Meeting Tuesday for the first time since the Nov. 2 election, members of the Election Assistance Commission breathed a collective sigh of relief about the relatively smooth operation of this year’s Election Day — but they promised to do more in the coming year to improve the nation’s balloting system.
“This election has taken America a giant step forward,” said EAC Chairman DeForest Soaries. While Soaries applauded the fact that the balloting produced “no major crisis,” he still acknowledged that a “cloud” hangs over the election process and that the cloud must be lifted.
“The lack of a major crisis on Nov. 2 does not mean that we can overlook all of the critical, unresolved issues,” Soaries said.
The four-member body — which will soon celebrate its one-year anniversary — plans to conduct public hearings on several matters, including the creation and issuance of voluntary guidelines on voting systems, statewide voter registration databases and provisional balloting.
Soaries, a Republican appointee and former New Jersey secretary of state, also promised that the agency would promote further debate about whether electronic voting equipment should offer voter-verified paper trails.
“To ignore that would be to have our head in the sand,” Soaries said.
Members of Congress are deeply divided over the thorny issue. Paper-trail backers, including Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Bob Graham (D-Fla.), argue that providing paper trails increases voter confidence in the electoral system and makes it possible to conduct recounts if the electronic system fails.
But other lawmakers, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), rejected that approach and aligned themselves with disabilities advocates who argue that making such changes to voting equipment could jeopardize the strides in accessibility made under the Help America Vote Act.
In other business, EAC staffers reported success with an initiative launched late in the 2004 election cycle to recruit and train college students to work as poll workers. Of the 4,000 college students recruited across the nation, 1,500 received special training and 1,300 ended up working on the polls on Election Day.
The agency is now collecting data from election officials nationwide, including the number of provisional ballots cast, counted and rejected. This data should be available by Jan. 1, officials said.
Several commissioners who fanned out across the nation on Nov. 2 honed in on specific areas of concern.