Help American Vote Act

  • November 13, 2012

    by LaShawn Y. Warren

    As we move past the 2012 elections and turn our eyes toward a host of pressing political, social, and economic issues, we must not lose sight of the continuing voting challenges unearthed by these elections. While significant progress has been made to expand access to the ballot box, we cannot ignore the persistent attempts to thwart participation through onerous photo ID requirements and other voting restrictions. Last week’s elections clearly demonstrated just how much more improvement is needed. Poorly trained poll workers, machine breakdowns, and inaccurate voter registration lists produced long lines that forced voters to wait hours simply to vote.

    In Florida, voters were still waiting in line at two in the morning, as President Obama ended his victory speech. This was in addition to arbitrary rules for in-person absentee balloting, voting machines paper jams, and election officials in one Florida county informing voters they could vote through Wednesday! Fortunately, this was not a close election and a dramatic replay of 2000 was avoided, but the potential for electoral chaos remains systemic in the administration of our elections. As a key battleground state, the spotlight is frequently on voting issues in Florida, but these types of problems occur over and over again across the nation. 

    In a country that leads the world in the development of trend setting technology, it is difficult to imagine why our elections remain so antiquated. “We’re the greatest democracy in the world,” Tom Brokaw said, covering yet another election night. “But when voting time comes, we do everything but get a candle and a nightgown and walk in somewhere and make a mark with a sharp stick of some kind.  It's crazy.” It is more than crazy; it is shameful. Voting is essential to our constitutional order and the health of our democracy. It is central to the essence of citizenship. We should pride ourselves in making it easy for citizens to participate in the political process.

  • October 1, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Daniel P. Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law specializing in election law, and an ACS Board member. Tokaji spoke on a panel about election administration during the ACS Voting Rights Symposium earlier this week. Watch video of the panel discussion here.
    It has been almost ten years since the disputed election that gave rise to Bush v. Gore, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), and a number of related election reforms in the states. In some respects, this has been a time of great progress. We have eliminated punch card voting machines and moved to statewide registration lists. We offer provisional ballots to voters who registered but don't find their names on the list when they show up to vote. And the process has been made more convenient, with over 30% of Americans voting before election day through absentee and in-person early voting in 2008.

    Notwithstanding these significant changes, a fundamental problem at the heart of the 2000 election debacle has yet to be solved. Ten years ago, many observers suspected bias on the part of election officials responsible for the recount, including Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris as well as local election officials. Similar concerns surrounded the 2004 presidential election, particularly actions taken by Ohio's Secretary of State Ken Blackwell - most infamously, the requirement that registration applications be on 80-pound paper weight. More recently, Republicans have raised concerns of partisan bias on the part of Democratic election officials, including Minnesota's Secretary of State in the contested U.S. Senate election in 2008.

    Whether or not these officials have acted based on partisan bias is impossible to know for sure. What can be said with confidence is that conflicts of interest are a pervasive problem in U.S. election administration. In over 30 states, the chief election official - usually the secretary of state - is elected as the candidate of one of the major parties. And in most of the remaining states, the chief election official is selected by a party-affiliated official, usually the state's governor. Both systems create an inherent conflict of interest between election officials' duty to discharge their duties to all citizens and their own personal and political interests. The situation is not much better at the local level. Party-affiliated election officials run elections in almost half of the local election jurisdictions in the U.S.

    This state of affairs is directly contrary to an emerging international consensus that election administrators should be insulated from partisan politics. According to the influential European Commission for Democracy Through Law: "Only transparency, impartiality and independence from politically motivated manipulation will ensure proper administration of the election process, from the pre-election period to the end of the processing of results." For the most part, the persons and institutions running American elections lack such impartiality and independence.