United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Post.

Voter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 10 of 28)
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We have many assignments in this committee that we keep working
at, and one of those assignments has taken him back home at this
particular moment, so we can keep doing other things at the same time.
He will bring his report back, and we will proceed with other forms
of legislation.

While he could not be here, he wanted me to mention particularly
his deep and proven interest in new approaches to the whole problem
of voter participation. So we are delighted to see our two Hearst
scholars here from Hawaii, and appreciate your taking the time to
come in here today.

The next witness is Ms. Jeanne Malchon, of the League of Women



Ms. Malchon. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the
committee. I am Jeanne Malchon, trustee of the League of Women
Voters Education Fund and chairwoman of its election systems proj-
ect, and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today.

I think it demonstrates the interest there is in this problem across
the country when we realize that the gentleman from Alaska and I,
from Florida, were both attending the conference in New Orleans last
Aveek and are here in Washington today on this matter.

The Chairman. Yes.

Ms. Malchon. We share with you the belief that the electoral process
is fundamental to a working democracy. Unfortunately, our electoral
system displays problem areas and will continue to do so until there
is a concerted and effective effort to simplify the registration and
voting processes and insure the fundamental right of citizens to par-
ticipate in their government through the exercise of the franchise.


As you may know, the League of Women Voters education fimd
began its election systems project in 1971. Our first focus was a nation-
wide survey, underscoring the existence of administrative obstacles to
voting. The survey was conducted in 251 communities during the fall
of 1971 with the assistance of over 3,000 league volunteers. Data were
collected from at least one large city, a suburb, an independent small
town, and a rural area in every State. A wide range of registration
and election problems were documented, as were instances of well-
run election systems.

We found that the :

* * * administrative practices of local election oflBcials and therefore citizens'
access to the election system vary greatly from place to place, that many state
election officials have not established structures and procedures which would
insure uniform interpretation and administration of state election codes through-
out each state and that the discretion which most state laws give to local
election officials is often exercised in a manner which empedes rather than
enhances the citizen's right to vote.

A major problem is that those who administer local election systems
do not always use their administrative discretion to the advantage
of the voter; aggressive efforts to extend the franchise to groups pre-
viously by-passed by registration efforts are not always made. While
no one would quarrel with the need for changes in election law at all
levels, election law reform is not the only answer. We feel that much
can be done administratively within the present system to make the
electoral process accessible to those voters who are apathetic, afraid,
or uneducated.

Some specific examples from our survey will show what I mean.
The law may require that a central registration office be located in
each city of the State but not specify how clearly that office shall be
identified. We found that 52 percent of approximately 300 registration
places observed for our study were not clearly identified.

We found that in 29 percent of the communities where deputy
registrars were allowed, election officials failed to use this method of
reaching potential voters. Wliile only 10 States expressly forbade
evening and Saturday registration, 77 percent of the communities
studied had no Saturday registration and 75 percent had no evening
registration in nonelection months.

The Chairman. Did you find any cause for that ? Did you find with
everybody else opening up on Saturdays and Sundays and nights
these days they ought to turn it over to the supermarkets?

Ms. Malchon. As nearly as we could determine, only the attitude
and discretion of the local officials.

The Chairman. None of us likes to work on Saturdays or Sundays
or nights if we do not have to, but consumer demand has produced
this change.

The League of Women Voters is certainly one of those organizations
who looks after the consumers.

Ms. Malchon. There is a point that I would like to address myself
to a little later today about funding and staffing. It is not always that
we can place all of the blame on the local elected officials. There are
some mitigating circumstances.

The Chairman. Excuse me for interrupting.


Ms. Malchon. Even during an election period, 38 percent of the
communities provided no additional hours for registration. These find-
ings suggest that under present law officials could do more, within
their discretionary authority, to expand the electorate to include poten-
tial voters who lack the confidence to persist in overcoming roadblocks
to access to the polls .

Other problems were found to exist where State and local laws
neither required nor prohibited certain functions. Thus officials could
provide voter information, poll worker training, and bilingual assist-
ance. But in fact, only 11 percent of the local officials included in the
survey published a voter information guide. Twenty-eight percent
provided no training for poll workers, and 30 percent provided no
bilingual assistance where necessary.

Perhaps the most dismaying part of our findings were the responses
election officials gave regarding their attitudes toward various regis-
tration and election practices. More than three-fourths of the local
officials interviewed did not see problems in their communities

The Chairman. Would you repeat that percentage ? You say three-
fourths ?

Ms. Malchon. Three- fourths of the local officials interviewed did
not see problems in their communities.

The Chairman. As problems that would be a deterrent; is that

Ms. Malchon. They did not see that these were problems.

