PFAW supported the overall intent of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which President Bush signed into law on October 29, 2002, to address the inequities in our current election process. HAVA allows registered voters to cast provisional ballots even if their names are mistakenly excluded from voter registration lists at their polling places. It also requires states to develop centralized statewide voter registration lists to ensure the accuracy of their voter registration records, to ensure that each polling place has at least one voting machine accessible to the disabled, and to provide voting machines that allow voters to verify and correct their votes before casting them. Finally, the law authorizes $3.8 billion in critically needed funds to fix antiquated voting systems and to meet the minimum standards set forth in the bill.
Despite these positive reforms, we are very concerned with a number of provisions in the law and subsequent loopholes that may erect new barriers to voting. For instance:
- We are concerned about the lack of privacy protections in HAVA, which requires that all individuals registering to vote furnish the last four digits of their social security number. This does not accommodate those who, out of privacy concerns, do not wish to provide any parts of their social security number.
- We are also concerned about the additional identification provisions for first-time voters, e.g. specific photo-identification requirements at the poll sites. History has proven that these types of provisions discriminate against minority, low income, and elderly voters.
- Finally, we are deeply concerned with a requirement that rejects voter registrations where the registrant has failed to check the citizenship box. This unnecessary requirement has the potential to further disenfranchise minority and majority voters alike.
In February of 2003, President Bush signed into law the FY 2003 omnibus appropriations package that appropriated approximately $1.5 billion for the administration of HAVA in the states – falling over $600 million short of the authorized FY 2003 funding levels for HAVA. HAVA was again underfunded in FY 2004 and has been every year since. Although President Bush’s FY 2009 budget proposes $16.7 million for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the President has not requested any additional funds for HAVA specifically.
The past two presidential elections have highlighted the fundamental problems evident within our electoral system that contribute to the continued disenfranchisement of voters. Major voting irregularities occurred for a variety of reasons including the inequitable distribution of voting machines, the unconscionable purging of voters from registration lists, and the failure to count ballots cast by properly registered voters. All of these problems require comprehensive legislative and non-legislative responses.
Although the original intent of HAVA was noble, the resulting implementation of certain provisions by the states has created enormous problems for voters. These problems manifested themselves in the recent 2004 election. For instance, many states placed restrictions upon the counting of provisional ballots which were not originally contemplated by civil rights advocates during the drafting of HAVA. Thus, despite the expanded opportunities for voters to cast their vote using provisional ballots, there was no guarantee in most states that the ballots would be counted. Other requirements such as photo ID for first time mail-in registrants and the inclusion of citizenship boxes on registration forms also created numerous problems before and on Election Day. In an effort to address many of these problems, various legislators have introduced reform proposals.
PFAW will support legislative and non-legislative efforts to achieve the goal of a more uniform and non-discriminatory electoral process that encourages full voter participation and accessibility to the voting booth. The following are a few electoral reform initiatives that PFAW supports:
- Voter-verified Audit Trails and Electronic Voting Systems
- Voter-verified audit trails will help with testing and certification of voting systems and will allow election officials to manually recount each vote cast on a system if necessary. They would also permit election officials to conduct random audits of voting systems to ensure that the electronic system accurately records the votes cast. Voter-verified audit trails do not necessitate the use of paper. However, paper can be a short term solution if used in conjunction with alternative technology that permits voters with disabilities and limited English proficiency to verify their votes independently and privately.
- Same-day voter registration
- The removal of barriers to voting for citizens with felony convictions
- Provisional ballots
- Support for uniform and non-discriminatory standards for issuing and counting provisional ballots
- Absentee ballots
- No excuse absentee voting
- More timely and efficient distribution of absentee ballots
- Clear, uniform procedures for voters who have requested, but not received absentee ballots prior to Election Day
- Clear, uniform procedures for voters who would like to vote in person after they have received an absentee ballot
- Equitable distribution of voting materials including but not limited to:
- Provisional ballots
- Regular ballots
- Materials required to process voters (i.e. precinct registers, correct pens, pencils for filling out ballots, etc.)
- Early voting
- Expanding early voting sites
- Early voting legislation in states where none exists
- Expansion of the early voting periods
- Required timely notice of all early voting sites
- Required collection and centralization of election related statistics segregated by state, county and locality including congressional districts and voting precincts