America's Election Snafus: 2001-2002

Introduction

As Election Day approaches, voters across the country face potential confusion, chaos and, most frighteningly, the denial of the fundamental right to vote.

After the 2000 election, literally millions of voters in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and other states were disenfranchised by a combination of systemic, technical and procedural problems, as well as inappropriate actions by election officials. As this report demonstrates, there has been insufficient action taken to address these voting problems comprehensively. In some situations — for example in Florida’s September 2002 primary election — many of the reforms led to problems of their own. In every case, these problems must be rectified before they again impede the rights of eligible, qualified voters to freely go to the polls and have their votes count.

This report identifies problems that may prevent voters from casting a vote or having it counted on November 5. The problems profiled here begin where the act of voting begins, at voter registration, and continue through every step of the process:

  • Problems with processing registration and implementing the National Voter Registration Act or “Motor Voter” law.
  • Clerical issues still plague election offices and have been responsible for confusing precinct information, misassigned polling places and lost opportunities to vote. These problems have been exacerbated by redistricting following the 2000 census.
  • Poorly trained poll workers and workers without a functioning communication link to election headquarters continue to pose a problem that deserves urgent action.
  • New technologies for voting and new regulations that govern elections and registration have sought to remedy voting difficulties but sometimes — especially without adequate training and voter education — these have led to even greater concerns.

    In response to these threats, two groups must take urgent action in the days that remain before the fifth of November. Citizens must become active in the election process, educating themselves about new poll procedures, voting machinery and their voting rights to ensure that those rights are never again jeopardized. Election officials at both the state and local level must act quickly and commit the resources needed to train poll workers, improve communications, educate voters, create backup systems as a contingency on Election Day and ensure that workers as well as voters are aware of new precincts, regulations and technology.

    With only days before the election and a host of challenges at hand, this task may be daunting. But the alternative is accepting the unacceptable. If states and counties are willing to commit the necessary resources and make some crucial sacrifices, then citizens can go to the polls with their voting rights intact. If these repairs to our election systems aren’t made, the damage to our democracy will be much harder to fix.

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