Nationwide Standards Would Ensure Eligible Votes Are Counted Everywhere

Categories: News, Voting Rights

Elections are run differently in every state, sometimes differently from county to county, making it hard to ensure that every eligible vote is properly counted.

In recent elections, inconsistencies in the use of emergency paper ballots and provisional ballots have prevented the votes of many Americans from being counted.

During the 2008 presidential primary, for example, some polling officials in Pennsylvania failed to issue emergency paper ballots after voting machines broke down, and instead gave out provisional ballots or turned people away. Emergency paper ballots are issued when voting machines do not work and are to be counted as a regular vote, while provisional ballots are issued when a person’s voter registration is in doubt and are only counted once registration is verified. 

Speaking earlier this month before the House Subcommittee on Elections, Edward A. Hailes, Jr., senior attorney at the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, argued in favor of nationwide standards for emergency and provisional ballots that would fix some of the confusion about ballots.

Hailes recommended that Congress amend federal election law to ensure that emergency paper ballots are clearly distinguishable from provisional ballots; to require that polling stations offer emergency paper ballots to voters immediately when at least half of all voting machines are not working or if the wait time to vote is longer than 45 minutes; and to require that all poll workers are properly trained to administer emergency ballots.

He also recommended that Congress amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to curb the needless overdistribution of provisional ballots and the improper rejection of provisional ballots.