Protecting the Vote: Making our voting system efficient, fair and accurate

Common Cause announces a far-reaching “Protect the Vote” campaign in nearly a dozen states nationwide to strengthen and protect our nation’s system of voting and assure that eligible voters are able to vote and that those votes are counted in this historic election.

Based on the findings of “Voting in 2008: 10 Swing States,” which described the potential problems in several state voting administration systems, Common Cause is building on or launching election protection activities in seven swing states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The campaign will also include targeted election protection work in California and New York.

“Our goal is to protect and strengthen the strongest most vibrant democracy in the world,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “Any eligible voter who takes the time and energy to go out and vote should feel confident that they will not be turned away and that their vote will count. Common Cause is working to assure that will happen.”

Last month, the Florida Secretary of State announced that he would enforce the “no match, no vote” policy for this November’s elections, potentially rejecting thousands of voters from the registration rolls prior to Election Day. Under Florida’s “exact match” standard, a prospective voter’s application must match, character-for-character, the information on existing state records for that person, or there registration is rejected. Common Cause Florida is helping voters who have been purged from the rolls due to the no-match policy to re-establish their registration prior to Election Day. Through public information requests, Common Cause Florida is creating a database of purged voters and calling those voters through both volunteer and paid phone bank operations. Common Cause Florida also has set up temporary offices in several locations around the state where voters can come in to receive assistance in taking digital photos or scan their drivers’ licenses in order to e-mail or fax them to election officials and reinstate their registrations.

Common Cause Pennsylvania’s election protection campaign will focus largely on college students, who in 2004 were often disenfranchised as a result of intimidation, misinformation and poorly trained poll workers. Pennsylvania has extraordinarily vague rules around voter challenges, making it too easy for people to challenge a voter’s right to be registered to vote. Partnering with PA Voice, Common Cause Pennsylvania is recruiting poll watchers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and will be working with Democracy Matters and other student groups at 49 colleges and universities to promote and protect students’ right to vote.

As reported in Voting in 2008: 10 Swing States, New Mexico lacks a statewide, fair policy to determine voter registration verification. The state has declined to specify publicly what the standard is for matching potential voters’ information with state voter registration database, suggesting that sometimes complicated task of matching and verifying voters’ eligibility is being left to localities. To help ensure eligible voters are not turned away, Common Cause is working with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to recruit, train and organize local attorneys, law students and ordinary citizens to work at the polls on Election Day. Common Cause has also created a website,, to provide up-to-date voting information to help inform voters about voter registration procedures.

Common Cause Indiana is recruiting, training, and placing up to 150 volunteer “voter advocates” in targeted Marion County precincts for poll monitoring and to provide assistance with voter ID problems. Challenges to a voter’s registration eligibility and right to vote at the polls on Election Day were unquestionably one of the biggest problems in the state during the 2004 election. Common Cause Indiana will also assist voters with voter eligibility challenges on Election Day in up to 150 precincts, effecting as many as 15,000 voters. Common Cause Indiana is also promoting the Election Protection hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE, for assistance on voter ID and voter challenge issues, and providing assistance to Democracy Matters and other student groups on vote protection efforts at Indiana universities, reaching up to 90,000 prospective student voters.

As noted in the report, Voting in 2008: 10 Swing States, Colorado has vague standards for ensuring that there are enough voting materials and voting devices to keep polling places open and running smoothly, which could be extremely problematic, especially when high or even record-breaking turnout is expected. Common Cause Colorado is developing educational materials for county clerks and election officials and conducting “train the trainer” workshops to ensure that each voting location is equipped to deal with potential problems on Election Day, including handling large crowds. In addition, Colorado Common Cause runs a website,, a hotline, 1-866-OURVOTE and a hotline in Spanish,1-888-VE-Y-VOTA.

Working through a partnership with the Historic Black Colleges and Universities, Common Cause North Carolina is planning to canvass for three weekends leading up to Election Day and contact up to 10,000 non-registered African American citizens living in Cumberland, Durham and Guilford counties. They will use a computer program to identify the residences of non-registered citizens and infrequent voter. The campaign will take advantage of North Carolina’s new “same day registration” law, which will enable citizens the opportunity to register and vote at an early voting site. The campaign will also be providing transportation for potential voters to the polls.

Election administration in Ohio has been problematic for several elections and promises to be this election as well. Common Cause work in Ohio is focusing on public education in vulnerable populations in the three major media markets of Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. The campaign will run public service announcements augmented by paid media buys that emphasize the simple steps citizens can take to protect their right to vote such as by voting early and by bringing the correct types of ID to the polls. This work is particularly critical because groups who have done it in previous elections are not doing so in 2008.

Common Cause/New York, working as one of the leaders of the New York State Coalition for Voter Participation and Fair Elections, is leading the effort to insure that the tens of thousands of voters who have been improperly removed from the voters rolls in New York City and throughout the state will be able to vote on Election Day, In cooperation with NYPIRG, Common Cause/NY will again be running an Election Day telephone helpline on November 4, providing real time advice and problem solving to New Yorkers, in addition to distributing a special election edition of its newsletter containing a New York Voters Bill of Rights to its thousands of members statewide.

California Common Cause is working with the Lawyers Committee on Civil rights to run call centers in Los Angeles staffed by at least 90 volunteer lawyers, publicize the voter hotline, and dispatch volunteers to poll sites where problems occur. In the June primary, Common Cause California held an Election Day press conference with Governor Schwarzenegger that generated thousands of phone calls to the hotline and led to the detection and eventual resolution of the so-called “double-bubble” ballot flaw where decline-to-state voters were required to fill out an extra bubble on their ballots in order for their vote to count in the presidential primary.