The Chairman. Maybe they are not quite as sharp.

Ms. Malchon. Many of them did not have these problems because
they may have opened up the election system in their own jurisdiction,
but we know that there are certainly not three- fourths of the election
jurisdictions in this coimtry that do not have these problems.

The Chairman. Either we made up our mind too soon or had the
wrong impression of why some people do not get registered, or some
people are not alert to what the problem is.

Ms. Malchon. Yes, sir.

More than three- fourths of the local officials interviewed did not see
problems in their communities relating to :

Residency requirements.

Complex registration procedures.

Complex absentee voting procedures.

Inconvenient hours of registration.

Inconvenient places of registration.

Voters being apprehensive about using voting machines or having to
provide identification at voting time to confirm their registration.

Inconvenient location of polling places.

However, in the same communities these items were viewed as seri-
ous problems by citizens' organizations which had worked with voter
registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns. Further, approximately
one-fourth of these citizen groups were fnistrated in their attempts to
get their members appointed as deputy registrai-s.

Basically, these findings suggest that official practices and attitudes
constitute the "administrative obstacles to voting" which impede the
citizen's efforts to exercise his franchise. Lack of uniform procedures
within States, as well as among the States, further exacerbates the


In response to the difficulties which our study pointed out. we called
a conference on expanding the electorate in August 1972. Experts on
election law and citizen voter registration efforts were speakers to a
group of participants representing Leagues of Women Voters from
all 50 States. Discussion at the conference reinforced the findings of
the study.

Panelists and participants at the conference discussed a range of
techniques which citizen groups could use in seeking to have adminis-
trative obstacles to registration and voting eased in their communities.
Participants went home with renewed dedication to the task of im-
proving the electoral process. Many were successful. Unfortunately,
all were not.

Thus, the problems which were documented in our survey contin-
ued in many areas during the fall 1972 election period, problems which
indicate that there is still a long way to go in reaching the goal of a
Avell-administered election process in the United States. The following
are a sampling of difficulties, dealing with registration in particular,
which were called to the attention of the election systems project by
State and local Leagues of Women Voters and other citizen groups.
There was a lack of uniform procedures in registration and voting
in many States.

Voters were sometimes incorrectly listed in registration records, so
that when they tried to vote, polling place officials could not find a rec-
ord of registration. Thus, the voters were effectively disenfranchised.

Another frequently repoit^d problem was a lack'^of accessible per-
manent registrars. Further, deputy registrars in some areas were not
well trained, and this resulted in the registration fonns being misfiled,
or, in some areas, not filed at all.

Some registrars were still unfamiliar with the ruling in Dunn v.
Blumstein^ 1972, which eliminated durational residency.

Some voters were not notified about their new voting precincts when
voting district lines were redrawn.

Insufficient numbers of ballots or voting machines had been ordered
in relation to the number of registered voters in some precincts.

Vague replies were given by registrars to questions about where and
how to register.

The determination of student residency for student registrations was
a problem in many areas of the country during the past election.

There was difficulty, in some places, in getting deputy registrars

On a number of these problems the League of Women Voters had
initiated lawsuits as a means of eliminating barriers to registration
and voting. For example, the California State League of Women Vot-
ers filed suit challenging a State law which prohibited election officials
from communicating with voters at the polls in any language other
than English {League of Women Voters v. Mihaly).

In a different type of suit, the League of Women Voters of South
Carolina and the League of Women Voters of the United States filed
suit in South Carolina challenging arbitrary application of residence
requirements to special groups such as students {McClain v. Finney).

There have been numerous other instances of litigation used as a
means of trying to remove administrative obstacles to voting.

91-577 O — 73-


Perhaps all these general problems could be summarized in the state-
ment of one League of Women Voters leader from a Middle Atlantic
State :

The real culprit is the election law, which allows such flexibility that the
philosophy of the administrator is dominant.

I also wish to call the committee's attention to our communiques, and
I believe we have provided copies for all of you.

The Chairman. Yes ; you have, and that will be a part of the record.

Ms. Malchon. These detail some characteristic problems in election
administration. Copies of these newsletters and copies of our survey
findings have been provided to all committee members.

I wish to report briefly to the committee my impressions after at-
tending a conference on elections called by the National Association of
Secretaries of State last week in New Orleans. Forty-six States were
represented by secretaries of state or Lieutenant Governors or State
election administrators. Many local election officials also attended as
well as Federal officials. I was struck by the widespread concern and
interest in finding solutions to electoral problems.

