Editor’s Note: In a new report on the state of voting rights in 11 swing states—including Pennsylvania—the Keystone State consistently got unsatisfactory ratings. Here’s what you need to know:
Voters may need more than good intentions to make it to the polls according to social science research that indicates voters who make voting plans are more likely to follow through. And in a new report, Protecting the Vote in 2016: A Look at 11 Swing States, the nonpartisan democracy reformers at Common Cause demonstrate why, firing off warnings like flares into the night sky for voters in 11 swing states where new laws may catch some voters unaware.
A few states have passed new laws or approved policies to make it easier for citizens to vote but other state legislatures passed laws more likely to have a significant and negative impact on voter turnout. Examining these laws – from registration and voter ID laws to polling place challenges and post-election audits – Protecting the Vote 2016, is a guidebook for voters seeking to navigate the new laws to exercise their right to vote.
“As Americans we should encourage every eligible person we know to vote. But with the release of Protecting the Vote 2016, Common Cause lays bare the lengths some state legislatures have gone to erect barriers making it harder for some Americans to vote,” said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. “Once voters learn laws they thought made elections safer, like voter ID requirements, actually prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible people from voting, they are more likely to see it as a manipulation of the system and reject it. It is critically important that voters exercise their constitutional right, so take a few minutes to learn more, because the best way to fight back against politicians gaming the system to silence your voice is to make a plan to vote.”
The report focuses on the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The report provides a comprehensive overview of voting practices – from how voters register to what they can expect at the polling place, to what states do to ensure ballots are accurately counted – in 11 swing states where races are tight and single votes can make a difference.
The report examines and summarizes each state’s laws impacting voters and rates them as “excellent,” “good,” “satisfactory,” “needs improvement” and “unsatisfactory.”
The report reviews:
- Voter ID: State requirements for voter identification at the precinct, noting whether the laws are fair or vote-suppressive.
- Voter Registration: Options each state provides for voter registration, understanding that more opportunities increase the chances that those who have been politically marginalized can participate;
- Voting Place Challenges: State laws governing challenges to voters at the polling place on Election Day, given that such efforts are often unsubstantiated, sometimes intimidating, and can lead to illegal behavior;
- Provisional Ballots: State procedures for counting provisional ballots, because some practices leave some voters voiceless;
- Paper Trails: Whether a state provides a paper record for each vote, verifiable by the voter, as glitches can occur with voting machines;
- Post-Election Audits: State policies and practices for robust post-election audits to detect and if necessary correct outcome-changing miscounts;
- Internet Ballot Transmission: State laws on the transmission of marked ballots over the internet, where because of the limits of current technology they can be intercepted and undetectably altered.
The report, authored by Allegra Chapman, Susannah Goodman and Dale Eisman of Common Cause with contributing author Pamela Smith of Verified Voting, is intended to educate and empower voters by providing tools and information they need to vote. It encourages every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot and emphasizes that studies show that those who make a plan, including how and where to vote, are more likely to follow through and succeed. Knowing what to expect at the polling place on Election Day helps voters flesh out such a plan and knowing your rights assists you in securing your ballot.
The report also aims to encourage election officials, state administrators, and legislators to improve existing election systems. America has no perfect voting system; all states could do more to provide access to voters and upgrade technology and safety measures. States that scored “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” in our ratings should heed the recommendations to improve their systems.