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Voting Issues on Election Day Point to Need for Decreasing Barriers and Reforming the Election System

On Election Day, I had an opportunity to work as a “state lead” at the national headquarters of the Election Protection Coalition, a nonpartisan national voter assistance hotline administered by our voting rights coalition partners. In my role as a state lead, I monitored the calls coming in from my assigned states – Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – to identify if there were any trends in the problems voters were reporting.

Folks arrived at the headquarters by 6 am with a flurry of activity occurring as the polls opened across the country. Harris County, Texas had several polling places open late and several machines that didn’t work at various times throughout the day causing long lines and forcing some voters to leave the lines because  of the wait. A polling location in Tennessee also opened late due to a power surge. 

Mostly voters were calling the hotline to get information on what form of ID they needed and where their polling place was located. There were also examples of voters being asked for a photo ID when one was not required, and an instance of a poll worker not accepting an acceptable photo ID. In these cases, folks on the ground, state leads and/or legal assistance from Election Protection lawyers, helped resolve the issues for the voters and helped to educate the poll workers on what the actual requirements were in the state.

That is not to say there were not some major issues that need to be addressed. Per the Election Protection Coalition’s press statement, even before all of the polls across the country had closed, the hotline had already received more than 18,000 calls, a nearly 40 percent increase from 2010, the comparable election cycle. Between 2010 and now, discriminatory laws have been implemented in a number of states, so a 40 percent increase in calls to the hotline may indicate that voters are experiencing these new laws as barriers to their right to vote.

Voting Issues on Election Day Point to Need for Decreasing Barriers and Reforming the Election System

Additionally, in Georgia, up to 40,000 voters did not make it onto the voters’ rolls and thousands of voters were never notified of their polling place by the state. On top of this, the Secretary of State’s website in Georgia crashed preventing voters from finding their polling place or educating themselves about ID requirements, etc. This is where the League of Women Voters’ online elections resource, VOTE411.org came into play. Election Protection workers used VOTE411.org to find voters’ polling places, and share accurate and accessible information related to voting in Georgia.

I was proud to serve voters by working with the Election Protection Hotline and to help many voters rectify the issues they were facing when attempting to do their civic duty and exercise their right to vote. But ultimately, my experience also illuminated just how far we have to go to have fair, free and accessible elections for all eligible citizens.

It will take some time for a full analysis of the impact of the new election requirements to be complete, but the Brennan Center for Justice has done an initial review of voting issues that arose on Election Day. At this point we know:

  • Voters tried really hard to participate and, unfortunately, barriers stopped some of them from voting and/or having their vote count;
     
  • A 40 percent increase in calls to the hotline marks a significant increase and that more public education and outreach is needed about changes to election laws;
     
  • Both voters and poll workers were confused about the election rules and requirements in their communities; and
     
  • There were numerous close races that demonstrate how every single vote cast can impact an election’s result. New anti-voter laws and restrictions prevented voters in communities across the country from weighing in on the issues that matter most to them.  

While the League and our coalition partners have been tirelessly fighting back against anti-voter proposals, and also working to register new voters and educate the public on changes to election laws in advance of these elections, there is still a long ways to go to create and establish a truly free, fair and accessible voting system. The League will continue to defend voters and their rights’ while also working to advance and implement pro-active solutions that ensure that all voters are able to cast a ballot and have their vote counted.