Copyright
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

. (page 12 of 28)
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 12 of 28)
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91-577 O— 73-



no



OBSTACLES TO ORGANIZED CITIZEN INITIATIVE

Since election officials have so often been unwilling
to support outreach efforts, citizen groups have for many
years attempted to fill this void through a variety of activ-
ities such as: conducting voter registration drives, sponsor-
ing get-out-the-vote campaigns, publishing voter education ma-
terials, and providing volunteer staff for mobile registra-
tion units. These efforts, however, have all too often been
frustrated by the inefficiencies and restrictive practices of
the system as indicated by interviews with 584 citizen group
representatives .

Approximately 50% of the organizations using regis-
tration lists found the lists to be inaccurate, and in half
those cases the inaccuracy was reported to be greater than
10%. Lists were available to the public in 96% of the commu-
nities, but there was a financial charge for the list in 55%
of the communities and authorization was required to use the
list in 38% of the cases.

Groups were also frustrated when they attempted to
have members deputized to register voters. Approximately
one-fourth of the organizations seeking to have members depu-
tized were refused the authorization they requested. Of those
organizations which succeeded, 31% reported a limit to the
number of deputy registrars allowed and 10% reported a limit
to the number of forms a deputy registrar could obtain at any
one time, an effective way of limiting the number of citizens
registered.

These examples once again illustrate an attitude on
the part of many election officials which tends to obstruct
rather than encourage the efforts of citizen groups to expand
the electorate. The instances cited strongly suggest the
need for administrative reforms which would place more res-
ponsibility for outreach programs with election officials
themselves and which would simplify administrative procedures
pertaining to outreach efforts by citizens.



15



Ill



SEEKING TO REGISTER AND VOTE:
EXPERIENCES OF THE VOTER

Under the system of voter enrollment and participation
currently used in the United States, the individual citizen
must take the initiative in order to qualify himself as a vot-
er. The preceding discussion has indicated that the law does
not require local election officials to take the initiative
and that many are unwilling to employ their numerous powers or
fully utilize the efforts of citizen volunteers to reach poten-
tial voters.

In this context, the experiences of the individual cit-
izen as he seeks to register and vote are extremely important.
If the cost in terms of time, energy, inconvenience or person-
al pride is too high, the individual may choose not to vote.
Considering the all too frequent occurrence of complex forms,
unhelpful and poorly trained staff, machine breakdowns, and
inconveniently located registration and polling places, it is
surprising that so many citizens do vote. That the system
functions at all is a tribute to the sheer determination of
citizens to overcome these inconveniences and obstacles.

Registration is the first step in the voting process
and the most crucial. When people register, they usually vote.
In the presidential election of 1968, 89% of those persons who
were registered actually voted. Observations of registration
places and examination of formally stated registration prac-
tices provide some dramatic examples of the problems citizens
encounter in trying to register.

The first problem that the citizen is likely to en-
counter will be finding the registration office. He may well
have to travel a considerable distance from his home to a cen-
tral registration office (except perhaps during the last month
of registration for a particular election when he is more like-
ly to find facilities in his neighborhood). In 40% of the com-
munities studied, however, no additional registration places
were opened even during these rush months. Since 54% of the
registration places were not accessible by convenient public
transportation, 24% lacked convenient parking, and 52% were
not clearly identified as a registration or elections office,
the prospective registrant may well be frustrated before he
arrives.

Once he has located the registration office, the pro-
spective registrant may find that it is not open for registra-



16



112



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113



tion. In 29% of the communities, registration closes more
than 30 days prior to an election. Even if he arrives before
the registration deadline, the office may be closed since 77%
of the communities studied had no Saturday registration and 75%
of the communities had n£ evening registration during non-elec-
tion months. While 62% of the communities did have additional
registration hours during election months, 30% of these still
had no additional Saturday hours and 17% had no additional
evening hours.

