Secretaries of State Weigh in on Election Reform

To avoid a repeat of the voting problems that plagued Florida and other states in the 2000 presidential election, top state election officials want statewide uniformity in voting equipment, poll worker training and ballots.

A state-by-state guide to improving elections was adopted by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) at NASS's annual meeting in mid-July.

The 60-page document, which includes an extensive list of voting and registration practices around the country, indicates the secretaries share the same views as election directors and lawmakers in their states. They want provisional ballots and better registration procedures, money for new machines, and no federal mandates.

Most of all, however, they want to keep their unique systems for elections in each state to reflect the needs of their populations, the secretaries said.

"This is not going to give recommendations," said New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. "This [document] allows election officials in each state to see what exists in other states. By looking at what exists, they can determine what is needed."

The report nonetheless makes a series of suggestions, or best practices, including:

  • Make elections a school holiday to allow teachers, students and government workers a chance to work at traditionally undermanned polls.
  • Let secretaries of state review local ballots to help move toward statewide uniformity.
  • Certify touch-screen voting systems that allow blind or disabled voters to cast secret ballots using audio cues; "consider" purchasing machines that allow voters a chance to correct their ballots if they make mistakes.
  • Codify election laws to require automatic recounts in close races and count ballots in one central location statewide.
  • Adopt provisional ballots that allow voters not found on registration rolls to cast ballots first then have their eligibility determined later.
  • Create statewide poll worker training materials and handbooks to ensure election workers at all precincts follow the same rules and regulations.
  • Educate voters with sample ballots, voters' bill of rights and Web-based information on ballot measures, voting practices and available assistance to voters at the polls.

NASS leaders, including Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, the organization's incomping president , want the federal government to allow states to retain their historic control over elections. They face a challenge from civil rights groups, labor leaders and disability-rights advocates who say the states have created an unfair system that selects some for disenfranchisement.