Monday, February 17, 2014

The importance of better election administration

Source: Google Images
With the United States preparing for its midterm elections later on in 2014, special attention needs to be paid to improving the overall election administration in many of the counties across America. While it is certainly important to discuss the pertinent issues of the day when it comes to public and foreign policy, healthcare, education and other vital topics, the election process itself is something that must also be addressed.

Indeed, following the horrendously long lineups to vote in the 2012 Presidential election, the re-elected Barack Obama thanked “every American who participated,” but he also said that “we have to fix that” in relation to the very long lines. The democratic process needs to be expedited and it needs to be easier for citizens to cast their ballots, because long lineups and unnecessarily complicated processes can act as a significant barrier to entry. When it is difficult to vote, some citizens may simply opt out of voting altogether.

There are many challenges ahead for election administration in the United States. Scandals have plagued the electoral process, from the “butterfly ballot” scandal in 2000 to problems with lost votes, lack of availability of online voting information, problems with voter turnout, and accuracy and reliability of the posted results.

In particular, one problem that keeps coming up with American elections surrounds the issue of provisional ballots. These are ballots issued when there are questions related to the eligibility of a given voter. This could be because of inaccurate voter roll records such that the ID provided does not match what election administrators have on file. It may also relate to the voter not appearing on the electoral roll at all or the possibility that the voter's ballot has already been recorded.

Ideally, the number of provisional ballots should be kept to a minimum, because the administration of the election should be such that the records are completely accurate and up-to-date. There should be minimal conflict. However, this has been an issue in many cities and counties across the United States, as recorded on Election Day in 2012.

For example, an incredible 37 percent of the votes cast in Maricopa County in Arizona, home to Phoenix, were provisional ballots. This could indicate structural problems at the polling sites. Similarly, Denver, Colorado saw the highest rate of absentee ballots rejected in the state. Some say these were based on false claims of voter fraud, particularly against Latino citizens. In Duval and Hillsborough counties in Florida, a large number of provisional ballots were cast and many voters were removed from electoral rolls. A similar problem, possibly related to race, was observed in Pasquotank County in North Carolina, where students at a historically black university saw a high number of absentee ballots rejected.

All of these types of problems are rooted in the administration of the election and they are indicative of an electoral system that needs help. These issues can be addressed through the use of technology and greater automation, but the administration must first recognize the magnitude of these problems and work toward suitable solutions. Yes, you have to fix that.