Lawyers’ Committee Statement on U.S. Election Assistance Commission Post-Election Roundtable

January 10, 2013

On January 9th, Barbara Arnwine, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, participated in a roundtable discussion at the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).  The roundtable, entitled "Informing Change: A Review of Events and Issues of the 2012 Elections Cycle," brought together advocates, scholars, researchers, and members of the media to discuss operational and administrative challenges in the 2012 election and improvements moving forward.  The Lawyers' Committee contributed to this dialogue by highlighting the problems voters faced on Election Day and outlining ways to improve the system for everyone.

The 2012 election demonstrated yet again that Americans are willing to overcome barriers to make their voices heard on Election Day.  It's not difficult to understand why the voting community expected that voters would encounter significant problems given the wave of restrictive photo ID laws, early voting cuts, voter purges, pre-election day challenges, and limitations to voter registration opportunities in 2012.  During the 2012 cycle, voters encountered chronic problems, the same as in previous election cycles - which have been documented for the past ten years through Election Protection.  These problems were exacerbated in 2012 because of the nationwide effort by partisan lawmakers and election officials to manipulate the rules by which voters are able to cast their ballots for their benefit.  In addition to the problems mentioned above, other obstacles were long lines, poll workers' inability to navigate the maze of voting rules, and the frequent use of provisional ballots.  The quick pace by which legislators passed voting law changes combined with the lack of preparation for responsible implementation by election officials served to enlarge the confusion and problems experienced by voters and poll workers alike on Election Day.  Notably, too often communities of color, the disabled, seniors, and students bear the brunt of these problems.    

Election officials are woefully under-resourced and have to make do with less than they should, especially given the enormity of their task in administering elections.  Despite these challenges election officials can still greatly improve their performance.  For starters, every election jurisdiction should develop a written plan for the administration of elections that includes detailed plans for everything involved from processing voter registration forms to resource allocation and contingency plans on Election Day.

There are many ways election officials can be creative to improve the process.  Establishing partnerships with high schools, colleges, local businesses, or government agencies can increase and diversify the poll worker work force.  Administering post-election surveys and asking for feedback from clerks, staff, voters, advocates, and poll workers on recommendations for improvements can help build new efficiencies into the process.  These and other innovative steps can be implemented immediately and will undoubtedly improve the experience for the American voter.         

Finally, underlying the continuing problems of the recent elections is the need to modernize our nation's voter registration system.  Such a structural overhaul would substantially decrease many of the problems faced by voters.  Voter registration problems led to countless additional problems during the election including the overuse of provisional ballots, long lines, and disenfranchisement.  Modernizing the registration system will not only make the American electoral system far more efficient and effective, it will allow communities to reinvest these resources in other critical functions.


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