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Press release/statement

Statement From Demos: New Report Examines Game-Changing Election Laws in Swing States

Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada Among States With Onerous Laws and Rules That Could Affect Mid-Term Election Results; North Carolina Stands Out as Best for Voters

Washington, DC — With party control of the Senate and House of Representatives hanging in the balance, and a number of gubernatorial and other races too close to call, all eyes in November will be on a number of swing states where a handful of votes could alter the political landscape. Now, on the eve of the ten-year anniversary of  the 2000 Florida election debacle, a new report from national policy centers and election watchdogs Demos and Common Cause examines key state election laws and policies that have the potential to affect mid-term results.

The report, Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States, examines election policies most likely to affect voters and potentially election outcomes in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio. These 10 states were chosen for this report because they are expected to have particularly close elections in at least eight Senate contests and 17 House races, and have each experienced recent problems with—or reforms to—the election process. A summary chart evaluates each state’s practices, and a set of recommendations is offered for improvement of these voting procedures.

“The volatile tone of recent political discourse in America demonstrates just how high the stakes are going into the 2010 mid-term elections,” said Tova Wang, senior Democracy Fellow at Demos and author of the report. “Strongly held views on the role of government in our lives and the rightful place of minorities and immigrants in our society will be directly reflected in the voting process.”

“When the stakes are this high, the rules of the game—and whether or not they are enforced—make all the difference” said Susannah Goodman, director of election reform for Common Cause and co-author of the report. “This report shows where we need better rules—and better referees.”

The report reviews problematic areas that include: voter registration, identification issues—which can present burdens to those who don’t hold traditional identification such as a driver’s license, provisional ballots, voter suppression and deception tactics, caging and challenge laws, voting for overseas and military voters, and challenges for new citizens and ethnic minorities.

The Swing State review shows mixed results. Arizona tops the list of greatest concern for voting rights and democracy advocates. The climate of fear and ill-will created by the passage of the anti-immigrant bill has many worried that voters of color may be reluctant to cast a ballot, and that Arizona may experience a surge in vote suppression tactics. Making matters worse, Arizona has an onerous proof of citizenship requirement to vote, as well as a history of inconsistently implementing language assistance requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

Louisiana also has numerous problematic voting issues.  It has poor compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, laws that make it too easy for a voter’s right to vote to be challenged in an arbitrary manner, and the rights of displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina continue to need to be monitored.

Nevada falls in the middle of the pack of states reviewed. It has reasonable voter ID laws and exemplary provisional ballot-counting practices. However, officials follow a practice that requires a voter’s name in the registration database to be a letter-for-letter match with the name on the voter’s license or other state ID, a practice that can lead to a voter being purged from the rolls. Moreover, the state has a huge Latino population but does not do enough at the state level to reach out to this community and ensure its access to the polls.

Kentucky has an exemplary voting challenge law, but the most difficult process of all the states reviewed for restoring the voting rights of ex-felons, leading to 186,000 disenfranchised Kentuckians. It also has a poor record of implementing the public assistance agency provisions of the National Voter Registration Act.

Michigan and Illinois also fall in the middle. Illinois, for example, has a strong law to curtail voter intimidation and suppression tactics, but makes it difficult for third parties to help people register to vote and makes it too easy for a voter to be challenged at the polls. Michigan commendably conducts voter registration at citizenship naturalization ceremonies and has a fair policy on restoring the voting rights of persons who have a previous felony conviction, but it requires registration a full 30 days prior to the election, before many voters are paying attention to election news, and has a troublesome voter identification law. 

Colorado has some exemplary election laws particularly around registration verification but needs improvement in reaching out to the Latino population. In Missouri, we are troubled that according to the office of the Secretary of State voters who do not have proper ID may not cast a provisional ballot. Courts have recently forced both Missouri and Ohio to comply with a section of the National Voter Registration Act that requires public assistance agencies to offer registration, and fortunately data suggests that is happening, making those states emerging leaders in this area.

Finally, North Carolina clearly emerged as the state with the greatest number of laws and practices that are helpful to voters and to fair elections.

The report’s recommendations address a number of widely observed deficiencies in election administration:

  • Modernize and Improve Registration:  States must ensure full compliance with federal registration laws and work to modernize registration procedures.
  • Limit Identification Requirements:  States requiring identification should not add additional, inherently discriminatory requirements beyond those in federal law and poll workers should be adequately trained in this area.
  • Enact and Enforce Laws Prohibiting Voter Suppression and Intimidation:  Tools must be in place to deter and prosecute deceptive or disruptive practices that interfere with the lawful right to vote, especially online campaigns of misinformation.  
  • Develop Uniform Statewide Standards for Provisional Ballots:  Provisional ballots must be fully implemented as a meaningful safety net for voters when there are problems with registration or identification requirements, yet not be used as an automatic fallback whenever anything out of the ordinary occurs at the polling place.
  • Improve Outreach to Immigrants and Bilingual Support:  All state elections officials should provide translated materials on their websites and conduct voter registration in immigrant communities, including naturalization ceremonies
  • Implement Protections for Military and Overseas Voters:  States should fully implement the new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act this fall, which requires states to transmit ballots 45 days in advance of Election Day and provide registration forms and absentee ballots by electronic means.