The public administration of elections is the fundamental basis for the
freedom and fairness of our elections. Without government control of
elections and public scrutiny of the process, establishing the
legitimacy of election results is not possible. Publicly administered
elections were until recently an unchallenged aspect of our democracy.
However, the move to computer systems to administer elections and the
swift, federally-funded adoption of these systems has led to a
privatization of many election functions.
Electronic voting machines are the most visible aspect of our voting
systems that has been privatized. Machine vendors insist on
maintaining the privacy of both the hardware and software that they are
selling or renting to states. This is extremely dangerous to the
security of our elections. Without having access to the "guts" of the
machines, there is no way to analyze machine errors or to determine how
secure the machines are. These private voting systems have caused
Florida's 18,000 Missing Votes: In the case we mentioned earlier
from Sarasota, Florida, both the loser of the race and a group of
voters brought separate lawsuits seeking access to the voting machines
and the software responsible for the 18,000 lost votes. Both were denied access
based on a claim by the Election Systems and Software Company that the
machines and their software are trade secrets. The court upheld the
privacy rights of the corporation over the right of the people to a
New Jersey Voters Battle Sequoia: During this year's
presidential primary, machines in 37 New Jersey counties recorded vote
totals that did not match with summary tapes of the votes cast. When
county clerks tried to have a Princeton University computer scientist
examine the machines, both the clerks and the professor were threatened
with a lawsuit by the machine manufacturer. In the face of a lawsuit
the clerks dropped their efforts to have the machines examined. A
group of government reform advocates then filed a lawsuit to have the
machines declared unreliable, and as a result of that lawsuit a judge
has ordered that the machines be examined by independent computer
Other parts of the election system have also been privatized in some
states, including statewide voter registration databases and the poll
books that contain the list of eligible voters. In two instances from
this past presidential primary, Georgia had numerous reports by voters
that electronic poll books, made by Premier Election Solutions, were
crashing and inoperable, leading to long lines and citizens leaving
polling sites without casting ballots; in the New Mexico Democratic
presidential caucus, a flawed voter registration database prepared for
the state by the Elections Systems & Software Company led to
thousands of voters' names not appearing on the voting rolls.
Principles of Public Elections: Voter Action
is the lead organization responding to the increasing privatization of
our election systems. In addition to paper ballots and post-election
audits, they have identified the following as essential aspects of
keeping public control over elections:
Open-source voting systems. Even with
voter-marked paper ballots, citizens must know that their right to vote
overrides any alleged trade secret of a private corporation. When votes
are counted in secret by private companies, the integrity of the
process suffers. All voting systems in the United States should be
required to adhere to open-source standards.
Public oversight. Public control of our
elections is dependent upon an active, engaged citizenry monitoring the
electoral process. Grassroots networks across the country have already
helped to expose key voting-rights barriers that threaten the integrity
of our elections. With even greater sunlight, we can help ensure that
our elections are open, transparent, free, and fair.
Given the broader scandals in privatization
of public services, it makes no sense to entrust our most fundamental
right to vote to private companies that hide behind "trade secrets" and
other corporate laws to escape accountability.
Voter Action is a national non-profit organization that seeks to ensure election integrity in the United States through legaladvocacy, research, and public education. We aim to protect an openand transparent election process, one in which our elections at thefederal, state, and local level are accessible and verifiable. Wesupport the basic civil and political rights of all voters to casttheir ballots in an independent manner and to have to their votesaccurately recorded and counted. We seek to reclaim our elections forthe public domain, controlled by the voters and not by privateinterests.
Currently one in forty-one Americans
have lost their voting
rights because of a criminal conviction. That is over 5
who are denied the right to vote. Of those, over 2 million
their sentence of imprisonment, parole, or probation. These
are even more staggering in an international perspective.
While the US
has only 5% of the world's population, it has almost 50% of those who
prevented from voting by a criminal conviction. This is the
of our broad disenfranchisement rules and our exploded criminal justice
system. The racial and ethnic inequity of felon
striking. One in eight black men are disenfranchised by these
rate seven times the national average. In some states it is
one in four.
Over 60% of
Americans support restoring the right to
vote after release from prison, and a similar number think that the
vote is an important factor in a person's successful reintegration
prison. This view is shared by several law
organizations. The American Correctional
Association, made up largely of professionals in
justice field, has passed a resolution
that restoring voting rights is critical to reintegration of
public life: “[D]isenfranchisement laws work against the
successful reentry of
offenders as responsible, productive citizens into the
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.