Stateline Story

Poll Shows Little Passion For Election Reform

  • June 28, 2001
  • By Daniel Seligson
Americans still favor election reform but the passion for it that existed after last year's long-undecided presidential election has subsided, a new survey reveals.

Conducted in late June to coincide with the launch of the Washington-based Reform Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan group of scholars, politicians and pundits, the poll of 1,000 people found 89.5 percent believed that all states should follow the same rules for registration and voting. It also found 85 percent of those polled strongly agreed that all voting machines should meet the same standards for voting accuracy in national elections.

While just as many back mandatory national minimum standards for voting machines and registration procedures, they appear somewhat ambivalent about the need for change or even that change will happen.

"There is a sense that there needs to be a federal standard, even if this is [now] the rights of the states," said John Zogby, president of the polling firm Zogby International, which conducted the poll from June 15-18.

When asked how election reform rated in terms of national priorities, election reform drops off the map. Fewer than one percent of those polled picked "reforming our elections" when asked to identify the top issue facing the president Jobs and the economy ranked first, with 20 percent, while education came in second with 11 percent.

The poll is one of the few public opinion surveys about election reform taken since December. Most networks and major newspapers conducted polls late last year, as Florida's recount and court cases unfolded. A number were taken immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that ultimately settled the issue and put George W. Bush in the White House. Since those polls, public opinion slamming the reliability of elections has softened as growing numbers have come to accept Bush's presidency and the process that put him in office.

Although the Reform Institute's poll found 77 percent of voters said they were confident their votes were counted correctly in elections all or most of the time, a Time/CNN poll in November found nearly 70 percent of voters believed errors in the voting process were very or somewhat common.

The Reform Institute opened for business on Tuesday (6/26) to enlarge the public debate on campaign finance reform and election reform. It has a number of heavy-hitters on its roster. Sen. John McCain serves as its honorary chairman, while Trevor Potter, former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission, will direct the project. Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute serves on its board.

While McCain earlier this year admonished his colleagues on Capitol Hill not to combine campaign finance and election reform into one bill, he said the Reform Institute finds striking similarities between the two issues.

"Election reform is as important as campaign finance reform," he said. "If you have a level playing field for contributing to campaigns, you have to make sure you everyone has an equal opportunity to vote. There are certain parts of the American population who do not have the same opportunity to vote as others."

For McCain watchers musing over the maverick Republican's presidential aspiration, the Reform Institute's literature might be intriguing. The group says it will work to make it easier to independents and third-party candidates to get on ballots.