Decision 2006: How Will We Run Our Elections?

Tuesday’s election will be a fundamental moment for deciding the future of our country. It will also be a major marking point for the debate about How to run our elections, which began in earnest after the election of 2000, continued through the 2004 election, and rages today.

What will Tuesday bring, and where ought the debate go after that? Well, to state the very obvious, we are all hoping that the elections will go smoothly, that voters will participate in significant numbers, and that their votes will be clearly and fully counted. But there are many barriers and potholes—before, during and after Election Day itself—that suggest that may not be the case. Here are a number of things that could thwart the ability of eligible voters to register and cast a vote, and have that vote properly counted—and therefore erode confidence in the entire process.

Some barriers are structural impediments that have already worked their damage:

*Arbitrary pre-election deadlines for registration (28 and 29 days in many states) mean that many would-be voters, whose interest in the elections spiked as campaigns heated up, were cut out of the process because they had missed these unnecessary cut-off dates. If history proves a guide, the seven states that allow voters to register and vote on Election Day (ID, ME, MN, NH, WI, WY—and MT as of this year) will have a higher average voter turnout by significant margins—more than 13 percent over the average in non-EDR states, based on 2004 turnout results.

*5.3 million Americans are denied their right to vote because of a felony conviction. Several states continue to bar former prisoners from voting long after they have served their sentences. This widespread disfranchisement is compounded by the fact that millions of others may stay home on Election Day because of widespread public confusion about state felon voting restrictions. Some of the harshest felony disfranchisement laws were advanced 100 years ago to prevent African Americans from voting. They continue to have that effect today: One in four black men is permanently disfranchised in states that bar voting by ex-offenders.

*“Challenge rules