a response to successful efforts by non-partisan and progressive
to register hundreds of thousands of new voters in recent years, many
are enacting restrictions on voter registration drives.These laws
have a discriminatory effect as African Americans and members of
households are twice as likely to be registered through a voter
drive than whites or members of English-speaking households.
In Florida, strict
deadlines have been established, mandating that completed registration
forms must be delivered to election officials within days of being
filled out. Failure to comply with the deadlines makes a
person liable for heavy fines. This recently led the League
of Women Voters of Florida to briefly suspend voter registration
activities. The law is currently not being enforced while a lawsuit
between the League and the state is resolved.
In Ohio, voting
rights groups won a lawsuit that struck
down voter registration provisions that required
“registration drive workers to register and to undergo
training, to list detailed information on each registration form they
help with and for every gatherer to turn in forms in person, not
through an organizer”¦"
wing has lost the trust and confidence of the vast majority of the
people. The nation is seeing a surge in new voters who are moving
the country in a new direction. To maintain their electoral
conservatives have redoubled longstanding efforts to suppress the votes
those they think are least likely to support their failed
must fight back and protect the fundamental right to vote for
American in order to secure the equitable and prosperous future we all
see. This fight requires two strategies — holding
the line against
attacks on the right to vote such as voter ID laws and proof of
requirements (and rolling them back where applicable), and putting
voter protection and anti-“caging” policies that
strongly sanction attempts to
prevent people from voting, such as voter deception.Progressives need to take pro-active action
to expand the vote, both through protecting community-based
and supporting the re-enfranchisement of ex-prisoners seeking to return
mainstream of civic life.
Voters in many states dream of the day when their vote for
president will count just as much as those of voters in the handful of
battleground states such as Florida and Ohio. Now, with the
the 2008 presidential primary and the proportional delegate allocation
that most state parties followed in the Democratic primaries, voters
a taste of what it would mean if every vote did matter — the
result being record-breaking
If every vote counted in the November presidential
elections, we could expect similar broad-based gains in voter
turnout. Voters are well aware of whether or not their
votes count, and this is evidenced in polls
that show wide, bi-partisan support of approximately 70% for a national
emphasize that not only does the traditional Electoral College lead to
elections narrowly focusing on a few states, but that the problem is in
getting worse. One
result is that
critical issues for non-swing states are given less focus in national
debate. An example
is the civil rights movement, where the historic shift away
African-American swing states has paralleled the narrowing discussion
rights in campaigns and the national dialogue.
campaign to make every vote count in presidential general elections is
on passing an interstate
compact where states agree to apportion their presidential
electors to the
winner of the national popular vote (NPV).
The compact will become effective when a majority of electors are
included under the agreement. The
movement to enact this compact is rapidly gaining steam in states
country — Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Illinois have
enacted the compact
and it has passed 18 state legislative chambers.
redistricting process in this country is almost completely determined
political considerations. The result is legislative districts
splinter communities and pack together members of each party,
predetermining the outcome of the general election. Powerful
technology now allows partisans to totally control the
political composition of districts. And in recent years we
have seen some
states engage in mid-census redistricting with the explicit purpose of
benefiting the party in power.
may help selected incumbents, but it lowers voter turnout across the
therefore cuts the overall number of progressives likely to be elected
leaders can help
restore responsiveness and accountability to government by supporting
independent redistricting commissions established with a strong mandate
compose districts that serve the people and not politicians. This is a
has even garnered the
support of the American Bar Association.
Fostering fair redistricting requires carefully constructing the
commission and establishing rules such as requiring supermajority
balancing membership between partisans and unaffiliated members.
Cause has produced a comprehensive set of guidelines
for establishing effective commissions. Another important
banning mid-census redistricting.
Several states have redistricting procedures that are independent of
legislators, and some have seen redistricting reforms advance in the
Iowa uniquely has legislative
staff draft districts under a list of statutory mandates that
seek to make the process apolitical. The state has enjoyed a
high percentage of competitive elections compared with the national
approved a move to independent redistricting in 2000. Their
system picks commission members from a pool nominated by a
pre-existing body that handles appellate court appointments.
The district map is mandated to begin as a grid, and to be
adjusted to meet certain requirements such as compliance with the
Voting Rights Act, equal populations, and compact and contiguous
Florida and Ohio have all seen recent drives to establish independent
redistricting as well.