It appears that since the passage of the 26th amendment, the Voting
Rights Act Amendments of 1970, and recent court decisions, the ma-
jority of State officials now have a very positive attitude toward a more
open election system. It seems we have turned a very important phil-
osophical or psychological corner in this country in regard to the prin-
ciple of the vote as a right, rather than a privilege. We have moved
from giving lipservice to this principle of the vote as a right to believ-
ing it. Further, it is my impression that officials are now ready to act
on this belief.

Yet there remains the most important philosophical corner to turn,
and that is to give the whole electoral process the emphasis that
something so fundamental to self-government deserves. The election
system has for too long been the stepchild in receiving necessary at-
tention and funding.

When we talk about funding, this is where I am talking about ade-
quate personnel, staff, and, as the Lieutenant Governor from Alaska
referred to, the most modern technological processes.

Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a demonstration
of a pilot project in Orlando, Fla. on bidirectional computer systems
hooked up to the community cable television program.

The potential of the technology that is available to us for use in
something like this just defies the imagination, from a layman's point
of view and I would be happy to have you look at this one kit of the
information that I have. It is also available from these people.

Until such time as we in the United States give sufficient thought,
effort and funding to this basic process of holding elections, we shall
continue to suffer with the cumbersome system which we now have,
a system which places numerous obstacles in the path of the voter.

At the New Orleans conference several people referred to or quoted
from the Declaration of Independence regarding the Government of
our country, and I would like to say if we in this country truly be-
lieve in government whose just powers are derived from the consent
of the governed, and if we wish to see it survive, the time is at hand
that we must give the necessary priority to the process by which that
government is chosen, and by which that consent is given.


The Chairman. Thank you very much. I cannot resist calling at-
tention to the Declaration of Independence, because in my professor-
ing days I once had a student do a speech for one of the local serv-
ice clubs in that community in which he quoted generously from the
Declaration of Independence, word for word from Washington's
inaugural speech, and from Tom Paine, and I was nearly fired.

The student was called to the carpet for having uttered these un-
American principles, because nobody had bothered to read the Declara-
tion of Independence since they were in kindergarten.

It is sufficient to make sure we still believe it. This is again where
we have to put out efforts right where all our cliches are, and we use
cliches too often to hide behind.

I think what the league is doing is getting us down to the real in-
nards of affecting measurable change in the system, and I want to
commend the league for its untiring efforts in that regard.

You have been very helpful. You will continue to be helpful if you
keep the heat on in every one of your local areas. Do not let anybody
rest on her laurels on this question.

Ms. Malchon. Senator, may I assure you we have every intention
of doing so.

The Chairman. Thank you very much.

Ms. Malchon. Are there any questions ?

The Chairman. I have no questions at this time.

We want to use some of the materials you have submitted, and we
m.ay send back to you some questions, but the record is unimpeach-
able in this category.

(The aforementioned survey and communiques follow:)






a report of the Election Systems Project,
\he League of Women Voters Education Fund




Preface 3

A Look at the Present System 5

The Power of the Local Official

Under Current Election Laws 7

Perceptions and Attitudes of Local Officials
and Citizen Group Representatives 11

Obstacles to Organized Citizen Initiative 15

Seeking to Register and Vote:
Experiences of the Voter 16

S ummary 20

Recommendations of the Election Systems
Project Committee 21

Members of the Election Systems Project

Commi ttee 26

Appendices 28

(c3 1972 League of Women Voters of the United States

A publication of the League of Women Voters Education Fund

This publication has been made possible by funds granted to
the League of Women Voters Education Fund by the Ford Founda-
tion of New York.



The need for election reform through federal legisla-
tion has been documented and endorsed by several committees
of national prominence. Most notable is the report of the
President's Commission on Registration and Voting Participa-
tion! and the reports of the Freedom to Vote Task Force. ^ A
forthcoming report of the National Municipal League will fo-
cus on the need for legislatively enacted election reform. A
model state election code also is being developed by the Na-
tional Municipal League and will be available to state legis-
latures for their consideration."^

In addition to changes in election laws, there is a
need for changes in administrative practices of local and
state election officials. (For the purposes of this study,
administrative practices refers to the standards, procedures
and structures set up to implement state election laws.) The
main purpose of this report then is to document the need for
administrative changes and to draw attention to the numerous
administrative obstacles which confront all Americans as they
seek to implement their right to vote.

The basis for this report is a study undertaken by the
League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF) with the assis-
tance of a grant from the Ford Foundation. The administrative
practices of election officials in 251 communities were docu-
mented through the efforts of over 3,000 League volunteers
during the fall election period of 1971. ''^

1 Report published in 1963.

2 Two reports issued in 1971 by this commission of the Demo-
cratic National Committee; "Report of the Freedom to Vote
Task Force of the Democratic National Committee" and "That
All May Vote".

