The Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) issues this report to offer its perspective on the recent report of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) outlining recommendations to improve election administration in the United States. RNLA agrees with many of the Commission’s recommendations, particularly its identification of deficiencies in our voter registration system as a significant contributor to Election Day problems such as long lines at the polls. The PCEA’s recommendations to reform voter registration are good ones and, if states adopted them, the reforms should greatly improve citizens’ voting experience. RNLA offers other suggestions in addition to adopting many of the PCEA’s recommendations. Taken in tandem, these recommendations will result in a secure and voter-friendly voter registration system that provides alternatives to same-day voter registration while avoiding the management issues which historically attend the combining of two functions on Election Day – voting and registration. RNLA also welcomes most of PCEA’s recommendations to improve polling place management, including leveraging technology through the use of electronic poll books and ID card bar code/magnetic stripe scanners. RNLA also appreciates the PCEA pointing out the need for continued improvements to the voting experience for our military and overseas voters and generally agrees with PCEA’s recommendations in this area. Finally, RNLA agrees that the current voting equipment testing and certification system is inadequate and needs reform. We recommend a move away from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) certification process in favor of voluntary consensus standards.
While RNLA agrees with a majority of PCEA’s recommendations, we caution against the Commission’s recommendation that states embrace expanded early voting as a solution to the systemic election administration problems identified in its report. The experience from recent elections demonstrates that early voting does not solve the problem of long lines. It is also expensive, distracts from Election Day preparations, and diminishes the importance of Election Day. Most Americans continue to prefer to vote alongside their neighbors and fellow citizens at the polls on Election Day so reform needs to start there. Accordingly, states should instead invest their limited time and resources fixing the problems at the polling place and ensuring a smoother absentee voting process for those who use it out of necessity, not convenience.
Throughout this document, RNLA offers state and local election officials additional suggestions that will improve election administration. This report also outlines additional policy reasons why states should adopt certain PCEA recommendations. In some places RNLA urges states to use caution or establish minimum safeguards when implementing certain reforms, particularly for online voter registration. RNLA’s additional recommendations from those included in the PCEA report include the following:
State and local election officials should do the following to improve the voter registration process:
Ø Amend their laws so there are fewer restrictions in sharing voter registration, voter history and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) data with other states to improve the accuracy of the voter rolls and prevent double-voting.
Ø States unable to participate in multi-state data-sharing agreements should negotiate one-on-one programs to share data with individual states, particularly neighboring states or voting jurisdiction adjacent to their border.
Ø Adopt intrastate data-sharing, including vital statistics information and work with their DMVs, public assistance agencies and other state agencies to obtain additional data to perform voter registration list maintenance.
Ø Upgrade statewide voter registration databases and explore public-private partnerships for list maintenance.
Ø Utilize the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) Database to ensure only citizens are able to register and remain on the voter rolls and to prevent the removal of citizens from the voter rolls who may have been mistakenly identified as non-citizens.
Ø Adopt RNLA’s recommended best practices outlined in this report when implementing online voter registration.
States should do the following to improve Election Day and polling place management:
Ø Utilize ID card bar code/magnetic stripe scanners with electronic poll books to speed check-in process and improve accuracy of voter history data.
Ø Develop technology to display voter photographs on electronic poll books to improve the integrity of the check-in process.
Ø Engage in public-private partnerships to recruit additional poll workers.
Ø Utilize technology such as online training to better prepare poll workers for Election Day.
Ø Manage precinct sizes by timely re-precincting, ensuring a manageable number of voters are assigned to polling places and avoid co-locating polling places when possible.
Recommendations to improve the voting experience for our military and overseas voters:
Ø Simplify and streamline the registration and absentee voting application process for our overseas and military voters, including the use of the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA) and the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
Ø States need to improve their online offerings to our military and overseas voters by placing a higher priority on improving their websites to better explain the voting process to our overseas and military voters.
Ø Eliminate waiver provision for 45-day ballot mailing deadline to overseas and military voting and require express mail for any ballots mailed late.
Ø Vigorous enforcement of our federal and state overseas and military voting laws.
Improve the testing and certification procedures for voting equipment:
Ø Transition from the federal EAC voting equipment certification regimen towards adoption of voluntary consensus standards similar to those used in other manufacturing industries.