Groups seek to address voting troubles

For Immediate Release:

December 7, 2004

Contact:Sam Hananel

Associated Press

WASHINGTON --Despite President Bush's clear margin of victory in the 2004 presidential race, voting and civil rights advocates say the election did not go as smoothly as Americans might think.

Reports of long lines at some polling places, voting machine errors, absentee ballots that never arrived and problems with provisional ballots dominated a daylong conference Tuesday, and experts said more changes are needed to eliminate obstacles to voting.

"We learned on Election Day that our voting methods remain troubled and that many Americans continue to experience difficulty navigating a system that falls far short of our view of ourselves as the world's greatest democracy," said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree, who moderated the conference.

Registration problems were the most frequent complaint in 2004, according to a database kept by a coalition of voting rights groups. Some voters registered by the deadline but did not show up on voter lists, while others received cards with incorrect information.

Thousands of voters also cited instances of voter suppression or intimidation. At one poll in Arizona, a partisan challenger filmed people standing in line as he asked if they were citizens. Others said they received flyers encouraging people to vote on a day other than Nov. 2 or providing false information regarding their right to vote.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said his group has documented dozens of instances of voter suppression and has filed lawsuits to challenge local practices that caused problems. He cited "major inequities" in the number of voting machines, ballots, staff and voter education resources in urban minority communities compared with those in wealthier suburbs.

Not all the news was bad. Massive voter registration efforts produced a surge of new minority voters. The Rock the Vote campaign said it registered about 1.4 million younger voters. And provisional ballots allowed tens of thousands to vote who otherwise would have been turned away.

But advocates said more changes are needed.

Steve Carbo, director of the Democracy Program, said voters should be allowed to cast provisional votes even if they vote in the wrong precinct, a practice many states now forbid. He also urged poll workers to be better trained on the use of provisional ballots.

A Common Cause report released Tuesday urged other changes, such as national guidelines for voter registration instead of the current hodgepodge of local and state rules. The report also called for better enforcement of voter intimidation laws, strengthening the Voting Rights Act, and more funding to create statewide voter databases to make sure registered voters are on official voter lists.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told the conference he will urge Congress to fully fund the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which calls for statewide registration systems to go into effect by 2006. Congress thus far has appropriated $3 billion to carry out the act, $800 million short of the $3.8 billion authorized.