July 23rd, 2009
09:33 AM ET
13 years ago

Advocates to push for electoral reforms prior to 2010 midterms

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/22/art.poll0722.gi.jpg caption="A group of voting rights advocates is pushing for three fundamental electoral reforms prior to the 2010 midterms."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Armed with anecdotal evidence from thousands of calls placed to voter hotlines last year, a group of voting rights advocates will lobby Congress Thursday for changes to the federal laws relating to the nation's election administration systems.

"So much of the process right now is set up with barriers for the voter that is more focused on going through so many hoops to actually exercise the franchise," John Bonifaz, the Legal Director of Voter Action told CNN.

A national coalition of voting rights groups including Voter Action, the NAACP National Voter Fund and the Advancement Project, will present a report Thursday to Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the House Administration Committee, that makes the case for a number of electoral reforms. The hearing is titled: "Engaging the Electorate-Strategies for Expanding Access to Democracy."

The report is based on a review of roughly 17,000 calls placed by voters in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia to two voter hotlines – one marketed by the NAACP National Voter Fund primarily to African-American audiences and another marketed primarily by CNN and its affiliated networks.

"The focus should be – as we try to highlight in this report – how do we enable the voter to exercise the franchise in an unencumbered way?" Bonifaz said.

Advocates will push Congress to make three fundamental changes to how elections are conducted.

First, the report suggests that the Help America Vote Act of 2002 should be amended to do away with the provisional ballots states are currently required to provide to voters whose names are not on registration rolls but who contend that they are validly registered to vote. Once a provisional ballot is cast, the voter and local election officials can resolve any questions about eligibility and then the ballot is counted.

In practice, say advocates, provisional ballots have been treated differently from regular ballots. They believe that voters in that situation should be allowed to vote on regular ballots if they also complete an affidavit about their eligibility to vote. The use of the affidavit – already in use in Michigan and Vermont – is meant to ensure that all voters get the same ballot and to provide greater assurance that all ballots will be counted.

Second, advocates want Congress to require states to have backup paper ballots on hand in polling places using electronic voting systems.

Bonifaz called the belief that electronic systems were better an "outdated" view that gained currency in the wake of the close election between former Vice President Al Gore and former President George W. Bush. Now, some states are moving back to paper-based ballot systems after using electronic systems.

Finally, advocates want Congress to establish a national standard for acceptable identification at polling places that prohibits states from imposing their own additional requirements.

"At a minimum," an advance copy of the report says, "Congress should clarify that . . . a current and valid photo identification and/or current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government that shows the name and address of the voter."

On the eve of the congressional hearing examining the nation's voting systems, Bonifaz warned against complacency in the effort to continue to improve the country's election system.

"In particular, we're dealing with an election where because there was such a decisive outcome at the presidential level [in 2008] ," said Bonifaz, "people somehow thought that we've now moved away from these problems. Part of what we're trying to do with here with this report is demonstrate that is entirely not the case."

As evidence of potential "hot spots" where voting rights problems could arise in the next federal election, Bonifaz pointed to the six states where the calls were drawn from in drafting the report.

He also pointed to the razor-thin 2008 Minnesota Senate race that was only recently resolved eight months after Election Day following a recount and a decision by that state's highest court as an example as a close race where a recount was possible because Minnesota uses voter-marked paper ballots as advocated in the report to be released Thursday.

Updated: 9:33 a.m.

Filed under: Voter Problems
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Alex

    The Help America Vote Act, like every other program of the Bush administration, was designed to do exactly the opposite of what its name states. I wish Voter Action's lobby campaign all possible success, though they have a very steep uphill battle ahead of them. We need national standards for the ballot, as state election offices are often filled by partisan political election, and many states have unreliable outdated technology for casting and processing votes, while others have unreliable recent technology that is easily manipulated and provides no paper trail. The more the voting process is outsourced to private enterprise, the more change there is for corruption, and there's no reason to suspect that anti-democratic corporatists like Karl Rove are already working on disenfranchisement plans for 2012 or 2016.

    July 23, 2009 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  2. dan

    Wow they want you to vote with an electricbill as proof of ID. So I quess as long as an illegal receives mail they can vote. How convenient for the democrats. They want this done before the next elections because they see the writing on the wall.

    July 23, 2009 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  3. yes fix it

    our voting is a joke

    July 23, 2009 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  4. OttoDog

    No provisional ballots, so no way to throw out fraudulently cast votes, even when (as often happens) the affadavit turns out to be invalid.
    Paper ballots, just in case the "progressive" candidate is behind in the electronic system. ( Don't scoff; election judges in Dallas County, Texas were caught "making up for missing electronic votes" by filling out supplementary paper ballots last election).
    And the permanent castration of state Voter ID laws, by turning a cable bill with no photo into government-accepted I.D.

    Yep, these folks really are just trying to make things "fair". Uh-huh. Sure. Really.

    July 23, 2009 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  5. chuck in tampa bay

    Voting rights will be increasingly infringed upon by the far right because they have little to gain and much to lose by allowing more peoples vote to count. I hear far too often the far right wanting to limit voting even further as this would benefit that party.
    I notice how Iraq voted,allowing every citizen a vote! That is called a success but how would that work here?

    July 23, 2009 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  6. Yahbut

    A card with the voter's picture should be what is required for people to vote.
    Some people are so hung up on "all votes should be counted" that they are forgetting that only all "legal" votes should be counted.

    We should try to have our elections be as honest as possible. This is not the direction in which we are headed.

    July 23, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  7. sandyinohio

    Use a photo ID? When we have states allowing illegals to get driver's licenses? Sure, that'll be handy to have illegals vote, won't it? How utterly useless & transparent grabs some of these ideas are?

    July 23, 2009 01:29 am at 1:29 am |