December 07, 2004

PFAW Election Protection Hotline: Millions of Americans Denied Their Fundamental Voting Rights


Lead Groups in Election Protection’s Massive Voting Rights Mobilization
Release Post-Election Review Documenting Barriers to Ballot,
Systemic Inequities and Irregularities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CONTACT: Priscilla Ring or Laurie Boeder
Monday, December 06, 2004 People For the American Way

Washington – The myth that the 2004 elections ran smoothly has become
conventional wisdom for pundits and politicians, but nothing could be
further from the truth. A preliminary review released today by members of
the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition demonstrates that persistent
problems continue to deny millions of Americans their fundamental voting
rights, and makes the case for election reform at the local, state and
national level.

Election Protection fielded more than 25,000 volunteers, including more than
8,000 lawyers, who monitored the polls at more than 3,500 precincts
nationwide and answered the nationwide Election Protection Hotline. The
program targeted heavily African-American, Latino and low-income precincts,
and fielded hundreds of thousands of voter questions and complaints. The
program database already includes more than 39,000 records of voter
problems. Election Protection also engaged in pre-election advocacy,
battling decisions by local election officials that raised barriers to the
ballot box.

“The idea that the election ran smoothly, the idea that the problems we saw
in 2000 did not recur in 2004, is simply a crock. Too many people faced too
many barriers to the ballot box, from impossibly long lines to outright
voter intimidation and misinformation. It’s time to shatter the myth and
work toward an election system that is more fair and more reliable for every
American,” said Ralph G. Neas, President, People For the American Way

The preliminary review, “Shattering the Myth: An Initial Snapshot of Voter
Disenfranchisement in the 2004 Elections” surfaces a myriad of systemic
problems. In addition to the long lines and unreasonable waiting times that
kept many people - disproportionately urban minority voters - from being
able to vote, the top five problems overall were registration processing,
absentee ballots, machine errors, voter intimidation and suppression, and
problems with the use and counting of the new provisional ballots mandated
under new federal law.

Election Protection also fought pre-election decisions by local election
officials that tended to disenfranchise voters, including Ohio Secretary of
State Ken Blackwell’s ludicrous demand that voter registration forms be
printed on 80-pound card stock instead of common printer paper, or Florida
Secretary of State Glenda Hood’s attempts to implement a “felon purge” list
that state officials knew was flawed. Those decisions were both eventually

“The bright light of public scrutiny, intense pressure from the media and
action in the courts helped us stop some of the most egregious actions, but
nevertheless, too many voters were either disenfranchised or discouraged by
the decisions of public officials,” said Neas. “It’s the job of government
officials to advocate for voters and to clear the path to the ballot box,
not erect barriers.”

Among the most disturbing reports were the more than a thousand reports of
voter suppression or intimidation at the polls, including:
- Police stationed outside a Cook County, Illinois polling place requesting
photo ID and telling voters if they had been convicted of a felony that they
could not vote.
- In Arizona voters at multiple polls were confronted by an individual
wearing a black tee shirt with “US Constitution Enforcer” and a
military-style belt that gave the appearance he was armed. He asked voters
if they were citizens, accompanied by a cameraman who filmed the encounters.
- Numerous incidents of intimidation by partisan challengers at
predominately low-income and minority precincts
- Misinformation campaigns delivered through anonymous flyers or phone calls
with a variety of intimidating or vote-suppressing messages, advising voters
to go to the polls on November 3rd rather than November 2, or giving other
false information on voting rights. A few of the most outrageous examples
Ø “If you already voted in any election this year, you can’t vote in the
Presidential Election.”
Ø “If anybody in your family has ever been found guilty of anything you can’
t vote in the Presidential Election.”
Ø “If you violate any of these laws, you can get 10 years in prison and your
children will be taken away from you.”

While workers are still entering voter complaints into the Election Incident
Reporting System, the 39,000 reports already entered include a wide range of
problems surrounding voter registration, absentee ballots, voting machines,
and provisional ballots.

“Since we targeted 3,500 vulnerable precincts, we saw only the tip of the
iceberg. We found human error, equipment problems, bureaucratic snafus and
outright attempts to deceive and misinform the voters everywhere.
Extrapolate our findings to the rest of the country, and you see a picture
of a flawed election system, badly in need of reform,” said Neas.

The groups will continue to analyze the data, and have also set a
preliminary agenda for election reform. Early recommendations include:
- Support for uniform and non-discriminatory standards for counting
provisional ballots
- Improved poll worker training
- Better enforcement of anti-voter-intimidation laws
- More efficient and accountable processing of voter registration
- Full funding for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)
- Increased support for voter education campaigns
- Immediate development of the technical guidelines for voting systems by
the Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
- Support for required voter verified audit trails for all voting systems
- Public hearings by Congress, the EAC and possibly the Federal Election
- Support for a report to be undertaken by the General Accounting Office on
voting irregularities throughout the country

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