Defending Democracy, News

New report: What NC needs to do in 2018 to make elections work better

The good people at Democracy North Carolina are out with a “must read” new report this morning.

This is from the release that accompanied it:

(Durham, N.C.) — Democracy North Carolina, the state’s leading election watchdog organization, today released a comprehensive review of the 2016 election, providing detailed recommendations for improving voters’ experience at the polls in 2018. The 27-page report is based on first-person accounts gathered during early voting and on Election Day 2016 from voters, on-site poll monitors, and calls to the Election Protection hotline.

While the report acknowledges challenges elections officials successfully overcame in adjusting to continuous changes to voting laws during 2016, it emphasizes that more can be done to avoid problems with malfunctioning equipment, long waits at the polls, and improperly-trained or discourteous poll workers.

Noting that much of the public attention to elections tends to focus on dramatic threats like unproven, widespread voter fraud or hacking by foreign governments, the report findings “demonstrate that much more granular problems disrupt the rights of voters to participate in elections — problems that state and county elections agencies have the power and responsibility to address.”

The report highlights voter experiences with:

  • inconsistent implementation of out-of-precinct voting, an important safety net for voters on Election Day, and curbside voting, an alternative voting option for voters with disabilities
  • excessively-long lines, particularly during the first and last days of early voting
  • voting equipment breakdowns, and
  • poorly trained or discourteous poll workers.

“While the challenges highlighted in our report do not reflect all voters’ experiences, it’s helpful to look at the system from the lens of the voter who had a troubling experience at the polls in order to learn, adjust, and continuously improve the voting process,” said Isela Gutierrez, director of research and policy at Democracy North Carolina and author of the report. “The coming 2018 election is a chance to apply those lessons from previous cycles.”

Based on voters’ experiences, the Democracy North Carolina report also provides feedback on how county and state boards of elections can improve experiences at the polls in 2018 and beyond. Recommendations include:

  • State and county boards of elections should improve consistency in poll worker use of the existing protocol for out-of-precinct voting, so that it’s clear to all at the polls that the choice to vote provisionally out-of-precinct lies with the voter, not poll workers.
  • The State Board of Elections (SBOE) should review its training materials on curbside voting, and work with county officials to improve curbside voting signage, wait times, and implementation.
  • SBOE should request funding from the General Assembly to assist with upgrading voting equipment and other elections costs – which are currently borne exclusively by counties.
  • SBOE should develop a “Code of Conduct” for North Carolina poll workers that stresses the importance of (1) courtesy, respect, and sensitivity toward all voters regardless of age, race, language, gender, and ability; (2) clear communication; (3) efficiency and convenience; (4) basic knowledge of NC election law and administrative guidance; and, (5) commitment to ensuring that all eligible voters are able to cast ballots.
  • Increase and expand state and county efforts to recruit younger, more diverse, culturally-competent, and tech-savvy poll workers.

Democracy North Carolina’s full report is available for download at demnc.co/elexreport.

Democracy North Carolina is a statewide nonpartisan organization that uses research, organizing, and advocacy to increase civic participation, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and remove systemic barriers to voting and serving in elected office. 

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