PFAW Foundation calls for states, counties to maintain registration and ballot data; nonpartisan evaluation of election problems can provide roadmap to reform
People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas today called for a national commitment to a serious and honest evaluation of voting problems that disenfranchised an unknown number of Americans on November 2, saying that such an evaluation is the first step toward taking concrete steps to fix the many problems identified on and around Election Day.
Neas noted that more than 100,000 Americans called the Election Protection hotline on Election Day to report problems from across the country, and that 25,000 volunteer poll monitors and attorneys helped many Americans cast a vote who otherwise would have been disenfranchised. The effort by the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition was the most massive voting rights mobilization since Freedom Summer in 1964, Neas said. The direct experience of Election Protection volunteers and its database of election incident reports have already identified problems requiring additional investigation and have suggested areas in which substantial reforms are necessary to protect voters’ rights.
“The right to vote is essential to democracy. There must be a national commitment to making sure that every eligible American is able to cast a vote and have it counted,” said Neas. “This fundamental principle should be embraced by Americans regardless of political party. And it is a principle to which public officials of every political party must be held accountable.”
People For the American Way Foundation, a founding member of the Election Protection coalition, is supporting calls for a recount of votes in Ohio in order to clarify problems that affected voters there, and is pursuing multiple avenues to identify, document, and find remedies to disenfranchisement, from inconsistent standards for provisional ballots to inequitable distribution of voting equipment and the de facto disenfranchisement caused by hours-long lines at polling places.
People For the American Way Foundation participated in a November 13 public hearing in Ohio, which examined a variety of difficulties and barriers to voting in that state, including inadequate numbers of machines and poll workers, malfunctioning equipment, inaccessible polling places for the elderly and individuals with disabilities; voter intimidation; a directive by the Secretary of State to deny provisional ballots to individuals who requested but did not receive absentee ballots, and more.
Neas said People For the American Way Foundation and its Election Protection partners will continue to analyze incident reports received on Election Day; conduct public hearings such as the one held on Saturday in Ohio (additional hearings are tentatively planned for Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and New Mexico, and may be expanded to include other states); initiate and support investigations into systemic problems, including a request by members of Congress for a GAO investigation; support requests for backup data from voting machines in various counties; challenge media portrayals that discount or dismiss the existence of major problems with election systems; and identify and pursue legal and legislative strategies, both in the states and on the federal level, to achieve needed reforms.
People For the American Way Foundation is already involved in litigation in Florida around voter registration issues (including the rejection of registrations without a citizenship box checked even though the same forms includes a signed affirmation of citizenship) and the misapplication of the “50-foot rule” in Palm Beach County. Additional litigation is being considered in Ohio, Florida, and elsewhere on such issues as absentee ballot problems, registration issues, the casting and counting of provisional ballots, and long lines in minority communities.
“Whenever a single American is denied the right to vote, our democratic principles are betrayed,” said Neas. “We should be offended by systems that create or permit voter disenfranchisement, whether or not those lost votes would have changed the outcome of any particular election. We don’t know in advance which races will hinge on a couple of hundred votes. We must fix these problems now to prevent future crises of confidence in the fairness of American elections.”