3 Developed under a two year grant from the Ford Foundation,
the model state election codes will be published in the
spring of 1973.

4 A modified version of the comprehensive survey on which
this report is based was conducted by League volunteers in
an additional 600 communities. The purpose of this Mini-
Survey was to verify the validity of the comprehensive sur-
vey sample. ^


All types of communities were included in this study;
those where problems of registration and voting were likely
to be found in the extreme as well as those where the prob-
lems were less visible. In general, the information was col-
lected from at least one large city, a suburb, an independent
small town, and a rural area in every state. To supplement
the League effort, information from some areas of the rural
South was collected by local organizations associated with
the Voter Education Project. This sample of communities en-
compassed approximately 40 million people or one-fifth of
the total population of the United States.

Data were collected through three methods: (1) re-
cording official registration and voting procedures, (2) in-
terviewing government and election board personnel to deter-
mine attitudes and practices, and (3) observing citizen ex-
periences at both registration and polling places. Informa-
tion also was collected on state administrative practices
with regard to elections by some state Leagues of Women Vot-

It should be noted that observations of registration
and polling places were made during the period of the 1971
fall elections. This means that administrative behavior was
observed in a non-presidential election year in which vari-
ous types of contests, some considerably more important and
appealing than others, were at stake. This factor tends to
mute the findings and conclusions drawn from this study. It
is reasonable to conclude then that the findings contained
in this report might be an understatement of the problems
citizens experience when participating in presidential elec-

It is also important to review the findings within
the framework of the Constitutionally-guaranteed right to
vote of every eligible citizen. This means that although
some figures pertaining to a given administrative obstacle
to voting may be less than 50%, the finding may nevertheless
by highly significant to the extent that it indicates that
thousands or hundreds of thousands of citizens are possibly
being disenfranchised.

Within this context, then, the study documents the
fact that the current system of registration and voting func-
tions inefficiently for citizens throughout the United States .
Both supportive evidence and specific recommendations for ad-
ministrative changes are included in this report.




During the next six months, much public attention
will focus on the prinicipal candidates and issues of the No-
vember presidential election. It is doubtful, however, that
wery much concern will be given to the electoral process it-
self — that system of registration and voting procedures
Americans must use in order to express their choice on the

Most citizens show little interest in the process not
because they dismiss its importance but simply because they
do not recognize the extent to which the current election sys-
tem impairs the right of all Americans to engage in self-gov-
ernment. The public generally believes that the system has
worked well for them in the past and that it will work well
for the 140 million Americans of voting age in 1972.

Regrettably, the present election system has not work-
ed well. It still bears the mark of forces which originally
gave it birth at the turn of the century: fear of the then-
widespread corruption and fraud at the polls and a desire to
control the voting participation of millions of European im-
migrants who threatened the political status quo. Although
these particular forces have largely ceased to exist, the sys-
tem remains saddled with many unnecessarily restrictive laws
and exclusionary procedures. It has become an administrative
maze in which many of the abuses it was designed to prevent
can, in fact, be more easily hidden and through which the av-
erage citizen must painstakingly grope in order to exercise
his fundamental right to the franchise.

Fear of fraud is often advanced in opposition to pro-
posed reforms of the present election system. It could be
argued, however, that such abuses are a function of community
mores and will exist in some communities no matter what elec-
tion procedures are established. More noteworthy, it would
seem, is the fraud perpetuated on the American people by a
system which excludes millions of eligible voters from the
electoral process in the name of preventing a few dishonestly-
cast votes.

Indeed, the system works poorly for alj[ Americans. In
the case of minorities, the poor, the uneducated and the aged,
who are unable to meet its complicated requirements easily,
the system naturally imposes more heavily than it does on the
average mainstream American. These groups can be even further


excluded from the electoral process by the arbitrary and un-
even application of administrative procedures which, while
legal, can be manipulated to serve the political advantage
or philosophy of those who control them.

Such misuse of administrative practices is not new to
the institutional life of our society. What is notable about
the established election system is the extent to which, bar-
ring misuse of any kind, it denies the rights and infringes
on the convenience of hundreds of thousands of Americans re-
gardless of their racial or economic background.

In the presidential election of 1968, 73 million Amer-
icans or approximately 60% of the total population of voting
age actually voted for a candidate of their choice; 47 million
or approximately 40% djd^ nojt cast a ballot. Compared with

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. Senate. Committee on PostVoter registration. Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, first session, on S. 352 and S. 472. Feb. 7, 8, and March 16, 1973 → online text (page 10 of 28)