Election Reform for the 21st Century
Illinois' Hamilton County voters were presented with this confusing and crowded ballot during the November 2002 midterm elections. This ballot is just one example of how poor design can cause thousands of votes to be lost or miscounted in local and federal elections. Image courtesy of the Brennan Center.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that voters should be required to present government-issued ID at the polls in order to limit voter fraud. But a new report released this Tuesday helps expose one of the major flaws in this line of reasoning: poor design and out-of-date technology are more likely to cause problems in American elections than any incidence of “voter fraud” is likely to occur.
Conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the report compiled and analyzed data from the elections of 2008 and 2010, documenting how design errors contributed to hundreds of thousands of votes being lost or miscounted. Some of the key findingsof the report include:
- Poor design increases the risk of lost or misrecorded votes among all voters, but the risk is even greater for particular groups, including low-income voters and the elderly.
- As documented in this report, several hundred thousand votes were not counted in the 2008 and 2010 elections because of voter mistakes, in some cases affecting the outcome of critical contests.
- The rise of absentee and provisional voting since 2000 has only increased the importance of design in elections. We estimate that in the 2008 and 2010 general elections combined, as many as 400,000 people had their absentee or provisional ballot rejected because they made technical mistakes completing the forms or preparing and returning the envelope.
Significantly, the report also provides recommendations for policymakers and elections officials on how to implement reforms. Reform congregations can advocate for their local and state elected officials to adopt simple, brief and clear ballot design based on the guidelines put forth in the report. Some solutions are so simple one would think they would be common-sense (“Use common, easily understood words,” “Place each instruction on its own line,” and “Be consistent in all design elements: font, text size, headings”). Other solutions require more research, such as holding elected officials accountable for reviewing their own data on lost votes in past elections to determine what problems they may encounter in November. But all of the proposed solutions are necessary to ensure fairness in the casting and counting of votes this November. Our tradition teaches us that the process of choosing leaders is not a privilege but a collective responsibility. The Sage Hillel taught: Al tifros min hatzibur, "Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirkei Avot 2:4). We need election reform that will restore confidence in the integrity and fairness of our nation's election process. To do that, we must replace unreliable and poorly designed voting equipment with more accurate and reliable equipment – not pass voter ID laws that will instead disenfranchise millions of Americans.