Published February 21, 2005
With the 2004 elections still fresh Americans minds, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced the Count Every Vote Act in order to decrease voting irregularities. Real, comprehensive voting reform from Congress will be necessary to reaffirm the integrity of the democratic process. Although the legislation does not address broader reforms like allowing same-day registration and requiring independent, nonpartisan election officials throughout the nation, it is an important step toward an electoral system all Americans can trust.
The most interesting proposal under the legislation addresses decreasing voter turnout with a national Election Day holiday so that voters would no longer face potential conflicts with their work schedules. Because classes would not be taught on Election Day, voter turnout among college-age students would also increase.
One of CEVA’s provisions would enfranchise more Americans by allowing ex-felons to vote. Seven states now ban the re-instatement of voting rights to ex-felons. These bans on voting rights disproportionately affect minority voting populations. For example, 30 percent of Florida’s black population cannot vote due to prior felony convictions. CEVA would override state statutes and restore the franchise to an estimated 4.7 million Americans.
While enhancing voter turnout and enfranchising voters is important, reform will remain irrelevant until another important problem troubling the electoral process is resolved — the need for accurate accounting of votes. The Clinton-Kerry proposal authorizes $500 million to help states enhance their voting systems and equipment. This money should find its way to minority areas, which disproportionately utilize archaic and error-prone punch-card ballots. Because touch-screen computer voting is the wave of the future, a paper trail backup is needed to ensure an accurate and trustworthy vote count. The 2004 elections brought numerous allegations of vote miscalculations by touch-screen voting machines. However, no paper trail existed to substantiate these claims. The act would require that every voter receive a paper receipt for his vote, hopefully minimizing voting irregularities.
Sadly, the bill does not currently address all of the irregularities of the 2000 and 2004 elections. States with the highest voter turnouts in the past two elections allow same-day registration for eligible voters, yet CEVA does not require states to adopt that provision. Furthermore, CEVA does not address needless restrictions on absentee voting, an issue that has affected students at the University. Requiring individuals to return to their home state to cast their votes needlessly disenfranchises many voters, especially out-of-state college students who are unable to return to their homes for the elections.
Although CEVA would achieve landmark voting reform, Congress should consider an even more sweeping reform to fully address the inequities and irregularities in the electoral process. Democracy relies upon voters trusting the legitimacy of election results. The Count Every Vote Act, by addressing some of the flaws in our electoral system, can help voters have confidence that their voices will be heard on Election Day.