What Do You Think?
Election Reform Law Disenfranchises Voters
A New Report from The Century Foundation Finds the Election Reform Law That Was Supposed to Improve the Voting Process is Being Used to Disenfranchise Some Voters
NYC, N.Y., 10/20/04-In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to respond to the presidential election debacle of 2000 and improve the voting process. The new law-while considered by many to be less than ideal-had broad bipartisan support and promised to be a first step toward improving elections and expanding accessibility to voters who had been historically disenfranchised.
Yet, in a new report, "Playing Games with Democracy," Tova Andrea Wang, senior program officer and democracy fellow at The Century Foundation, reveals that in many jurisdictions around the country, the law is being implemented in ways that will disenfranchise voters rather than ensure that every eligible citizen can vote and that every vote is counted.
"The fears many harbored about the effects of the voter identification provision are being realized," Wang says. "Moreover, even parts of HAVA that few objected to or that were not much noticed are now being applied in ways that pervert the law's original overarching purpose. At every point in the process, from voter registration to vote counting, some administrators and politicians are now exploiting HAVA to prevent Americans from exercising their right to vote."
In the report, Wang takes us through the voting process and presents the obstacles that confront the voter at every turn. She also details all of the lawsuits occurring around the country, from Ohio to Florida to Colorado that challenge these barriers.
The new obstacles and lawsuits discussed in the report include the use of technical requirements in the voter registration forms to disqualify applications; the deliberate destruction of voter registration applications; inaccurate felon purge lists; attempts to disenfranchise students; abuses of new voter identification requirements; restrictive rules regarding the casting and counting of provisional ballots; hurdles confronted by overseas voters; problems with voting machines-both new computerized ones and the old punch card machines; and instances of possible voter intimidation already occurring before most polls have even opened.
In discussing these largely new and unforeseen impediments to voting that have arisen, Wang says, "No one believed that the Help America Vote Act would solve all of our problems, and indeed it should be remembered that many of its provisions do not even kick in until 2006. Clearly, however, the law was not supposed to make matters worse. It is sad to note that it is the actions of some administrators and elected officials that threaten to make this one of the most troubled elections in U.S. history-again."
The report is available online at www.tcf.org. It is part of The Century Foundation's ongoing work on election reform and the Help America Vote Act. Tova Wang is available for interviews and backgrounders on this report and other issues related to election reform and the 2004 elections. Please contact Christy Hicks at email@example.com or (212) 452-7723 for more information.