Election 2008 in Review

Dec 09, 2008

Predictions of historic turnout, an overburdened election system and polling place meltdowns never materialized on November 4. In fact, the 2008 election might have restored sagging voter confidence.

Electionline.org Briefing: Election 2008 in Review offers a first-blush look at what went right – and wrong – in the 2008 vote. It details surges in early voting, registration problems at the polls, vast monitoring and observation efforts at the polls and analyzes turnout from 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The report finds:

  • • The 130 million Americans who participated did not break turnout records. Larger percentages of eligible voters cast ballots in previous elections. It did, however, mark the most ballots ever cast in U.S. history.
  • • A larger percentage of voters cast ballots before Election Day than in any previous vote. An estimated 38 million voters cast absentee ballots, either in person or by mail, or went to regional early voting centers. Thirty-four states allowed voters to use at least one no-excuse early voting method.
  • • Despite the heavy turnout, the system functioned fairly well. Electronic machines had problems in some parts of the country while new optical-scan systems and high-speed ballot printers had difficulty meeting heavy turnout demands in South Florida and other parts of the country during early voting.
  • • Voter registration troubles were the most frequently reported voter problem on Election Day. Unprocessed or mishandled registration applications kept some eligible voters off rolls. Widespread concern over falsified registration forms and fraud by third-party voter registration groups did not seem to have a significant impact on Election Day. Some experts said they were rethinking the disparate voter registration system nationwide in favor of universal (or automatic) registration nationwide.
  • • Thousands of observers from campaigns, nonpartisan organizations and political parties kept a close watch on polling places and early voting centers throughout the election. Election Protection, the most prominent organization, had more than 100,000 volunteers at polling places and logged complaints and concerns in person, by phone or through a Web site. Monitors from the U.S. Department of Justice were on hand as well. More than 800 monitors were deployed to 23 states on November 4. 

Hard copies can be requested by emailing: dseligson@pewtrusts.org.

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