Election Day is the one day when every American’s voice is equal. Whatever your party, income, or background, your vote counts the same as every other. That’s the way it should be if we’re to have a democracy truly representing us all. To achieve our ideals, everyone must vote, every voice must count.
Some, unfortunately, would have it be otherwise. Political fear-mongering is nothing new, but it feels particularly strong this year. Whether it’s candidates dropping dark hints about a gamed election, legislators aiming to intimidate voters of color, politicians inciting illegal behavior at the polls, or groups using scare tactics to keep people home on Election Day, vote suppression is inappropriate, un-American, and sometimes illegal.
For a democracy to function at its best, every eligible citizen must participate. As Americans, we must appreciate the stakes by showing up and making our voices heard to decide who should lead us toward that “more perfect union.” For us to exert our civic muscle, government must make our election systems free, fair, and accessible. We must not have laws stifling turnout; we must have ample opportunities to register and vote and safe and modern technology to ensure all ballots are counted as intended.
Some states lead in democracy reform. Others need improvement. Still others impede voters in ways not seen since Jim Crow days. All must ensure that every eligible voter can register, cast a ballot, and have it counted properly. This report aims to provide a comprehensive overview of voting practices – from how voters register to what they can expect at the polling place, to what states do to ensure ballots are accurately counted – in 11 swing states where races are tight and single votes can make a difference.
- State requirements for voter identification at the precinct, noting whether the laws are fair or vote-suppressive;
- Options each state provides for voter registration, understanding that more opportunities increase the chances
that those who have been politically marginalized can participate;
- State laws governing challenges to voters at the polling place on Election Day, given that such efforts are often
unsubstantiated, sometimes intimidating, and can lead to illegal behavior;
- State procedures for counting provisional ballots, because some practices leave some voters voiceless;
- Whether a state provides a paper record for each vote, verifiable by the voter, as glitches can occur with voting
- State policies and practices for robust post-election audits to detect and if necessary correct outcome-changing
- State laws on transmitting marked ballots over the internet, where because of the limits of current technology
they can be intercepted and undetectably altered.
Our review is only a snapshot. We don’t cover all the states or issues that are as important as those listed above to a robust and comprehensive democracy. Ensuring that those who’ve completed criminal sentences are afforded their right to vote, for example, is crucial. So is ridding the political sphere of the ever-growing influx of money, advancing additional measures to improve access to the franchise, and restoring the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Due to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby Co. v. Holder, this is the first election in over 50 years without the full protections of that landmark law. There’s much work on voting rights to be done at both the state and federal levels.
The point of this report is not to tsk-tsk states. Rather, we aim to empower voters with tools and information they need to vote. Studies show that those who make a plan, including how and where to vote, are likelier to follow through and succeed. Knowing what to expect at the polling place on Election Day helps you flesh out such a plan; knowing your rights assists you in securing your ballot.
This report isn’t just for voters. We also aim to encourage election officials, state administrators, and legislators to improve election systems. America has no perfect voting system; all states could do more to provide access to voters and upgrade technology and safety measures. States that scored “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” in our ratings should heed the recommendations to improve their systems.
Whatever your state’s grade, get out and vote. Our democracy depends on the participation of eligible citizens. Some groups and individuals will be fear-mongering up to and through Election Day. They’d have you believe the sky is falling, that your vote won’t count. Don’t let them get away with it. Without your vote, democracy is incomplete. Show up, stand up, and be counted.
The Swing States
Because races are especially tight in the following states, we selected them for review: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In evaluating them on each issue, we’ve rated them “excellent,” “good,” “satisfactory,” “needs improvement,” or “unsatisfactory.”