For Immediate Release Swing State Report Faults Virginia's Voting Laws for Suppressing Voter Registration & Turnout

Posted on October 26, 2016


Virginia is clinging to outmoded voting laws and practices that suppress turnout, depress registration and effectively discard provisional votes cast by qualified voters who happen to show up at the wrong precinct on Election Day, Common Cause says in a report released today.

Protecting the Vote in 2016: A Look at 11 Swing States urges lawmakers to allow citizens to register and vote on the same day. The state also should join the five states that now register eligible citizens automatically when they do business at motor vehicle and other state offices, the report says.

The report praises Virginia's refusal to accept ballots submitted over the internet - those votes are vulnerable to undetectable hacking - but says the state could improve ballot security by replacing voting machines that do not produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter. Virginia also should require post-election manual audits as a check on the accuracy of election returns, the report argues.

"Virginia has a long, unfortunate history of voter suppression, one the current majority in the legislature has worked hard to perpetuate," said Dale Eisman, a Springfield resident who as Common Cause's senior writer and editor was a co-author of the report. "It's critically important that every qualified citizen make a plan to get to the polls and send a message that they won't be deterred from exercising their right to vote."

The report is intended to serve as a guidebook for voters seeking to navigate state laws impacting their exercise of the right to vote. It encourages every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot and emphasizes that studies show that those who make a plan, including how and where to vote, are more likely to follow through and succeed. Knowing what to expect at the polling place on Election Day helps voters flesh out such a plan and knowing your rights assists you in securing your ballot.

"As Americans we should encourage every eligible person we know to vote. But with the release of Protecting the Vote 2016, Common Cause lays bare the lengths some state legislatures have gone to erect barriers making it harder for some Americans to vote," said Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn. "Once voters learn laws they thought made elections safer, like voter ID requirements, actually prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible people from voting, they are more likely to see it as a manipulation of the system and reject it. It is critically important that voters exercise their constitutional right, so take a few minutes to learn more, because the best way to fight back against politicians gaming the system to silence your voice is to make a plan to vote."

In addition to Virginia, the report focuses on the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The report provides 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.

The report examines and summarizes each state's laws impacting voters and rates them as "excellent," "good," "satisfactory," "needs improvement" and "unsatisfactory."

The report reviews:

  • Voter ID: State requirements for voter identification at the precinct, noting whether the laws are fair or vote-suppressive.
  • Voter Registration: Options each state provides for voter registration, understanding that more opportunities increase the chances that those who have been politically marginalized can participate;
  • Voting Place Challenges: 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;
  • Provisional Ballots: State procedures for counting provisional ballots, because some practices leave some voters voiceless;
  • Paper Trails: Whether a state provides a paper record for each vote, verifiable by the voter, as glitches can occur with voting machines;
  • Post-Election Audits: State policies and practices for robust post-election audits to detect and if necessary correct outcome-changing miscounts;
  • Internet Ballot Transmission: State laws on the transmission of marked ballots over the internet, where because of the limits of current technology they can be intercepted and undetectably altered.

The report, authored by Allegra Chapman, Susannah Goodman and Dale Eisman of Common Cause with contributing author Pamela Smith of Verified Voting, is intended to educate and empower voters by providing tools and information they need to vote. It encourages every eligible voter to register and cast a ballot and emphasizes that studies show that those who make a plan, including how and where to vote, are more likely to follow through and succeed. Knowing what to expect at the polling place on Election Day helps voters flesh out such a plan and knowing your rights assists you in securing your ballot.

The report also aims to encourage election officials, state administrators, and legislators to improve existing 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.

To read the full report, click here.

To read this release online, click here.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.

Office: Common Cause Virginia

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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