American election administration is a leaky vessel kept afloat by a lot of very dedicated people including election professionals, poll workers, organizations like the League and the voters themselves. That was the recurring theme throughout a daylong roundtable discussion about the 2012 elections hosted by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). For 250 years, Americans have elected their representatives in basically the same way. The devices used to collect and tabulate our votes may have changed, but the system surrounding those devices is still decentralized, starved for resources and dependent on local volunteers on the day itself. It is mired in politics and rooted in the past. And yet, every election cycle, with few exceptions, this patchwork of professionals and volunteers successfully produces results that voters accept.
We all know the election administrators prayer, “Please don’t let it be close.” We all remember the 2000 election when the presidential race was so close that the U.S. Supreme Court got involved. The result was the Help America Vote Act which created the EAC that oversees and conducts vital research in the field of election administration. Among the many recurring themes of yesterday’s roundtable was the need for more data and the need to move election administration into the 21st century. Interestingly, we heard that while state legislatures, over the last decade, have been more focused on election administration than ever before, over the last two years, there has been less election legislation than in the past. Unfortunately, recent legislation was more politicized than in the past and resulted in court challenges that left election professionals in flux right up to the eve of Election 2012. Add to that Hurricane Sandy and it is a miracle that we got a result on election night.
On election night, President Obama referred to the long lines and long waits on Election Day and stated “we have to fix that.” While the roundtable was convened, in part, to talk about the lines and the waits, many of the issues that arose are ones that the League has been working on for many years. But we can’t move forward until we have the data and the facts to defeat the assumptions the public and politicians alike are using to politicize election administration. The League has identified a four-point proactive election administration reform agenda that we believe is supported by facts. The EAC will be formulating and distributing its bi-annual election data survey to all state elections officials using the information gleaned from the roundtable. We need to encourage our state elections officials to respond to that survey.
A dozen years into the 21st century, it is time to do more than just patch up the 19th century election vessel that has carried us so far and build a new sleeker ship to carry our elections forward.