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Progress Report Shows Promising Gains for Voting Access & Efficiency

By Stacey Scholl / 2016 October 20th

In 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) highlighted best practices in election administration to improve the voting experience for all Americans. The bipartisan group, lead by chief attorneys for President Obama and Governor Romney’s campaigns, released a comprehensive—and unanimous—set of recommendations to make voting easier and more efficient.

In advance of the 2016 presidential election, we wanted to know: what recommendations were adopted and where? Answers to these questions became the Democracy Fund Progress Report on the PCEA. In it dozens of election officials and stakeholders reveal areas of improvement, notably:

  • Modernizing voter registration systems;
  • Expanding early voting and access to voting;
  • Reducing lines and improving polling place management; and
  • Modernizing voting technology.

Modernizing Voter Registration

    A major recommendation was expanding Online Voter Registration (OVR), which is valued for its usefulness to both voters and election administrators. Since the release of the Commission’s report, the number of states with OVR has doubled to 39, including the District of Columbia.

    Other recommendations continue to impact voter registration in major ways. Due in part to the Commission, two networks that facilitate voter registration information sharing between states, for the purpose of improving the accuracy of voter rolls, have grown. Voter Registration Crosscheck now has at least 29 states participating and 20 states and the District of Columbia have joined the Electronic Registration Information Center.

    Expanding Early Voting and Access to Voting

    The PCEA report also spurred five states to adopt forms of early voting or expand its role in comprehensive election plans. There is a drastic change in Massachusetts, where prior to 2016, most voters had one alternative to voting on Election Day: have a legally accepted excuse and vote an in-person absentee ballot. Under the new law, there will be 11 days of in-person early voting at multiple sites across the Commonwealth.

    There has been a reinforcement of ideas to help military and overseas voters. A working group formed by the DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Council of State Governments built on the PCEA’s recommendations. Notably, they recommended that military and overseas voters should be sent absentee ballots for all elections during a two-year period and asked states with OVR to designate a section of their portals for these unique voters.

    Reducing Lines and Improving Polling Place Management

    Polling places are changing for the better with data-informed innovation. In 2015, the Voting Technology Project published an online Elections Management Toolkit to help officials allocate polling place resources, allowing them to model line lengths based on past data. Videos even walk election officials through using the tools.

    States are also taking action to recruit public and private sector employees and students, to become poll workers. Rhode Island and Illinois started programs to recruit student workers as a catalyst for increased voter participation among young people. Additionally, the Bipartisan Policy Center and Democracy Works successfully recruited Spotify, Starbucks, Target, and several other large companies in a coordinated effort to generate greater civic participation among their employees.

    Modernizing Voting Technology

    With strong urging from the PCEA, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission approved new voting system certification guidelines and a manual for certification and testing. The hope is these actions encourage voting machine vendors to bring new systems to market.

    The accounts of PCEA influence are revealing that our system is open to change. In fact, the bipartisan efforts to implement the recommendations of the Commission are a sign of possibilities when people work together. We acknowledge that problems will occur this November; any time 100 million plus people do anything, problems will occur. For those places where problems emerge, there are some solutions to be found in the guidance of the PCEA or the bipartisan spirit of their work. We are encouraged by this progress and look forward to continuing to work with our grantees, election officials, and advocates to improve the voting process for all Americans.

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