Democracy SOS Project

Recent presidential elections have exposed enormous problems with our voting processes. From long lines to butterfly ballots, from voter purging to voting equipment failures, it is clear that the decisions that election officials make impact the way our democracy functions, although these decisions are usually made outside the public eye.

The Democracy Secretary of State (SoS) Project aims to shine a spotlight on the role of election officials and their decisions. Through research, candidate surveys and public awareness campaigns, we seek to hold election officials accountable for their decisions, and consequently to promote fair elections.

There are a number of facets involved with the Democracy SoS Project. One of these is research—in 2008, FairVote surveyed more than 400 local election officials in 10 swing states. We issued a five-part series of reports detailing election preparedness and uniformity in Missouri, New Mexico, Colorado and Virginia. The national report includes counties with a population of over 500,000 in six additional states.

Another aspect of Democracy SoS is voter guides. Voters are inundated with information about presidential and gubernatorial candidates, but are often poorly informed about offices like Secretary of State. We publish candidate biographies, focusing on electoral reform positions and campaign promises related to elections.

Democracy SoS also includes candidate surveys. In order to better inform voters about their candidates’ stances, each candidate will be asked to complete a survey covering a range of issues, including voter education, election planning and election integrity. Download a sample candidate survey.  

One of the most important parts of Democracy SoS is its coalition partners; FairVote works with a range of local, state and national organizations to promote democracy. National partners include: Common Cause, Advancement Project and Demos.

Issues in focus during the 2008 election cycle:

  • Machine & Voting Booth Allocation: Long lines have been a persistent problem for voters, particularly at precincts with high-density populations and inadequate voting machines. Each state should issue guidelines to county election officials for allocating machines and booths to make Election Day more efficient. We will publish county-by-county machine and voting booth allocation procedures before Election Day to inform the public and encourage officials to prepare for high turnout.
  • Ballot Design: Everyone remembers the infamous “butterfly ballots” that caused voters problems in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. We will collect and publish county-by-county ballot designs or ballot design guidelines so voters know what the ballot will look like before they walk into their polling place.
  • College Polling Locations: College students often have a difficult time voting because they have to travel relatively far to their polling location. We will publish state-by-state information about which campuses have polling place locations and which do not (but should).
  • Provisional Ballot Rules: Congress passed the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) to ensure every vote was counted by allowing voters to cast provisional ballots if their name did not appear on the voter rolls or if they voted in the wrong precinct. However, HAVA leaves counting provisional ballots up to the discretion of the states. To achieve national uniformity in provisional ballot counting, we will publish state guidelines for counting provisional ballots before Election Day.