Voting Rights Watch: Report underscores Election Day will be a major test for the U.S. voting system

A new report released today by the Pew Center on the States' details how voters could face long lines, new technology and registration challenges in a number of states in the upcoming election.

The report entitled "Election Preview 2008: What if We Held an Election and Everyone Came?" looks at the rules, technology, registration figures and issues to watch in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It finds that while significant improvements have been undertaken since the 2000 vote - and the resulting passage of federal legislation in 2002 - election administration remains a challenge.

According to the report, a "perfect storm may be brewing" that has the potential to combine a record turnout with an insufficient number of poll workers and a voting system still in flux.

"Sky-high voter interest, coupled with changes in voting machines, record numbers of new registrants in many places and new procedures including voter identification rules in some states will mean voters and election administrators could have a long day on November 4," Doug Chapin, director of, said in a press release. "Many polling places will hit capacity and poll workers will be tested. Results from some counties could take longer than usual."

Some key findings from the report:
  • Voter Eligibility: Surges in voter registrations around the country - and particularly in battleground states - have been among the most closely watched pre-election issues. Eligibility for students enrolled in college, especially those who come to universities from out-of-state, has been a divisive issue. Availability of sufficient registration opportunities continues to be an issue, more than a decade after the passage of the National Voter Registration Act, the law that requires state agencies - including motor vehicle bureaus and public assistance offices - to offer registration opportunities to citizens. With hundreds of thousands of new voters added to the rolls in the final days of registration periods, the timeliness of registration-application processing has become a critical issue for campaigns.
  • Voter Turnout: New voters are registering in record numbers in almost every state. Record numbers of new registrants in dozens of states could lead to clerical errors, lost applications, mishandled forms or other problems. In Virginia, for example, a critical swing state, officials recently had to order 200,000 additional voter registration forms. Those new registrations will mean millions of new voters nationwide. Counties across the country are scrambling to make sure they have enough poll workers to handle the anticipated masses with mixed success.
  • Voter ID: Always adding volatility to the mix are the issues of voter ID and provisional ballots. Recently adopted rules requiring voters to show photo ID before casting ballots will be enforced for the first time in a presidential election in Indiana and Georgia. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's law requiring polling place voters to present government-issued photo ID and voter ID proponents say the rules will safeguard the election from fraudulent voting. But concerns remain that some citizens could be disenfranchised. Indiana, Georgia and Florida remain the only states that require a photo ID to cast a ballot (those without can cast provisional ballots) while 18 other states require that residents show some form of ID, with or without a photo. Tova Wang of Common Cause and Edward Foley of the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law have warned that provisional ballots, and the variety of state rules that govern them, may be the hanging chad of 2008.
  • Voting Systems: Another part of the equation is voting systems. Several states have made the switch from electronic to paper ballots since 2004 including, most recently, Florida. The roll-out of paper ballots in Florida was relatively smooth in all counties but one -- Palm Beach. There, nearly 3,500 ballots went missing between the initial count on election night 2008 and a follow-up recount. The ballots were eventually found, but questions remain about the ability of some counties to handle the upcoming election. Though some states are making the switch to paper ballots after lawmakers and citizen groups took issue with electronic voting, other states including Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and Utah will have e-voting systems that do not offer individual paper ballot records. Doubts still linger about electronic voting machines.