From the Mouth of the President to the Ears of the People: We Have to Fix That
As was expected, problems at the polls abounded on November 6, nationwide. While glitches were reported across the country, voter-rights watchers paid particular attention to the swing states, where obstacles to ballot access in the form of registration ambiguities, voting-day misinformation, voter suppression tactics, and long, exhausting (and cold!) lines had potential to lower turnout and affect outcomes.
Long lines drew particular attention, with some people waiting in line to vote many hours after the polls had officially closed, from voting after midnight in Montana down to lines of more than five hours in Orlando, Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade and Hernando County in Florida. President Barack Obama in his acceptance speech Tuesday night, thanked people for waiting in those lines --- and then added, “By the way, we have to fix that.”
The president is right. And the difficulties faced by voters on election day do not end with long lines. Many voters in Pinellas County (FL) received robocalls on Election Day from their county elections officials informing them wrongly that polling stations would be open “tomorrow." Colorado and Pennsylvania voters complained of voter machines that automatically switched votes from the voter’s choice. Ohio and Pennsylvania voters were among many who reported registration issues; an inordinate number of provisional ballots being handed out to voters whose names did not appear on registration rolls. Plenty of people never received their requested absentee ballots.
Even with these troubles, voter turnout is likely to be comparable to 2008– just over 60% of the eligible population when all the ballots are counted. Turnout was higher in swing states than the rest of the nation– about 8%, according to FairVote projections – but it wasn’t so high as to catch election officials by surprise..
There are a variety of actions we can take to ease ballot access and increase voter turnout, but the most obvious one is to remove obstacles to civic involvement that consistently deter and deny voters from the most basic form of civic engagement in American democracy. Voters are just playing by the rules; we should make sure those rules are fair and make elections equal for everyone. Some argue that increasing the number of available polling stations or invigorating voter education efforts are far too expensive, but we should never run democracy on the cheap.
To right this wrong, thereby increasing voter turnout and ensuring enfranchisement for eligible voters, we don’t have to wait for Congress to “fix that.” Change can begin at the local level. If campuses, cities and states take the initiative to pass local resolutions affirming their commitment to a constitutional right to vote, with the promise to promote and protect voter rights and participation locally, we can begin to take on the current barriers voters face on Election Day – and do more to draw new voters to the polls for all elections. Built on the notion that citizens have a responsibility to participate and the government has a reciprocal responsibility to ease participation, local resolutions deepen the tie between government and its citizens.
FairVote's Promote Our Vote project offers the tools needed to create and pass 'right to vote' resolutions. We identified the need to take action by “thinking globally and acting locally” on campuses and in communities across the nation to protect this right. We agree with the president that “we have to fix that” – and that it’s time for all of us to do our share. Read through our sample local resolutions and use our toolkit for action at PromoteOurVote.org.