Opinion

Opinion

ISELA GUTIERREZ: Steps to boost voter participation in 2018 elections

Posted January 9, 2018 5:00 a.m. EST

EDITOR'S NOTE: Isela Gutierrez is the Research and Policy Director at Democracy North Carolina. She is the author of the report, “From the Voter’s View: Lessons from the 2016 Election.”


North Carolina state and local policy and elections officials need to take a step back from the most dramatic extremes of the 2016 election cycle – dramatic yet unproven claims of “voter fraud,” or the still-ongoing investigation into attempts by foreign governments to hack our elections.

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Instead, state and county election agencies need to focus attention on the more fundamental problems that actually disrupted voting access during the 2016 elections to help make the system better in 2018 and beyond. Those problems included:

  • Inconsistent implementation of out-of-precinct voting;
  • An Election Day “safety net” for voters who vote in the right county, but at the wrong precinct;
  • Barriers to curbside voting, the voting option for people who have trouble walking or standing in line;
  • Excessively-long lines and waits at polling places;
  • Voting equipment breakdowns;
  • Poorly-trained or rude poll workers.

Those concerns and recommendations for improvements are included in the report, From the Voter’s View: Lessons from the 2016 Election, from voting rights watchdog Democracy North Carolina and written from a unique perspective -- North Carolina’s voters.

This review is based on first-person voter accounts and on-site poll monitors during the 2016 General Election, as part of one of the largest non-partisan Election Protection field operations in the nation.

The goal was simple: Lift up voices of the voters and non-partisan volunteers who experienced or witnessed problems in order to provide recommendations that will improve our elections system for everyone.

While the report acknowledges challenges elections officials successfully overcame in 2016, it also emphasizes that more can and should be done to help voters who faced barriers at the polls.

Instead of adding more politically-motivated obstacles to voting in the name of “integrity” or “security,” state policymakers and election officials need to apply the lessons learned “from the voter’s view” and fund updated equipment, improve training materials, utilize data-driven approaches to reducing long lines, and develop recruitment, training, and accountability strategies that improve poll worker competency and conduct.

But the power and responsibility to make changes do not only fall to lawmakers or state and county elections agencies. As North Carolina voters, we must all begin to understand our roles at the polls and in our democracy — beginning with a better understanding of our election system, the voting rules that define it and how they and the quality of their implementation determine who can and cannot vote.

To that end, we’re encouraging all who support fair elections to get involved with implementing and defending them in 2018.

  • Contact county Board of Elections and volunteer as a poll worker.
  • Attend a Democracy North Carolina training to become a Board of Elections Monitor to see how election decisions are made in your county and advocate for improvements.
  • Sign up to be a Poll Monitors, so you can connect voters with what they need to successfully cast a ballot and document any problems.
  • Become an “Early Voting Advocate” and stand ready to support strong early voting plans in your county.

The upcoming 2018 elections are the chance to apply vital lessons learned from voter experiences in 2016, and for our policymakers to embrace policy solutions that will increase voter access, bolster elections infrastructure, and enhance the quality of our democratic practice. Let’s not miss it.

More information is available at democracync.org.

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