November 2 Poised to Test States, Success of Election Reforms

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Washington, DC- Just two weeks from Election Day, a new report finds the potential for trouble with the casting and counting of votes in a number of states critical to both candidates.

The report also describes ways that election reforms, ordered by the federal government after the 2000 debacle in Florida, could help to avert some problems – but perhaps cause others – when Americans return to the polls for the most closely watched Presidential contest in history.

The report, "Election Preview 2004: What's Changed, What Hasn't and Why," produced by the non-partisan and non-advocacy electionline.org, provides a thorough snapshot of the state of play around the country with the vote just weeks away. The report notes that while the problems in the 2000 election were the result of a confluence of factors – a close election, faulty equipment/ballots and controversial procedures – some of the factors that caused these problems still exist today.

The report details three factors that could cause problems on Election Day – provisional voting, voting machines and new rules requiring voter identification.

"What happened in 2000 might never be repeated again, but some of the ingredients that produced chaos four years ago still exist," said Doug Chapin, electionline.org's director. "Just look at the pre-election lawsuits, the punch-card machines still in use in scattered places around the country, and the anticipated nail-biter outcome."

"In 2004, we've got thousands of poll watchers, armies of lawyers, the attention of the international community and potentially record numbers of new voters," said Chapin. "Even if the quantity or severity of problems doesn't match the problems that occurred four years ago, it could still seem that way with this unprecedented level of scrutiny." Among the findings in the report: 

  • A disparate election system remains firmly in place despite federal election reform mandates. Varied interpretations of provisional voting and voter identification rules mean that casting ballots in some states will be much different than in others.  
  • Antiquated voting systems – including the reviled punch cards of 2000 and clunky, 1950s-era lever machines – will be used by millions of voters around the country on Election Day.  
  • A close election will likely trigger lawsuits around the country as both parties will challenge election rules and ballots in battleground states.  
  • With more than 35 states allowing either early voting or in-person absentee voting, the number of voters who already have or will cast ballots before November 2 could reach record numbers.   
  • Millions of new registrants promise to challenge statewide voter registration databases and election administrators. Many of those voters who end up lost in the system could have to use provisional ballots – or worse, be disenfranchised if their records are not found.

The report also found that there have been a number of improvements to the American election system.

  • Voters with disabilities in a number of states will find new accessible voting systems, allowing them to cast independent and secret ballots, many for the first time in their lives. Similarly, more voters than ever with limited English skills will find ballots in their own language.  
  • Provisional ballots will ensure no voters are again turned away at the polls without being given the opportunity to cast a vote, though where they will be allowed to cast that vote will depend on where they live.  
  • New voter education programs and administrative complaint procedures will help more people know their rights on Election Day.

"Election Preview 2004: What's Changed, What Hasn't and Why," offers a definitive, nonpartisan and non-advocacy account of the state of the American electoral system with November 2 just two weeks away.

Electionline.org is the nation's leading source for nonpartisan and non-advocacy news and analysis of election reform issues. It is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts through a grant administered by the University of Richmond.

Pew is no longer active in this line of work, but for more information, please visit electionline.org.

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