The persistent citizen who anticipates and copes with
the numerous obstacles already mentioned will next find him-
self confronted with a registration form. If the form is con-
fusing or questions arise concerning his eligibility, he may
not find the staff very helpful. Fifty-two percent (52%) of
the observers at registration places classified staff as not
helpful. Furthermore, in 30% of the places where bilingual
staff was needed, it was not found.

There is no way to measure the number of citizens who
are discouraged from registering even before they get to the
registration office, but observations of 5,750 people attempt-
ing to register at approximately 300 registration places show-
ed that 3 out of every 100 qualified people who made the ef-
fort and found the registration place still left without being
registered.

Casting a ballot at a polling place is the ultimate
event in the electoral process for the citizen. Although he
has been successfully registered, the potential voter may be
frustrated in his attempts to vote. Polling places, though
usually located in his precinct, may be poorly marked (as were
38% of the polling places observed) and public transportation
and convenient parking may be lacking. Fifty-eight percent
(58%) of the places observed lacked convenient public trans-
portation and 11% lacked convenient parking. Since polling
places are not opened in the evenings in many states, the po-
tential voter may need to take time from work or rush to the
polling place before or after work. If he goes early he may
not be able to vote because many polls open later than the
hour prescribed by law as happened in 7% of the 484 polls ob-
served. If he goes to the polls following work, he may find
that he is refused the right to vote even though he is stand-
ing in line at closing time. Such refusals occurred at 19 of
the polls observed.

The prospective voter who gets into the polling place
will probably confront a poorly trained staff usually select-

18



114



ed on the basis of their partisanship. If there are voting
machines at his polling place, he may well be delayed In cast-
ing a ballot by a machine breakdown since this occurred in one
out of ewery ten places having voting machines. His right to
vote may be challenged as were the rights of 419 persons at
the observed polls. In the event that he successfully casts
a ballot, it must be attributed at least partially to his per-
severence.



19



115



SUMMARY



In a democratic society, no right is more fundamental
than the right of e\/ery citizen to vote. Indeed, the vote is
the very symbol of democracy. It is the basic unit of our
representative form of government; the major vehicle through
which the consent of the governed is offered or withheld — the
prime means by which the American people can express and effect
their will. The right to vote, therefore, necessarily carries
with it the right of equal access for every eligible citizen
to the formal system of regulations and procedures through
which the vote is cast.

In studying the way our current election system is ad-
ministered, the League of Women Voters Education Fund found
that the administrative practices of local election officials
and therefore citizens' access to the election system vary
greatly from place to place, that many state election offi-
cials have not established structures and procedures which
would insure uniform interpretation and administration of
state election codes throughout each state and that the dis-
cretion which most state laws give to local election officials
is often exercised in a manner which impedes rather than en-
hances the citizen's right to vote.

There is an urgent need for administrative reform of
our present election system. Citizens must no longer be forced
to earn the "privilege" but rather must be insured the right
to vote. They must demand that the discretion granted to lo-
cal officials by current state laws be used for the purpose
for which it was originally intended; to give election admin-
istrators the margin of flexibility they need to assure the
access of all citizens to the vote under the varying social,
economic and geographic conditions which exist within states.



20



116



RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ELECTION SYSTEMS PROJECT COMMITTEE

An advisory Committee consisting of nationally prom-
inent authorities and experienced practitioners in the fields
of voting rights, citizen participation, and elections was con-
vened by the League of Women Voters Education Fund and the Na-
tional Municipal League to assist them in designing the Elec-
tion Systems Project. Upon completion of the LWVEF survey, the
Committee reviewed its findings and developed the following re-
commendations regarding elections administration as a practical
means of removing unnecessary obstacles to voting. (See p.3/NML)

Some of the measures recommended may require changes
in some state election codes. The purpose of this report,
however, has been to identify administrative obstacles and to
document the need for eliminating them. It is now up to local
and state officials and citizens throughout each state to de-
cide which reforms their own election system requires and to
employ whatever means would most effectively achieve them.

