasingly robo-calls have been used to purposely give voters (usually in minority communities) misinformation about the voting process. None of the states we surveyed in our last report (except, commendably, Missouri) had laws to combat the insidious practice of disseminating deceptive information to voters, and none of them has since passed any legislation in this regard. Among the new states, Virginia did recently pass a strong deceptive practices law. In New Mexico, it is a fourth degree felony to distribute or display false or misleading instructions pertaining to voting or the conduct of the election.

Provisional Ballots: The large increase in voter registration and the number of first-time voters in the upcoming election unfortunately makes it likely that we will see an attendant increase in the number of provisional ballots cast in 2008. A surge in registration can make it difficult for election administrators to ensure all new voters are accurately on the rolls, leading voters to arrive at the polls to find that they are not on the list and must cast a provisional ballot. Wide variations in the counting of provisional ballots persist in the states, making this yet another area in which whether a vote will be counted or not depends solely on where a person resides. Our biggest concerns, however, are that polling sites will have insufficient supplies of provisional ballots and that poll workers, overrun with voters, will use provisional ballots when it is not appropriate to do so because it seems like the easier way to deal with problems.

Voting Machine Allocation: In most states, the authority to decide how many voting machines are necessary at a polling place is left to localities, which means that the number of voting machines at a particular precinct may have more to do with the number the precinct can afford than the number of voters who will want to cast a ballot there. Most of the states we surveyed had weak or no allocation laws, and very few had explicit deadlines by which they must decide how many voting machines to allocate. In the past, poor allocation of machines has led to long lines and concerns that machines have been allocated unfairly. Allocation decisions need to be made on more than just guesswork.

Poll Worker Recruitment: With the record high turnout expected this fall, a smooth election will depend in part on having enough poll workers to help process the crowds of voters who show up at the polls. This is another area in the system that is extremely decentralized. In this case, however, decentralization has at times produced inventive and successful results. Unfortunately, the fragmentation means that other counties do not necessarily adopt these proven strategies. Also on the positive side, we are particularly encouraged by the expanding number of programs that allow high school students to serve as poll workers. College and high school students serving as poll workers have been met with almost universal acclaim. On the negative side, however, statewide standards on minimum numbers of poll workers required are inadequatenot surprising given how unclear it is how many poll workers are actually needed to effectively operate a poll site on Election Day.

Poll Worker Training: Our report finds that, despite laws in most states requiring poll worker training, there is often a lack of uniform, effective poll worker training procedures across the state. This is very worrying, since many distressing polling place problems on Election Day are the result of under-trained poll workers. Furthermore, those few states that do not actually require poll worker training by law are leaving their election systems vulnerable to enormous potential problems on Election Day. On the other hand, some state chief elections officers and local administrators are trying innovative methods of poll worker training, using the Internet and other new media to reach a new generation of poll workers.

Voter Education: Recognizing the importance of informed voters for smooth elections, we added a voter education section this year that examines how states communicate election information to voters. As with most other facets of the election system, voter education is decentralized with much of the responsibility falling to local offices. Similar to poll worker recruitment, this decentralization has resulted in some innovation and success on local levels but it has not promoted the spread of successful strategies to areas with less developed programs. States have widely picked up on the Internet as their primary conduit of voting information and their online efforts are commendable; however, states must also be conscientious in their educational efforts of those voters who lack the resources or skills to access information online.

Student Voting Rights: This year, youth participation was already unprecedented in the primaries and student voters are reporting in record numbers that they are planning to vote. While this is truly inspiring, it also leads to concerns about problems young voters may encounter when trying to register and vote. States vary widely in their attitudes towards students registering and voting in the state where they go to school, even though generally speaking students have the right to register and vote using their school address. Voter identification laws are also more likely to present challenges to student voters, depending on the state.

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