The Powerful Role Confusion Plays In American Elections

Ahead of the November election, Georgia became what many were calling “ground zero” in the battle over voting rights. In October, the AP reported that Kemp, then the secretary of state, had marked roughly 53,000 voter registration applications as pending because the information on their registration applications didn’t exactly match the information on file with state agencies. Around 70 percent of the pending applications, the AP said, belonged to black voters. Advocates expressed concerns that voters would get to the polls, unaware that they weren’t eligible to vote.

…“Voters were showing up to the polling places and poll workers weren’t even aware that they needed to check a separate list of pending registrations,” Henderson said. As a result, voters had to argue with their poll workers in order to cast a ballot, exacerbating their confusion.

Part of the issue was that even the court ruling was confusing. People whose registrations had previously been purged could cast regular ballots if their ID’s showed a “substantial match” with what was on the state’s voter roles. That term was not defined by the court.

…An unknown number of voters were also forced to cast provisional ballots, including many Atlanta-area students like Perry. Voters, poll workers, and election protections volunteers were all unclear what would happen with provisional ballots. Some voters were told that if they voted out-of-precinct, their votes for statewide office would count, but that turned out to be false.

…He left the church unsure what a provisional ballot was, why he was given one, and whether his vote would count.

…I watched many like her leave polling places in Atlanta with orange papers in their hands — the telltale sign that they were forced to vote provisional (Poll workers gave an orange paper to provisional voters that explained how they could follow up to make sure their votes counted.)

….Across Georgia, tens of thousands of people experienced problems registering to vote and casting a ballot. Georgia’s election laws were complicated, and voting policies were changing right up until the day of the election. Many voters remained unclear whether their ballots had counted. Even more questioned whether the election was legitimate.

…Similar scenarios played out this year in parts of Missouri and Florida. Two of 2018’s most competitive gubernatorial elections may have swung on voter confusion.

…On Election Day, ProPublica and the Huffington Post reported that poll workers incorrectly turned voters away for not providing a photo ID. Signs still hung at polling places with the outdated requirements, and voters said they had to argue with election workers in order to cast ballots. County supervisors reported being understaffed and having minimal time to train poll workers on the changed law.

…In other parts of Georgia, voters had to wait four and a half hours to cast ballots because of broken machines. Some of them left their polling places, expressing concern about the situation and whether the lines would be shorter later in the day.

…“Anything that causes confusion is a form of voter suppression, whether it’s intentional or whether it’s just unintended consequences.” 

…With hurdles to voting come confusion. This has been the case since a very early hurdle, voter registration, was put in place in the second half of the nineteenth century. ….Registration alone was enough to dramatically decrease the participation of racial and ethnic minorities.

In the 21st century, lawmakers — specifically, Republicans crying fraud — have sought to put in place new and creative hurdles to casting a ballot. One of the most popular obstacles used in recent years is voter ID. And with each new hurdle comes incidental, or intentional, confusion.

A total of 34 states have laws requiring voters to show some form of ID when they cast a ballot. Research shows that roughly 11 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have the necessary ID, and that number is even higher among seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students.

…In Georgia and Missouri, voter confusion was caused by lawmakers and elections officials who purposely passed laws making it more difficult for certain voters to cast ballots and the legal battles that followed. In other words, the confusion was intentional.

…In Broward County, Fla., [yes, THAT Broward County, FL] for example, elections officials designed the ballot for the November 2018 election with the Senate race tucked in a corner under the instructions, which many voters overlooked. According to MCI Maps, about 3.7 percent of voters — 30,896 people — skipped voting for U.S. senator. That number is as much as 2.5 percent more than in most other counties.

…The authors noted that in Broward County, more people voted for the commissioner of agriculture and county CFO than for their U.S. senator.

The number of votes separating former Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Rick Scott, who ultimately won, was far smaller than the number of people who skipped voting in the race. Many questioned whether poor ballot design, and the resulting voter confusion, ended up costing Nelson his seat in the Senate.

 …“This is not rocket science,” she said. “Not only are there knowable conventions — things that more often than not are going to be the right way to handle it — it’s also not impossible to test it.”

Issues like those in Broward County this year point to how many different kinds of problems cause confusion, and how many different kinds of problems need to be addressed.

“There are some that are just straight-up intentional suppressing of certain communities,” Perez said. “There’s mistakes that are made because people are not resourced or they’re not trained or they’re moving too quickly and they don’t have enough fact checks. And then there’s this third category of mistakes that happen when folks are told they’re going to have these types of problems and they don’t invest the resources anyway.”

…Together, it’s resulted in a country where voters have lost faith in elections.

…Still, experts say solutions are possible. One major way to simplify elections, and to create fail-safes for voters who might be confused, is to expand opportunities to cast ballots. That includes lengthening early voting periods and hours and allowing people to register to vote on the same day that they cast a ballot.

…Automatic voter registration provides another way to simplify elections. If eligible citizens are automatically added to the rolls when they turn 18, they no longer will have to worry about figuring out the steps needed to ensure that they are on the rolls.

…He explained that first and foremost, Americans need to recognize that elections can and should be less complicated.

“In what’s supposed to be the greatest democracy in the world. This [type of confusion and all of these obstacles to voting] just shouldn’t exist.”

The Powerful Role Confusion Plays In American Elections – Talking Points Memo



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