FINDINGS: CHIEF LOCAL ELECTION OFFICIALS

The administrative practices of local election offi-
cials were found to be diverse throughout the states. Data on
their attitudes toward reforms that would extend the franchise
as well as their perceptions of the problems citizens might
encounter under the present system reflect a tendency to con-
ceive of the vote as a privilege rather than as a right.
These findings imply serious discrepancies between the citi-
zen's Constitutional right to the vote and the actual prac-
tices which govern its implementation.

THEREFORE, THE ELECTION SYSTEMS PROJECT COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS

That the chief election official of eyery community
comprehensively analyze community conditions and citi-
zen needs by examining the registration rates of every
precinct in his jurisdiction and by talking to repre-
sentatives of various citizen organizations interest-
ed and active in issues of registration and voting
participation ;

That the chief election official of every community
go the full limit of his legal powers in order to ag-
gressively extend the right to vote to every eligible
citizen. Such a program could include 1) maximum use
of out-of-office registration techniques, e.g., use of
mobile and other temporary registration units; 2) max-



21



117



imum authorization of qualified deputy registrars on
a paid or volunteer basis; 3) the provision of bilin -
gual staff where needed; 4) the publication and wide-
spread dissemination of voter information guides ;
5) the expansion of registration and polling place
hours; and finally, 6) the use of all these techni-
ques on the basis of voter need as revealed by his
precinct analysis and information obtained through
his community contacts ;

That the chief election official of every community
recruit, appoint, and train registration and polling
place staff capable of and willing to respond to di -
verse citizen needs; that he or she further promote
the highest standards of professional conduct by pro-
viding at least the federal minimum hourly wage to
all registration and polling place staff and by sel -
ecting staff based on qualifications above and be-
yond traditional partisanship .

FINDINGS: CHIEF STATE ELECTION OFFICIAL

The LWVEF study found that although the Secretary of
State or State Attorney General is usually charged with gener-
al responsibility for administering the state election code, in
fact, it is one of many duties of his or her office and there-
fore its implementation is, with few exceptions, decentralized
to the local level. Where regular reports are made to a cen-
tral state authority, moreover, the survey revealed that they
generally contain no more than facts and figures regarding
registration and voting rates and occasionally information on
the kind of voting system used (automatic voting machines,
paper ballots, etc.). Furthermore, where the state authority
issues guidelines to local officials it usually provides no
mechanism for monitoring or enforcing them.

The community study also found that, in the event
that local officials are confused about how to interpret
any part of the state election code, they must take the ini-
tiative in seeking state counsel. Except when their inter-
vention is specifically requested, state authorities gener-
ally take little action to insure uniform and liberal inter-
pretations of state election laws at the local level. Fin-
ally, state authorities generally do not monitor the way lo-
cal officials use the extensive discretionary powers provid-
ed by most state election codes.

THEREFORE, THE ELECTION SYSTEMS PROJECT COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS

That each state locate responsibility for the imple -

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mentation of state election laws in a single state
official or office and that the uniform interpreta -
tion and administration of the election code through-
out the state be the sole responsibility of that of-
ficial or offic e;

That the state election official establish and is-
sue to every local election official minimum stan-
dards and performance guidelines; that the state
official also establish a supervisory structure
within which he or she can evaluate the performance
of local officials under the guidelines and take
corrective action where the standards are not being
met ;

That the state authority conduct mandatory training
sessions for local officials which cover both the
technical aspects of efficiently managing an elec-
tion system as well as the local officials' legal
obligations to aggressively extend the franchise
and protect the voting rights of all citizens ;

That both the guidelines and the training sessions
be developed within the philosophical context of
the vote as a right rather than a privilege ;

That the chief state election official through an
established supervisory structure and regular train -
ing sessions keep local election officials abreast
of the most current legal opinions on voting rights
and establish reporting procedures that will assure


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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 12 of 28)