As 2014 Election Approaches, Report Examines State Progress -- or Lack of It -- in Fixing Problems Behind 2012 Voting Woes

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As 2014 Election Approaches, Report Examines State Progress -- or Lack of It -- in Fixing Problems Behind 2012 Voting Woes

Common Cause Study Looks at 10 Swing States' Records in Implementing Recommendations of President's Commission on Election Administration

WASHINGTON - The problems behind the long lines, clerical errors and misallocated resources that bedeviled the 2012 election remain unaddressed in many states as the 2014 campaign enters its final days, according to a new report from Common Cause.

The report, “Did We Fix That? Evaluating Implementation of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration's Recommendations in Ten Swing States,” found that many of the 10 key states are largely lagging in implementing the recommendations of President Obama’s non-partisan commission on voting improvements. The commission was formed after reports of problems at the polls emerged as voters cast their ballots in 2012. “We have to fix that,” President Obama said in his 2012 victory speech.”

The states covered in the report are: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The report is the first to compare the Presidential Commission’s recommendations with election administration practices in key states. The Commission released its recommendations 10 months ago. A chart of how the states performed on key recommendations can be found here.

“In 2012, many Americans felt their right to vote, a core tenet of citizenship, was impaired by the voting process,” said Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause. “Despite the recommendations of the bipartisan Commission, many states are not acting to remove impediments to registration and voting or are imposing new requirements that make voting more difficult. Today’s report shows us that while some states are making improvements in safeguarding our right to vote, the nation has a long way to go. It’s up to us as citizens to make sure these problems are solved.”  

The report found that states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, and North Carolina have not acted to increase opportunities for voting before Election Day, a step that shortens voter wait times. Additionally, the report found that states must do more to adequately train poll workers to reduce errors and shorten lines.

“States have the power to fix one of the biggest problems with the 2012 election – people waiting six or even 10 hours to cast their votes,” said Common Cause Policy Counsel Stephen Spaulding, who co-authored the report. “If more states followed the Commission’s common-sense recommendations, we could drastically improve the voting experience. Some of these recommendations could be adopted as soon as tomorrow , without changing any formal policies or rules.  Together, these reforms will make voting more convenient and will encourage participation, especially by those historically marginalized. 

The Commission also recommended that states conduct post-election audits to check election results.  However, the report found that of the six states which have this requirement -- Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania -- none have fully auditable elections; some of those states’ voting machines lack voter-verifiable paper records and some accept electronic return of voted ballots from military and overseas voters.

“We may be in the age of the iPhone 6, but we should still always check our technology to be sure it’s working for us and not against us,” said Allegra Chapman, Common Cause’s Director of Voting and Elections and a coauthor of the report. “As states continue to modernize elections, they should prioritize requiring and creating the ability to fully audit their elections to ensure election outcomes are what voters intended – not the result of machine malfunction or programming error.”

The report found that several states not covered by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, including Kentucky, North Carolina, and Georgia, are disenfranchising voters by largely failing to adopt the Commission’s recommendation to provide sufficient bilingual support for their growing populations of limited English proficient citizens.  States should work with advocacy groups to identify bilingual individuals to assist at the polls on Election Day, and before that for both early voting and translation of documents, the study suggested.

There’s room for hope, however: Report authors discovered that a majority of states are moving forward by adopting electronic systems to seamlessly integrate voter data acquired through Departments of Motor Vehicles with statewide voter registration lists. The report urges states to replicate this success by ensuring seamless integration of data acquired through all voter registration agencies, including public assistance agencies and health care exchanges.

The report can be found online at http://www.commoncause.org/issues/voting-and-elections/registration-and-voting-systems/did-we-fix-that-2014/Did_We_Fix_That_2014_Full_Report.pdf.

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Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

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