Lead Groups in Election Protection’s Massive Voting Rights Mobilization Release Post-Election Review Documenting Barriers to Ballot, Systemic Inequities and Irregularities
The myth that the 2004 elections ran smoothly has become conventional wisdom for pundits and politicians, but nothing could be further from the truth. A preliminary review released today by members of the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition demonstrates that persistent problems continue to deny millions of Americans their fundamental voting rights, and makes the case for election reform at the local, state and national level.
Election Protection fielded more than 25,000 volunteers, including more than 8,000 lawyers, who monitored the polls at more than 3,500 precincts nationwide and answered the nationwide Election Protection Hotline. The program targeted heavily African-American, Latino and low-income precincts, and fielded hundreds of thousands of voter questions and complaints. The program database already includes more than 39,000 records of voter problems. Election Protection also engaged in pre-election advocacy, battling decisions by local election officials that raised barriers to the ballot box.
“The idea that the election ran smoothly, the idea that the problems we saw in 2000 did not recur in 2004, is simply a crock. Too many people faced too many barriers to the ballot box, from impossibly long lines to outright voter intimidation and misinformation. It’s time to shatter the myth and work toward an election system that is more fair and more reliable for every American,” said Ralph G. Neas, President, People For the American Way Foundation.
The preliminary review, “Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections” surfaces a myriad of systemic problems. In addition to the long lines and unreasonable waiting times that kept many people – disproportionately urban minority voters – from being able to vote, the top five problems overall were registration processing, absentee ballots, machine errors, voter intimidation and suppression, and problems with the use and counting of the new provisional ballots mandated under new federal law.
Election Protection also fought pre-election decisions by local election officials that tended to disenfranchise voters, including Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell’s ludicrous demand that voter registration forms be printed on 80-pound card stock instead of common printer paper, or Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood’s attempts to implement a “felon purge” list that state officials knew was flawed. Those decisions were both eventually abandoned.
“The bright light of public scrutiny, intense pressure from the media and action in the courts helped us stop some of the most egregious actions, but nevertheless, too many voters were either disenfranchised or discouraged by the decisions of public officials,” said Neas. “It’s the job of government officials to advocate for voters and to clear the path to the ballot box, not erect barriers.”
Among the most disturbing reports were the more than a thousand reports of voter suppression or intimidation at the polls, including:
- Police stationed outside a Cook County, Illinois polling place requesting photo ID and telling voters if they had been convicted of a felony that they could not vote.
- In Arizona voters at multiple polls were confronted by an individual wearing a black tee shirt with “US Constitution Enforcer” and a military-style belt that gave the appearance he was armed. He asked voters if they were citizens, accompanied by a cameraman who filmed the encounters.
- Numerous incidents of intimidation by partisan challengers at predominately low-income and minority precincts
- Misinformation campaigns delivered through anonymous flyers or phone calls with a variety of intimidating or vote-suppressing messages, advising voters to go to the polls on November 3rd rather than November 2, or giving other false information on voting rights. A few of the most outrageous examples include:
- “If you already voted in any election this year, you can’t vote in the Presidential Election.”
- “If anybody in your family has ever been found guilty of anything you can’t vote in the Presidential Election.”
- “If you violate any of these laws, you can get 10 years in prison and your children will be taken away from you.”
While workers are still entering voter complaints into the Election Incident Reporting System, the 39,000 reports already entered include a wide range of problems surrounding voter registration, absentee ballots, voting machines, and provisional ballots.
“Since we targeted 3,500 vulnerable precincts, we saw only the tip of the iceberg. We found human error, equipment problems, bureaucratic snafus and outright attempts to deceive and misinform the voters everywhere. Extrapolate our findings to the rest of the country, and you see a picture of a flawed election system, badly in need of reform,” said Neas.
The groups will continue to analyze the data, and have also set a preliminary agenda for election reform. Early recommendations include:
- Support for uniform and non-discriminatory standards for counting provisional ballots
- Improved poll worker training
- Better enforcement of anti-voter-intimidation laws
- More efficient and accountable processing of voter registration applications
- Full funding for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)
- Increased support for voter education campaigns
- Immediate development of the technical guidelines for voting systems by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
- Support for required voter verified audit trails for all voting systems
- Public hearings by Congress, the EAC and possibly the Federal Election Commission
- Support for a report to be undertaken by the General Accounting Office on voting irregularities throughout the country