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Top Officials 'Doing The Right Thing' For Voters

Do the Right Thing

By R. Patrick Wyllie, Brennan Center for Justice
10/30/08

Over the last couple of months, there have been countless media reports of officials and partisan operatives erecting barriers to voting—many of questionable legality. Less attention has been paid to the fact that multiple state and local officials have worked very hard to ensure that everybody who has the right to vote will be able to cast a ballot and have it count. Here's our "honor roll" so far:

- Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Governor Crist, in an effort to stem the long lines caused by record numbers of early voters, issued an emergency executive order extending voting hours from eight to twelve hours aday. Governor Crist's action came despite calls from fellow Republicans urging him not to expand access to the polls. As he explained, "It's not apolitical decision. It's a people'sdecision."

- Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The Ohio Republican Party and other partisans have made a series of attempts to gain access to a list of 200,000 Ohio voters whose information did not exactly match government databases because of typos, data-entry errors, misplaced hyphens and the like—with the apparent aim of having these voters purged from the registration rolls or forcing them to vote provisional ballots. Fortunately, their efforts have been unsuccessful to date. And on October 22nd, Secretary Brunner issued two directives, which ensure that (1) no voter may be challenged at the polls solely on the basis of a database mismatch; and (2) no absentee ballot may be rejected (or not counted) solely on the basis of a database mismatch.

- Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, and other Florida supervisors of elections. In Florida, where a dangerous "no match, no vote" policy has been adopted that threatens to disenfranchise more than 12,000 new voters because of typos and other trivial mistakes, a number of election supervisors have taken the initiative to develop novel solutions to avoid the harshest aspects of this process. Deborah Clark, supervisor in Pinellas County, has taken the lead in implementing a solution that allows voters to resolve "matching" problems at the polling place on Election Day, so they can be sure their votes will be counted without taking additional steps. Thankfully, numerous other supervisors are following suit.

- West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Ireland took the lead by urging state election officials to recalibrate touch-screen voting machines each morning in order to avoid "vote-flipping." We hope that election officials in other states that use similar voting machines will do the same.

- United States Department of Justice. Even the DOJ, which has come under so much criticism in recent years for partaking in partisan election activities, has demonstrated sound leadership in the last few weeks. First, in a Georgia case that threatened the voting rights of thous
ands of naturalized citizens, the DOJ intervened and said that the practice should have been pre-cleared, leading a three-judge panel to rule that Georgia has to let these citizens vote. Second, DOJ has refused to be drawn into the controversy in Ohio about unmatched voters, appropriately staying out of the partisan fray in spite of pressure from the White House.

This year, there are indications that record numbers of voters will turnout on November 4th. These citizens will only remain engaged—and enthusiastic—if they have reason to believe that every vote counts in a fair election system. Our honor roll of election officials is leading the way in making sure that every citizen who wants to vote gets to vote. With any luck, more election heroes will emerge in the coming days to make sure that this historic election is a success.

*************

ENDS

About the Author
Mr. Wyllie presently works as an intern in the communications and strategy department. A history major at Fordham University, he plans to study public policy & law after obtaining his degree. A true Renaissance man, his interests range from music to circumnavigating distant islands off the coast of New England in rough seas. Mr. Wyllie worked at Media Matters and Tesseract LLC before coming to the Brennan Center for Justice.

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