Election Day 2014: Democracy Should Not Be This Hard
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 4, 2014 – Today’s 2014 midterm elections – like every election – are a hugely consequential moment for Americans to make their voices heard on the most important issues facing our country. And like every election, today’s should be a celebration of democracy. Instead, what we heard from too many polling places around the country was that voters had problems casting their ballots.
In fact, as of 8 pm tonight the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline – a nonpartisan resource for voters with questions or problems operated by the Election Protection Coalition and staffed by more than 2,000 legal and grassroots volunteers on the ground offering direct assistance to voters in states nationwide – received more than 18,000 calls, a nearly 40 percent increase from 13,000 calls received in 2010.
That’s a discouraging, but not surprising, increase because today marked the first national Election Day in 50 years where voters went to the polls without some of the important protections provided by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The VRA’s critical Section 5 provision was gutted by the Supreme Court in the regrettable 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision. What we’ve seen today highlights how critical it is for our elected officials to make a priority of passing reforms to address enduring problems, including overly restrictive and discriminatory voter ID laws, voting machines breaking down, poll worker confusion, problems with identification of or access to polling places, and registered voters not appearing on voting rolls.
“Election Protection remained vigilant in ensuring the fundamental right to vote for eligible voters across the county," said Lawyers' Committee President and Executive Director Barbara Arnwine. "Despite major hurdles in states such as Georgia, Texas, and Florida, voters remained determined to make their voices heard. We will continue to address systemic voting failures by election officials and demand necessary reforms, including litigation."
Taken together, these problems amount to more than what people call “voting irregularities.” Instead, these are systemic, large-scale problems that deny thousands of Americans their most basic right: the right to have their voices heard.
- When the polls opened in Georgia today, the names of as many as 40,000 people who registered to vote were still missing from the state’s voter list, and hundreds of other Georgia voters were never notified of their registration status and assigned polling place. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Secretary of State’s website that voters rely on to verify their registration status and find their polling place was down for most of the morning and unavailable both to voters and to counties who rely on the site to provide voters with information.
- In Texas, a last minute ruling by the Supreme Court let stand a strict new voter ID law that allowed voters to register with a gun permit but not a student ID issued from a state university. Voter confusion about how and whether their votes would be counted was reflected in the fact more than one in four of the reports from Texas to our Election Protection hotline were related to voter ID – including one from a blind Texas voter who had no photo ID and just heard about the new requirement.
- Confusion around voter ID extended across the country, even in states that don’t have voter ID laws on the books. In Pennsylvania, there was a report of a voter being turned away because she did not provide her ID, even though one is not required. In Missouri, a voter was told her Iowa driver’s license was not acceptable ID, even though that was incorrect under current law. Voters in Missouri also witnessed a polling official asking improper questions about other people’s ID at the polling place.
- In Florida, more than 1,900 calls to our Election Protection hotline made clear that longstanding, systemic problems in the state persist, including reports that Precinct 123 in Miami had long lines because there weren’t enough pens and ballots on hand.
The Election Protection coalition believes that as the world’s leading democracy, America’s voting system should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans, and regardless of which political party holds more seats in Congress when all of the votes are counted, state and federal legislators should come together in a bipartisan fashion to solve the real problems with our election infrastructure, including cumbersome and antiquated voter registration systems, aging voting machines, and voting practices that discourage, rather than encourage, voter participation.
States need to invest more in their elections and to learn from the past in order to better prepare for the future. Our hope is that by 2016, the Election Protection program will no longer be necessary because every eligible voter will be able to exercise their right to make their voices heard through the ballot. Unfortunately, if this midterm election is any indication, Election Protection will need to be stronger than ever.
Election Protection is the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Through its suite of hotlines, including the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline (1-866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee, 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (1-888-839-8682) administered by NALEO Educational Fund, 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-273-8683) administered by APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC and dedicated team of legal experts and trained volunteers, Election Protection helps all American voters, including traditionally disenfranchised groups, gain access to the polls and overcome obstacles to voting. The coalition has more than 150 partners - including the NAACP, Common Cause, National Bar Association, State Voices, Native American Rights Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, National Disability Rights Network, Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund (NALEO), New Organizing Institute, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Rock the Vote, the Hip Hop Caucus, Verified Voting Foundation, Advancement Project, APIAVote and the Brennan Center for Justice - at the national, state and local level and is providing voter protection services nationwide. For more information visit www.866ourvote.org.