Democracy Fund Report Examines Impact of PCEA

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[Screenshot image via democracyfund]

Yesterday, the Democracy Fund released a new report cataloging the impact of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, formed in 2013 to study key issues and make recommendations for improving America’s election system. From the press release:

A bipartisan effort to shorten voting lines and improve how elections are administered has yielded major progress in both red and blue states, according to a new report released today by the Democracy Fund. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) was established by Executive Order in 2013 to identify best practices in election administration and improve the voting experience. President Obama named his former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, and Ben Ginsberg, National Counsel to Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign, to identify problems and present potential solutions for future elections.

“The work being done around the country to implement the bipartisan recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a true sign of what is possible when people work together to solve problems,” said Adam Ambrogi, the Director of the Democracy Fund’s Elections Program. “We applaud the election administrators from both political parties who have adopted these recommendations to reduce lines at the polls, expand early voting, and make it easier to register to vote.”

The PCEA first released a report on best practices and recommendations to modernize the American electoral system over two years ago—including recommendations to increase access to online voter registration, expand early and absentee voting, modernize voting machines, and promote best practices for election administrators and states to follow. The Democracy Fund believes there is value in continuing to measure its progress and promote bipartisan reforms in the future.

After interviewing dozens of state and national election officials, the Democracy Fund uncovered the following progress on the PCEA’s recommendations. Officials say the PCEA has helped:

  • Double the number of states that have approved online voter registration to 38, plus the District of Columbia;
  • Expand the number of states that share information with each other and perform outreach to eligible but unregistered voters, such as the ERIC program, to 21 states, plus the District of Columbia.
  • Introduce or increase early voting in five states—including a new ten-day early vote program in Massachusetts and a new two-week early vote program in Rhode Island. There are still 13 states in which early voting is not available. As more information becomes available, early voting is likely to take root in these remaining states.
  • Spur recommendations for improving the voting process for military and Americans abroad that are now being considered by multiple states.
  • Reveal factors contributing to lengthy polling place wait times for voters in over a dozen jurisdictions.

Innovative state programs that have come out of the PCEA report include:

  • In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted is tackling wait times to vote, and now requires that counties provide detailed plans for mitigating wait times in any polling place that did not meet the PCEA 30-minute wait time standard in the 2012 general election.
  • In Chicago, the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Chicago Board of Elections partnered to recruit and manage a corps of community and four-year college students from Cook County schools to work the polls on Election Day. The wildly successful program increased bilingual support for voters, reduced transmission times, and resulted in higher civic participation among students. Similar programs have now been adopted in Rhode Island and California.
  • Alabama passed a bill allowing officials to use ePollbooks in polling places, incorporating new technology to make the check-in process easy for voters and for poll workers. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill expressed the usefulness of the PCEA report in informing legislators on the value of this type of technology in the polling place.
  • New Mexico appropriated $12 million for the purchase of new voting equipment for each of New Mexico’s 33 counties. Voters began casting ballots on the new equipment in the November 2014 election. The improvement was essential—before the switch, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver reported a high failure rate for memory cards.

I’m also pleased to note that our work at the Humphrey School was recognized as part of the section on “Professional Standards for Local Election Administration”:

In Minnesota, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs has developed an innovative method for practical training in election professionalization via online training “in direct response” to the PCEA. The Humphrey Program aims to recruit from three groups: 1) current elections administrators looking to expand their skills, 2) public administration specialists who want to work on or with elections, and 3) professionals in other fields (law, design, information technology, journalism) seeking to improve knowledge of elections. Students can choose to earn a Certificate in Election Administration. [p.17, notes omitted]

As you can see, the PCEA’s work is still having a huge impact on the field more than three years after the commission was formed and more than two years after the issuance of its final report. There is still work to be done – in particular, finding funds for more states and localities to address what the PCEA called an “impending crisis” in voting technology – but given the considerable influence the commission has already had on the nation’s election infrastructure there is reason to hope those calls for action will also be heeded.

Thanks to the Democracy Fund for their work in compiling and sharing this report – and thanks once again to the members of the PCEA for their service in identifying those areas of America’s election system in most need of attention. It’s an amazing legacy and one of tremendous continuing value to the field.

34 days until Election Day – stay tuned …

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