Election officials are scrambling to grapple with many of the problems mentioned in this report. Comprehensively addressing the problem of systemic disenfranchisement will require ongoing action from state and local election officials, policymakers, and voters and voting rights advocates.
If election officials comply with the law and complete their duties throughout the year, their role should be transparent on Election Day. To achieve this goal, preparation is critical.
Poll workers: Each election cycle brings changes, from advanced technology to new laws governing elections. This season’s primaries — especially in Florida — demonstrated how important poll worker training can be. When poll workers are lacking, or in states where poll worker targets aren’t met, election officials should have the power to mobilize and train state and county employees to fill dangerous gaps in the election personnel pool.
Communications: In several elections with voting problems from the last two years, polling places weren’t able to get technical support, answers and backup from election headquarters. Headquarters’ phone lines were often overwhelmed, leaving voters and poll workers without crucial help. Polling places should have reliable, quick access to voting headquarters and, preferably, computer access to county or state voter and poll information. This would allow for efficient resolution of many common polling place problems, from voters at the wrong precinct to questions about voting rights.
Voter Education: Many jurisdictions were forced to cut back on voter education in this election cycle, nullifying some of the progress made in voting technology and other areas. Localities have a better chance of avoiding rights violations and other election problems by investing in voter education. A state-mandated, state-funded, statewide mock election or a week-long campaign with new voting machines in every post office, supermarket and DMV office could help voters help themselves when things go awry on Election Day.
Backup Systems: In many states, law requires every precinct to have a backup system in place in case any event occurs which could impact voters. Preprinting enough paper ballots to cover the needs of anticipated voters is the only way to truly protect the franchise.
Address redistricting changes: Thanks to redistricting and other changes, precinct maps, polling place locations and ballots will all be different for many voters. Aggravating this problem, some state redistricting battles weren’t resolved until weeks before the primary elections were scheduled. (North Carolina was forced to reschedule its primaries because new districts had been ruled unconstitutional.) In the midst of so many changes and delays, election officials must be especially vigilant. From Arkansas to Washington State, problems with voter files and precinct maps have jeopardized the ability of citizens to cast votes in this year’s primary and general elections.
Almost two full years after the election fiasco of 2000, Congress passed a compromise election reform bill that will likely be signed into law. The bill authorizes $3.8 billion to help states implement new national standards. If Congress fully funds the law, it could go a long way toward resolving ongoing problems. However, a recent assessment of the legislation by the Century Foundation found that the new law did not address some proven election day problems, including poll worker training and voter registration. Moreover, several provisions in the bill — including a photo I.D. requirement for some first time voters — could actually serve to disenfranchise some people. There will be extensive legislative action at the state level required to implement the provisions of the new federal law. It is imperative that Congress be vigilant in monitoring the implementation of the law and be prepared to change provisions that create new obstacles to voting.
Voters are the most important players in elections. The final responsibility — to hold public officials accountable for running fair and smooth elections — falls to them. They have two primary tasks:
Resist apathy. Every vote counts. It is much easier to deny the rights of a group that shows no interest in those rights. Voters hold the power, in the very ballot box they often ignore, to change any system that doesn’t meet their expectations. After the 2000 election, many voters saw that this power had been threatened. The best way citizens can protect their vote is to habitually use it.
Know Your Rights. An informed voter is a powerful voter. Voters are often the victim of rights violations simply because they are unaware of their legal rights or uninformed about the logistics, location and time of an election. The more a voter knows about their rights and duties in an election, the harder it will be to take those rights away.