Problems awaiting us at the ballot box on election day

A new study by Common Cause and Demos, released today, documents the discomfiting disparity between some American elections and the democratic ideals we espouse around the world.

The report, Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States, examines state laws and election practices that block or discourage thousands of Americans from exercising their right to vote. In a fiercely-contested round of mid-term elections, those missing voters could decide who controls Congress for the next two years.

Among the findings:

o In Kentucky, convicts who’ve finished their sentences must petition the governor for the restoration of their voting rights; the rule blocks some186,000 Kentuckians, including about one-fourth of the state’s African-American adults, from voting.

o In Arizona, voters must present proof of citizenship when registering to vote. From 2004 to 2008, more than 30,000 registrations were rejected by state authorities; court documents indicate that  90 percent of those were from people born in the U.S.

o Some states are skirting the requirements of the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which was designed to facilitate voting by troops and other Americans abroad on Election Day.

o In Missouri, voters who appear at the polls without proper identification are not even provided with a provisional ballot – one that will be counted once the voter’s eligibility is verified.

o Few states have taken action against deceptive Election Day practices, including the use of automated calling systems that spread misinformation about voting schedules and locations.

o Voter registration deadlines typically fall about a month before Election Day, so potential new voters who don’t tune into political news until the final days of a campaign are unable to sign up and participate.

In fairness, there are some encouraging signs. The Michigan secretary of state’s office runs registration tables at naturalization ceremonies, so new citizens are welcomed immediately into the political process; Illinois, Kentucky and several other states protect the privacy and security of voters by refusing to accept ballots cast by fax or online.

Still, nearly 10 years after Florida’s hanging chads and the other horror stories of the 2000 presidential election, you’d think we’d be doing better.

Read the full report at www.commoncause.org/swingstates2010. 

Eisman is Senior writer/researcher at Common Cause.