Election Reform


Whatever voting system is used, it is a basic fact of elections that votes are miscounted.  In every major election there are instances of vote totals that have to be amended after problems counting the votes have been found.  These problems include switching vote totals for two candidates, double counting votes from particular precincts, and misreading or mistranscribing vote tallies.  Because of this, it is necessary that vote counts be audited in a manner likely to detect any error in the results.

Additionally, it is important that all audits and recounts follow these principles:

  • Transparency
  • Independent oversight
  • Flexible sample size based upon the margin of victory
  • Recounts are expanded to more precincts when discrepancies are found

New Jersey enacted the first law (AB 2730 of 2007) in the country that adapts recount procedures to the outcome of the election — in closer races, where a smaller discrepancy could change the outcome, the recount will be broader.  The scope of the audit is also 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.

Minnesota recently 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 their expense.  This is an economical and convenient way to boost the integrity of elections by allowing those most likely to detect questionable vote totals 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 election.

Voter Action
Brennan Center for Justice — Voting Technology
National Ballot Integrity Project
Voter Action — Counting the Votes: A Summary of State Actions
Pew Center on the States — Back to Paper
Voters Unite — DREs: A Failed Experiment


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 voting jurisdictions.

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 African-American.

Mandating and implementing best practices for voter list maintenance is an essential element in protecting the right to vote; these include: 

  1. Establishing transparent, specific criteria for removing voters.
  2. Avoiding list matching as a means of removing voters.
  3. Giving notice and the right to challenge removal.

Project Vote - Policy Brief on Maintaining Current and Accurate Voter Lists
Project Vote - Voter List Maintenance Model Bill
Brennan Center for Justice - Voter Purges and Challenges 
Brennan Center for Justice - Policy Brief on Inaccurate Purges of the Voter Rolls 
Demos - Purged: Will Eligible Voters be Purged from the Election Rolls?



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 issues.

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. 

  • In 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.
  • Many 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.
  • Because 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.

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center -

Center for Policy Alternatives - Ballot Initiative Reform

Initiative and Referendum Institute

Ending the 'Voter Fraud' Debate

If you've been following the presidential campaign the last few weeks, you've probably caught a glimpse of John McCain going on one of his well-rehearsed rants about the community organizing group ACORN and how its voter registration campaigns may amount to "one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country."