Run-Up to Election Exposes Widespread Barriers to Voting

Some public and Party officials focus on preventing rather than encouraging voting,

With just hours left before final voting in the 2004 election, it is clear that barriers to voting have arisen in recent months and days that could pose enormous risk for voter disenfranchisement, particularly among minority, immigrant and low-income Americans, according to a report released by three national voting rights organizations: People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. While some challenges have been resolved in voters’ favor, and other situations are changing hour by hour, it is clear that significant challenges remain.

Among the trends detailed in the report:

  • A strategy by Republican Party officials to launch last-minute challenges to voter registrations by the tens of thousands in several states, a variation on the so-called “ballot integrity” strategies of the past.
  • A new, aggressive strategy to place extraordinary numbers of partisan challengers inside polling places to challenge individual voters as they try to cast their votes.
  • Decisions by elections officials that tend to discourage voting, rather than encourage record numbers of new voters.
  • Anonymous flyers, fake letters and misleading phone calls giving voters false information about polling places and voting regulations, or falsely advising voters to vote by phone.
  • House-to-house voter scams wrongly informing voters that they can vote on a laptop, record their votes with a visitor or hand over their absentee ballots to fake election officials.
  • Numerous reports of voter registration workers assigning a new registrants to political parties without their knowledge or consent, or of voter registrations being destroyed on the basis of political preference.
  • Thousands of absentee ballots missing
  • Decisions that will likely leave thousands of provisional ballots uncounted
  • Potential for long lines at polls that could discourage or prevent some people from voting

    Specific instances that highlight the trends above:

  • In Wisconsin and Ohio, the Republican Party issued last-minute challenges to more than 30,000 voters in each state, leaving little time for voters to prove their eligibility in time to cast a vote.
  • In Florida, the Secretary of State told elections officials they must reject voter registrations if the voter forgot to check the “citizenship” box, even though the final signature on the form is a clear, written affirmation of citizenship.
  • In Ohio, the Secretary of State ruled that new voter applications must be printed on 80-pound paper – postcard quality – until public outcry forced him to reverse the decision.
  • In Minnesota, the Secretary of State came under fire for distributing posters warning of possible terrorism at the polls that could serve to discourage voters.
  • In Arizona, the local Fox Network affiliate accused a group of college students of illegal voter registration, despite a state law requiring only that voters establish a residency of 29 days for eligibility.
  • In Pennsylvania, an official-looking flyer announced that due to high turnout, Allegheny County had declared that Republicans were to vote on November 2, and Democrats on November 3.
  • In Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, registration programs run by consultant Nathan Sproul have been accused of destroying voter registrations for partisan purposes, or masquerading as opinion pollsters or nonpartisan vote registration organizations.

    The bottom line is that too many Party and public officials are trying to discourage and prevent voters from exercising their right to vote, rather than devoting their energies to resolving the kinds of problems that disenfranchised millions of Americans nationwide in 2000. The failure to resolve systemic problems, and the existence of aggressive organized voter suppression efforts are represent a failure of leadership and a betrayal of our nation’s democratic principles.

    As nonpartisan groups dedicated to free and fair elections, we hope this report will assist election officials, the news media and the public to identify and reject attempts at voter intimidation and suppression, and will help guide post-election efforts to make strengthening the fairness and integrity of U.S. elections a common, partisan, uniting goal.

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