WASHINGTON — Yesterday, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and U.S. Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) both introduced federal legislation designed to address the delays and problems millions of Americans endured at the polls on Election Day. Today, Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater issued the following statement in response:
“On Election Day, voters in Florida, Virginia, and other states waited as long as nine hours to cast a ballot. Others voters were turned away or forced to vote provisional ballots because of registration mistakes, poll worker errors, or other unnecessary obstacles to voting. On Election Night, newly reelected President Obama said, ‘We have to fix that.’
The president is absolutely correct about the need to fix voting in this country, and the time is right for Congress to establish national standards for federal elections. According to a new poll by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, eighty-eight percent of Americans who voted in the 2012 election support establishing national standards for voting, including the hours polls are open, who is eligible to vote, and the design of ballots.
Project Vote is pleased to see Senator Coons and Representative Miller taking the first steps towards meeting the president’s challenge to reform the way elections are conducted in this nation. The antiquated polling places and policies of the 20th century are ill-equipped to deal with the growing populations and rising participation rates in some communities. Individual states have already proven that 21st century innovations exist to ensure smoother-running elections, boost political participation levels, and create a democratic process that is true to America’s highest ideals. It is time to ensure that all Americans can benefit from these common-sense reforms.
One solution to the problems we saw on Election Day would be national, uniform early voting standards. In each of the past two presidential elections, an estimated third of all voters cast their ballots early, and without this simple, sensible convenience the long-lines at the polls on November 6 would have been immeasurably longer. However, early voting has become a political football, with costly and divisive fights taking place across the country over expanding or reducing early voting hours. Congress should establish standards for a robust, uniform program of early voting for all jurisdictions for all federal elections.
Another cause of problems is the necessity for voters to update their addresses prior to the election: failure to do so leads to polling place delays, overuse of provisional ballots, and, in some cases, voter disenfranchisement. Fortunately, current technology provides a simple modern solution to this old-fashioned problem: the ability to register online, and to update existing registrations online, up to Election Day. We strongly recommend this policy be included in any legislative package intended to address problems of election administration.
Finally, since a voter’s registration status is often a factor that causes delay at the polls, any affirmative legislative package should also include same-day (or Election Day) registration. Particularly coupled with an early voting period—and so distributing new registrations over multiple days—this innovation removes the issues of address updates, confusion over married names, inactive voter lists, and other problems that crop up and delay the lines at the polls. Many states have already instituted same-day registration, and those that have enjoy unusually high voter participation.
For too long, Americans have found their right to vote in federal elections held hostage to the partisan whims of whichever party happened to hold power in their particular state. The result has been a costly state-by-state ground war over election laws, a morass of confusing and conflicting procedures across the country, and the kinds of chaos and inefficiency we saw on November 6. The time has come to standardize election rules with the sorts of proven reforms that will make voting fair, free, and accessible for all Americans.”