According to some civil-rights groups, voting on Tuesday was a bit of a mess. Changes to voting laws in more than a dozen states caused confusion, frustration, long lines and turned-away voters. Some people arrived at the polls in Texas without a valid photo-ID, while others in North Carolina were sent packing even though the state’s voter-ID law doesn’t take effect until 2016. Thousands of voters called hotlines complaining about inaccurate voter rolls, malfunctioning machines and bewildering new rules. Some volunteers at polling stations were reportedly just as flustered as everyone else. Such complaints are unsurprising. America wins few awards for administering orderly and streamlined elections. The way citizens register and vote is “still in the dark ages in many ways,” says Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Centre for Justice, a public-policy think-tank. Most states rely on a paper-based registration system, and many close registration weeks before election day. Few allow voters to vote early, which leads to crowding and last-minute hiccups at polling stations. Polling staff tend to be untrained volunteers, and many machines are either incredibly old or new and untested. Different states also have different voter laws, with little integration of voter data, which makes it tricky when people move.
There are a number of fairly straightforward ways to make voting easier and smoother, as a bipartisan federal commission outlined earlier this year. Poll workers should get some training; machines should meet certain standards; and registration needs to enter the digital age. Allowing people to register online, for example, makes it easier to keep records accurate and remove duplicates, as voters could simply update their status when they move. It would also save money and boost registration numbers, particularly among younger voters: in Arizona, for example, registration rates among 18-24 year-olds rose from 29% to 53% with an online-voting system. Allowing people to vote early or register on election day are also proven ways to improve turnout and ease administrative headaches. The Brennan Centre estimates that these modest changes would curb the potential for fraud and add around 50m new voters to the rolls nationally.
Unfortunately, increasing turnout and reducing election day stress don’t seem to be on the agenda in some states. Indeed, Tuesday was the first federal election under laws that actually make it tougher to vote in 15 states. Eleven states rolled out new requirements for photo identification at the polls; nine states made it trickier to register to vote; eight states cut back early voting days; and three made it harder to restore voting rights to former criminals.
Full Article: Voter laws: Stumbling blocks | The Economist.