Reports Find Election Administration in Swing States Not Significantly Improved

Common Cause and The Century Foundation have released the new version of their joint biennial report on election administration in 10 swing states and the findings are not very encouraging: while voters' desire to participate is growing, states have only made fitful progress improving the voting process, and in many instances things have moved backward since the last federal election in 2006.  Examining the most recent election experiences of Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico, and Virginia the report details serious problems in every major aspect of the voting process, along with a handful of bright spots where individual states are moving important reforms.  And while the difficulties covered a wide range of issues, the report’s authors found that “many fundamental issues persist because of basic structural problems in our election administration system, some of which are caused by decentralization and a lack of accountability.”

FairVote points to similar problems in two reports on the uniformity of election administration in individual swing states. (Reports on Missouri and New Mexico are available now, others will follow.)  The organization’s surveys of county election officials find that even in instances where states have put election practices in statute, local implementation sometimes fails to conform.  The Century Foundation and Common Cause authors further conclude that while local control over elections allows for some experimentation and development of improved practices, the lack of coordination and oversight means that best practices are rarely disseminated to other localities and are therefore rarely practiced.

Among the most significant areas where inconsistencies undermine electoral administration and fairness are:

1. Voter ID implementation — Voter ID requirements are enforced in widely varying ways in the same state, resulting in discriminatory enforcement and de facto ID requirements more stringent than the law prescribes.

2. National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) Compliance — Many states have experienced problems complying with federal requirements that people be offered the opportunity to register to vote when they interact with certain government agencies.

3. Provisional Ballots — While provisional ballots are supposed to preserve a voter's ballot when voters' names aren’t found on the poll books, election officials often withhold these ballots incorrectly or force voters to cast them when they should be allowed to cast a regular ballot.

4. Voting Machine Allocation — The majority of states have no consistent policies, and in the two states FairVote surveyed, almost all municipalities have no written plan for allocating machines.

5. Poll Worker Training — The widespread lack of uniform poll worker training within states is a fundamental weakness in our voting systems that leads to a large number of problems on election day, including two listed above — voter ID implementation and provisional ballots. 

Voter Registration Problems Continue to Pose the Biggest Threat to Eligible Voters’ Ability to Cast a Ballot:  While a few gains have been made in the past two years, a host of problems continues to plague the voter registration process in many states.

  • Voter purges and rejected registrations continue to be carried out in states with poor voter list maintenance procedures.
  • Third party registration is under attack in several swing states where progressive organizations have registered substantial numbers of voters in recent years.
  • NVRA compliance continues to lag in many states, especially at public services agencies.  

The persistence of problems with voter registration practices suggests that they will remain a focus of election reformers.  The scope of these problems also indicates that comprehensive approaches to fixing our voter registration systems are required if we are to secure the franchise for every eligible voter.  Advocates and progressive lawmakers are increasingly aware of this need and efforts to secure universal voter registration are beginning to advance.