Provisional ballots are mandated by the Help America
Vote Act as a way to provide fail-safe voting for people who cannot be found on
the voter rolls on election day. However, too many of these ballots are
never counted and have even been referred to as "placebo voting."
This problem appears to disproportionately impact minorities as research
indicates that the number of provisional ballots cast and the number discarded
has been higher in precincts with high concentrations of minority voters.
Most states have extremely vague rules for when a provisionally cast vote
should be counted. Well designed procedures for counting these ballots
can significantly reduce the number of people who have their votes discarded.
Whatever voting system is used, it is a basic fact of
elections that votes are miscounted. In every major election
instances of vote totals that have to be amended after problems
votes have been found. These problems include switching vote
two candidates, double counting votes from particular precincts, and
or mistranscribing vote tallies. Because of this, it is
vote counts be audited in a manner likely to detect any error in the
Additionally, it is important that all audits and recounts
size based upon the margin of victory
expanded to more precincts when discrepancies are found
Jersey enacted the first law
2730 of 2007) in the country that adapts recount procedures to the
the election — in closer races, where a smaller discrepancy
could change the
outcome, the recount will be broader. The scope of the audit
expanded when discrepancies are found. Additionally, the law
sets up an
independent commission to design and oversee the audits. The commission includes
statisticians and has
strong transparency guidelines.
passed an innovative
amendment (Chapter Law 336 of 2008) to its audit procedures
that allows a
candidate to obtain a discretionary recount of up to three precincts at
expense. This is an economical and convenient way to boost
of elections by allowing those most likely to detect questionable vote
the ability to direct limited recounts.
Paper ballots are absolutely necessary to restore
citizens’ faith that our elections are fair, to ensure that votes are
accurately cast and counted, and to establish a record upon which electoral
disputes can be resolved. Even the much-touted "voter verifiable
paper audit trail" has been shown to be almost completely useless because
voters rarely check the paper record to verify that their votes were accurately
recorded. And with new ballotmarking technology, states can easily allow
access to disabled Americans and enable them to cast their votes in the same
manner as all other voters.
Several states have recognized the importance of using paper ballots, even
states that initially made significant investments in electronic voting
machines. Florida is such a state, and recently, Iowa moved to have an all
paper ballot voting system in place for the November 2008 presidential
It is important not only that everyone be able to cast a
ballot, but that every vote is counted and meaningful. Voters too often
feel their vote won’t matter, whether because they don’t believe in the
integrity of the voting system or because they are stuck in non-competitive
Several fundamental reforms, from improved election integrity
measures to redistricting reforms can support the integrity of the electoral process and create
elections that enhance voters' ability to influence electoral outcomes and have
their voice truly heard in the political process.
How well voting rolls are maintained has enormous
consequences for voters. Poor list maintenance can result in the
disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, just as inaccurate voter rolls can
complicate election administration. When lists are "cleaned" of
ineligible voters without proper safeguards, large numbers of people can be improperly
removed. This was done in Florida in 2000, purportedly to remove persons
who had lost their voting rights due to a felony conviction. But the
manner in which it was done resulted in the removal
of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, most of whom were
Mandating and implementing best practices for voter list maintenance is an
essential element in protecting the right to vote; these include:
specific criteria for removing voters.
Avoiding list matching as a
means of removing voters.
Ballot initiatives have the ability to allow citizens to put
forward great legislation that moves their state forward, as has been the case
in Maine and Arizona where public campaign financing was enacted by ballot
initiative. However, corporate special
interests and right-wing operatives have successfully used ballot initiatives
as a way to push regressive policies in states where they don't even live. And they often use tactics which subvert the will of the people
instead of giving voice to it. Ballot
measures are also a favorite vehicle for conservatives trying to push wedge
In order for ballot initiative to be a tool of reform and
not an avenue for corporate control, it is important that states regulate the
process effectively. A few basic
reforms can go a long way in making sure ballot initiatives reflect the popular
will and don't just ride through on a wave of corporate cash.
some instances, signature gatherers are paid per signature, which opens
the door to fraud. Signature
gatherers should be paid by the hour if at all, and all gatherers should
be residents of the state.
petition signers are misinformed about what the measure would do - backers
of a measure to ban affirmative action have claimed that their measure
would "prevent discrimination on the basis of race." States should require that the text of
the ballot measure accurately describe the law being proposed.
of the confusion surrounding many ballot measures, states should develop
voter guides with each measures text and a plain language description of
the measures effect.