June 2, 2009

Access To Democracy: 5 Important Reforms

SEEKING TO focus the attention of lawmakers and election reform groups on the obstacles to full participation of the American electorate and the path to election reform, Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) has recently released a comprehensive report titled, “Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote.” Consolidating a variety of studies from expert sources into one document, the findings confirm the most significant obstacles to voter participation and outline those election reforms which would yield the most positive results.

While the study discusses obstacles to voter participation in general, it focuses on the unique impact it has on traditionally under-represented groups who comprise the majority (52%) of the population — African Americans, Latinos, unmarried women and young voters — it is unmarried women who drive this majority and the mission of Women’s Voices Women Vote.

“Unmarried women are the fastest growing large demographic in the population, comprising 25% of the voting age population,” said Page Gardner, president and founder of WVWV, a national nonpartisan organization focused on the increased participation of unmarried women in the civic process.

“Challenges that affect unmarried women most particularly, include greater mobility and access to less economic resources — they have the highest poverty rate of any cross-section of the adult population,” said Gardner. “Yet it is exactly this portion of the population for whom we make voter registration most difficult in this country.”

According to the report, laws posing the most significant obstacles to voter participation fall into five key areas:

1. Voter Registration: controversies over voter registration produced more litigation than any other election issue in 2008, primarily due to outdated and problematic voter registration systems. By allowing reforms such as universal registration and greater uniformity of registration standards, many registration issues could be resolved.

2.Absentee and Early Voting: the rate of voters casting ballots via absentee or early voting methods is on the rise (38 million Americans in 2008). However, the rules surrounding these methods vary significantly from state to state. Given the increased flexibility of these voting methods, relaxing the requirements would increase participation of underrepresented populations, such as hourly workers who cannot afford to take time off from work.

3.Voter Identification Requirements: lack of consistency across state lines in relation to the types of ID required (e.g., driver’s license, proof of citizenship) as well as whether ID is required at all, make it confusing and cumbersome to register and/or cast a ballot.

4.Provisional Ballots: among the top five complaints logged by the Election Protection Coalition’s hotline during the 2004 election were problems with provisional ballots. While the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that voters not on the registration list or lacking proper ID be given a provisional ballot, the regulations surrounding this practice vary from state to state.

5.Voter Lists: state regulations are notably inconsistent when it comes to the maintenance of voter registration lists — from who updates them to how the state maintains them, whether state or local election officials allow for name variations, and how and when the lists are purged.

The full report, “Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote” may be accessed at the Women’s Voices Women Vote Web site by clicking here.

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