An urgent letter has been sent today to the Governors, Secretaries of State and State Election Directors of all 50 states urging them to immediately create and implement plans and procedures for allowing the use of Emergency Paper Ballots at every local jurisdiction during this November's general election.
The missive, signed by a broad coalition of more than 50 Election Integrity Advocate groups, congressional members, elections officials, computer scientists, attorneys and journalists comes on the heels of Federal legislation recently introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate. Those bills, which were not brought up for a vote before Congress adjourned for the Election Recess, called for funding to states who implement plans to provide Emergency Paper Ballots. The legislation was introduced in the wake of recent primary elections around the country where voters were unable to cast a vote due to failure, malfunction, or other inability of electronic voting systems.
The two-page letter [PDF] (also posted in full at the end of this article) was signed by individuals such as: Sen. Barbara Boxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Rush Holt, Leon County, FL Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, OH elections attorney Cliff Arnebeck and University of Iowa computer scientist Doug Jones. Organizations signed on include: Common Cause, VerifiedVoting.org, VotersUnite.org, BlackBoxVoting.org, VoterAction.org, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, MoveOn.org, TrueMajorityAction.org and many other national, state and local Election Integrity advocate groups.
"No legally registered voter should ever be told to 'come back later,' or be forced to use a provisional ballot simply because a voting system is unavailable to them at the time they are able to vote," the letter reads. "It is imperative that an ample supply of Emergency Paper Ballots be made available to account for any unforeseen circumstance."
The letter continues, "All voters must have the option to vote on an Emergency Paper Ballot if necessary and all such ballots must be counted as regular — not provisional — ballots."
As well, it's pointed out that some states already have certain procedures required by law to ensure that registered voters are allowed to vote, in the event that primary balloting procedures break down. Officials are urged to check those requirements and otherwise "draft, establish and publicize your own state's common-sense plans for Emergency Paper Ballots at every polling place this Nov. 7th, so that every election official, poll worker, and voter may be crystal clear on the procedures for utilizing such measures."
The movement calling on states to create Emergency Paper Ballot plans began just three weeks ago when The BRAD BLOG first called on the U.S. Congress to introduce and pass legislation in order to ensure that legally registered voters would not be turned away from the polls without being allowed to vote, as has been the case for thousands of voters in a number of states this year due to voting machines that failed to start up, were misprogrammed, failed during voting or, in some cases, hadn't been brought to polling places at all until several hours after polls were to have opened.
Many voters were either told to "come back later" or given Provisional Ballots, which are not counted as normal ballots on Election Night and frequently not counted at all.
Legislation for Emergency Ballots was introduced the following week in the U.S. Senate by Senators Boxer, Christopher Dodd, Russ Feingold and Kerry. A matching House version was filed the next day by Rep. Rush Holt and co-sponsored by 28 other House members. As well, Feingold and Kerry introduced a "Sense of the Senate" resolution calling for same, but that effort was also never brought up for a vote on the floor before the recess.
The letter, drafted by this journalist along with a number of other signatories, was sent to all recipients via return-receipt requested certified mailing this morning by VelvetRevolution.us. [DISCLOSURE: The BRAD BLOG is a co-founder of VR.]
With the failure of Congress to pass such crucial legislation prior to this November's important general election, the effort now moves to the State and Local level. Organizations and individuals are called on to contact their State and Local Elections officals to assure that plans are in place to accommodate any and all unforeseen circumstances.
Alluding to Americans who have fought for and defended the right to vote in the past, and indeed to this day around the globe, the letter concludes: "Our vote is our precious franchise. We believe it is worth defending, and worth the effort to guarantee that that right remains assured and inviolate."
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), one of the initial signatories, has created an online petition for citizens to urge their Secretaries of State and Governors to ensure such plans and procedures are created and implemented immediately. Take action by clicking here…
The open letter, sent to all State Governors, Secretaries of State and State Election Directors calling for Emergency Paper Ballot plans and procedures and signed by 55 organizations and individuals, can be downloaded here [PDF]. It also follows below in full…October 11, 2006
Honorable Governor, Secretary of State & State Election Director:
As you likely know, many legally registered American voters across the country were turned away from polling places without being able to cast a ballot this year. In state after state, voters were unable to exercise their franchise simply because electronic voting systems malfunctioned, suffered programming problems, or were otherwise unavailable for use.
We are sure you'll agree that should never happen in this country. No legally registered voter should ever be turned away from the polls without being allowed to vote on Election Day in America. No legally registered voter should ever be told to "come back later," or be forced to use a provisional ballot simply because a voting system is unavailable to them at the time they are able to vote. It is imperative that an ample supply of Emergency Paper Ballots be made available to account for any unforeseen circumstance.
Common-sense legislation for Emergency Paper Ballots at the polling place this November was recently filed in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposed legislation would have:
- Mandated that voters be given a paper ballot upon request
- Required election officials to post information announcing and confirming that right at each polling place, and
- Mandated that all such paper ballots be counted as regular, not provisional, ballots.
Unfortunately, legislators were unable to pass this important measure before adjourning for the Election Recess. Now the responsibility for this vital democratic process must rest on the States and Counties to ensure that millions of Americans will be able to cast their ballots in the general election on November 7th.
Many of your state's citizens and polling places will be using new electronic voting systems for the first time. Such systems have already caused unforeseen problems this year, resulting in disenfranchised voters from Maryland to California, from Texas to Indiana to many other states and counties around the union.
In Maryland, the Governor recently called for Emergency Paper Ballots statewide after catastrophic problems in their recent primary. In Texas and Arkansas, election officials wisely instructed their counties to have Emergency Paper Ballots on hand during runoff elections after thousands were unable to vote during primaries, or when voting machine companies failed to program balloting systems properly.
In America, in 2006, such occurrences should never have happened, and we write to you hoping that you will take every measure to ensure they do not happen anywhere in your state this November.
Therefore, we, the undersigned groups and individuals, strongly urge you to make contingency plans and procedures to ensure that every legally registered American voter can vote in the upcoming general election. All voters must have the option to vote on an Emergency Paper Ballot if necessary, and all such ballots must be counted as regular — not provisional — ballots.
We hope that your state and every county therein will take careful, yet aggressive measures to institute plans for ample Emergency Paper Ballots, to be made available in every voting jurisdiction.
Several states have laws in place requiring the use of emergency paper ballots for voters if voting equipment is unavailable or has malfunctioned. Many more states and counties, however, do not have such provisions. In addition, many poll workers are unaware of such state laws and elections code.
So many Americans have fought and died in this country and around the world — and indeed, are fighting today – in the defense of our most basic freedoms, to ensure the right to freely cast a vote and thus determine the consent of the governed in this great democracy. Our vote is our precious franchise. We believe it is worth defending, and worth the effort to guarantee that that right remains assured and inviolate.
We urge you to please take this opportunity to draft, establish and publicize your own state's common-sense plans for Emergency Paper Ballots at every polling place this Nov. 7th, so that every election official, poll worker, and voter may be crystal clear on the procedures for utilizing such measures.
With Great Respect,
Broward Election Reform Coalition
Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota
Citizens for Legitimate Government
Coalition for Peace Action, Princeton NJ
Coloradoans for Voting Integrity
Election Defense Alliance (EDA)
Election Reform Network
Florida Fair Elections Coalition
Georgians for Verified Voting
Iowans for Voting Integrity
Las Vegas, NM Peace and Justice Center
MoveOn.org Political Action
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
National Committee for Voting Integrity
National Election Data Archive
New Yorkers for Verified Voting
Ohio Honest Elections Campaign
Palm Beach Coalition for Election Reform
Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)
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