that so many citizens do vote. That the system functions at all is a tribute to the sheer determination of citizens to overcome these inconvenience 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 practices provide some dramatic examples of the problems citizens encounter in tryin to register.
The first problem that the citizen is likely to encounter will be finding the registration office. He may well have to travel a considerable distance from his home to a central registration office (except perhaps during the last month of registration for a particlar election when he is more likely to find facilities
in his neighborhood). In 40% of the communities studied, however, no additional registratain places were opened even during these rush rush months. Since 54% of the registration places were not accessible by convenient public transportation, 24% lackd convenient parking, and 52% were not clearly identified as a registration or elections office, the prospective registrant may well be frustrated before he arrive.
TABLE E. DISTRIBUTION OF REGISTRATION STAFF BEHAVIOR ACCORDING TO SOCIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF RESISTRANTS
|Total samples observed||Registration staff behavior||Registation staff behavior
|[illegible?] class 1||N = 209||100||100||48||52||100||62||38
Once he has located the registration office, the prospective registrant may find that it is not open for registraton. In 28% 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 no evening registraton during non-election months. While 62% of the communites did have additional registration hours during election month, 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 himself confronted with a registration form. If the form is confusing or questions arise concerning his eligibluty, he may no find the staff very helpful. Fifty-two percent (52%) of the observers at registration places classified staff as not helpful. Further more, in 30% of the places were 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 attempting to register at approimately 200 registration places showed that 3 out of every 100 qualified people who made the effort 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 33% of the polling places observed) and public transportation and convenient parking may be lacking. Fifty-eight percent (53%) of the places observed lacked convenient public transportation and 11% lacked convenient parking. Since polliing places are not opened in the evenings in many states, the potential 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 observed. If he goes to the polls following work, he may find that he is refused the right to vote even though he is standing 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 selected on the basis of their partisanship. If there are voting machines
at his polling place, he may well be delayed in casting a ballot by a machine breakdown since this occured in one out of every ten places having voting machines. His right to vote may be challenged as were the rights of 410 persons at the observed polls. In the event that he successfully casts a ballot, it must be attributed at least partially to his perseverance.
In a democratic society, no right is more fundamental than the right of every 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 though which the vote is cast.
In studying the way our current election system is administered, the League of Women Voters Education Fund found that the administration of state election codes throughout each state and that the discretion which most state laws five to local election officials is often exercised in a manner which impedes rather than enhances the citizen's rght to vote.
There is an urgent need for administrative reform of our longer be forced to earn the "privilege" but rather must be insured the right to vote. They must demand that the discretion granted to local officials by current state laws be used for the purpose for which it was originally intended; to give election administrators the margin of flexibilty they need to assure the access of all citizens to the vote under the varying social, economic and geographic conditions which exist within states.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ELECTION SYSTEMS PROJECT COMMITTEE
An advisory Committee consisting of nationally prominent authorities and experienced practitioners in the fields of voting rights, citizen participaton, and elections was convened by the :eague of Women Voters Education Fund and the National Municipal League to assist them in designing the Election Systems Project. Upon completion of the LWVEF survey, the Committee
reviewed its findings and developed the following recommendations regarding elections administration as a practical means of removing unneccessary 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 admistrative obstacles and to document the need for eliminating them. It is now up to local and state officials and citizens throughout each state to decide which reforms their own election system requires and to emply whatever means would most effectively achieve them.
Findings: Chief local election officials
The administrative practices of local election officials 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 [illegible?] of the vote as a privilege rather than [illegible?] right. These findings imply serious discrepencies between the citizen's Constitutional right to the vote and the actual practices which govern its implementation.
Therefor, the Election System Project Committee recommends:
That the chief election official of every community comprehensively analyze [illegible?] examaning the registration rates of every precinct in his jurisdiction and by [illegible?] tions interested and various citizens organizations interested and active in issues of registration and voting paricipation.
That the chief election official of every community go the full limit of [illegible] powers in order to aggressively extend the right to vote to every eligible citizen [illegible?] program could include 1) maximum [illegible?] out-of-office registration techniques [illegible?] of mobile and other temporary registration units; 2) maximum authorization of qualified deputy registrats on a paid of [illegible?] basis; 3) the provision of bilinqual [illegible?] where needed; 4) the publication and [illegible?] spread dissemination of voter [illegible?] guides; 5} the expansion of registraton and polling place hours; and [illegible?] of all these techniques on the basis of [illegible?] need as revealed by his precint analusis [illegible?] information obtained through his community contact.
That the chief elections official of every community recruit, appoint, and train registration and polling place staff [illegible?] willing to respond to diverse citizen [illegible?] that he or she further promote the [illegible?] standars of professional conduct by [illegible?]
Notes and Questions
Nobody has written a note for this page yet
Please sign in to write a note for this page