10 Ways to Unfairly Influence an Election

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In spite of the mounting evidence that has emerged since 2006 demonstrating that voter fraud committed at the polling place is extremely rare, there are still of plenty of ways to unfairly influence an election. Common Cause and the New Century Foundation list 10 of the most common ways. Most involve the use of low tech combined with the power of ambition and the willingness to steal an election.

Voter Registration: Many of the most pressing problems from 2006 have gone unaddressed, or have worsened. States are still failing to comply with certain provisions of the National Voting Registration Act designed to make registration forms more accessible to traditionally disenfranchised voters. Many states still have either vague or unacceptable standards for verifying the eligibility of a would-be voter: Statewide registration databases are still not working the way they should be.

Voter Identification: Fraud is still regularly used as a justification for passing harsh voter identification laws by state legislators and other elected officials. These laws exist in many states and are of a particularly disenfranchising nature in Georgia and Florida. Stringent voter identification laws potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters and disproportionately impact minorities, young people, the elderly, poor people and voters with disabilities, while serving no benefit to the integrity of the election system.

Caging and Challenges: State laws on this issue often made it too easy for people to challenge a voter on too slim a basis. This includes both challenges to a voter's registration eligibility and right to vote at the polls on Election Day.

Deceptive Practices: In every election, fliers, mailers and increasingly robo-calls have been used to purposely give voters (usually in minority communities) misinformation about the voting process. Virginia did recently pass a strong deceptive practices law, and in New Mexico it is a fourth degree felony to distribute or display false or misleading instructions pertaining to voting or the conduct of the election.

Provisional Ballots: A surge in registration can make it difficult for election administrators to ensure all new voters are accurately on the rolls, leading voters to arrive at the polls to find that they are not on the list and must cast a provisional ballot. Wide variations in the counting of provisional ballots persist in the states, making this yet another area in which whether a vote will be counted or not depends solely on where a person resides. A major concern is that polling sites will have insufficient supplies of provisional ballots and that poll workers, overrun with voters, will use provisional ballots when it is not appropriate to do so because it seems like the easier way to deal with problems.

Voting Machine Allocation: In most states, the authority to decide how many voting machines are necessary at a polling place is left to localities, which means that the number of voting machines at a particular precinct may have more to do with the number the precinct can afford than the number of voters who will want to cast a ballot there. In the past, poor allocation of machines has led to long lines and concerns that machines have been allocated unfairly.

Poll Worker Recruitment: With the record high turnout expected, a smooth election will depend in part on having enough poll workers to help process the crowds of voters who show up at the polls. Statewide standards on minimum numbers of poll workers required are inadequate--not surprising given how unclear it is how many poll workers are actually needed to effectively operate a poll site on Election Day. Poll Worker Training: Despite laws in most states requiring poll worker training, there is often a lack of uniform, effective poll worker training procedures across the state. Furthermore, those few states that do not actually require poll worker training by law are leaving their election systems vulnerable to enormous potential problems on Election Day.

Voter Education: States have widely picked up on the Internet as their primary conduit of voting information and their online efforts. That's good, but states must also be conscientious in their educational efforts of those voters who lack the resources or skills to access information online.

Student Voting Rights: Youth participation was already unprecedented in the primaries, and student voters are reporting in record numbers that they are planning to vote, leading to concerns about problems young voters may encounter when trying to register and vote.