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November 12, 2008

Millions More Votes For Democracy Next Time

-- by Dave Johnson

Millions of people who wanted to vote either couldn’t vote, were kept from voting, were tricked out of voting, were tricked into voting the wrong way or voted but their votes were just not counted. There was voter suppression, voter roll purging, voter caging, intimidation, deception, misinformation and other efforts to keep citizens from voting for who they wanted to represent them in our government. On top of these efforts to there were also systemic problems that kept people from voting or kept their votes from counting.

I learned about these horrors while working on the Election Protection Wiki project, a non-partisan collaboration of citizens, journalists and researchers on the larger SourceWatch wiki. The EP WIki is a one-stop-shop for exposing voter suppression, voting machine problems, common election-worker screwups and other threats to election integrity.

Now that the voting is (mostly) done, we're working to document the problems with the election in order to stop this from happening next time. Here's what we've documented thus far, but if you see anything we've missed, please come over and add it in. I'm happy to help:

Suppression -- In several states there was systematic purging of voters from the registration rolls. Any excuse was used to remove voters, including something as simple as a misspelled street name or even the use of 'Bob' for 'Robert'. A Brennan Center for Justice study of voter purging estimated the number of voters purged before the 2008 election to be in the "millions."

Lines and delays -- One way to keep people from voting is to create conditions that cause long lines to form. Extremely long lines with waiting times of several hours for early voting and on election day were reported in different areas. Eventually people give up and go to work or home. Placing too few voting machines in precincts that tend to vote a certain way is one example of this tactic. In some areas lines were so long that people waited four, five, six and in some cases as many as eight hours to vote. We have no way of knowing how many people were kept from voting by these lines.

Some of the lines were a byproduct of the voter-roll purges. People arrive at polling places where they have voted in election after election, only to be told they are not registered. So they complain and demand provisional ballots, which can take a long time to complete. Lines grow ever longer as each of these voters is accommodated.

Intimidation -- Flyers warning that people with parking tickets will be arrested appeared in different areas. Students were warned that they could be arrested for voting where they go to school. Police were stationed at precincts with lots of Latino voters. Partisans were challenging voters in some areas.

Systemic problems – voting machines malfunction, scanners get clogged with ink, absentee ballots are not mailed, and other systemic problems kept an unknown number of people from voting or their votes from counting.

Just not counting votes -- collecting provisional ballots and then not counting them.

Tricks -- One big emerging story involved text messages sent to Democrats in several states, advising them they should avoid the lines and vote Wednesday. This happened in Missouri, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Virginia and several other states. Similarly voters in several states reported receiving robo-calls with a similar message. This was clearly an organized effort to keep people from voting.

In Florida Democratic voters were called and told they could avoid lines by voting by phone, given a number to call, and after "voting" were told they didn't have to go to the polls. This was also clearly an organized operation.

And these were only the scams that we heard about.

Beyond deliberate suppression and deception there were many other problems. How many people were denied or tricked out of their right to vote? How many never received absentee ballots? How many showed up only to be told they are not registered? How many voted using provisional ballots, without knowing if they will ever be counted? How many believed that they could avoid lines by waiting a day? There is really no way to know. But we can work to make sure these things pen again.

At least there is a place where the media, policymakers and citizens can find a collection of election problem reports and policy suggestions to help guide the reform process: the Election Protection Wiki.

Help us document the problems that occurred on Election Day. Help us collect proposals for election reform. You can get directly involved; we need your help!

If we fix these problems and stop these suppression efforts we will bring millions of new voters into our democracy. If we do not we will see all the long lines, registration problems, machine malfunctions and untrustworthiness, voter suppression schemes and tricks that we see during every election all over again, losing millions of votes.

Democracy is about all of the people having an equal voice in deciding how our country will be managed. So all of us owe it to the rest of us to help perfect this. After each election we should look at the problems that occurred and take steps to prevent them from happening again.

Posted by Dave Johnson at November 12, 2008 9:35 AM


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