Last week, however, an elections worker in Muncie, Indiana got a little too hot under the collar during form-processing season. The Delaware County Election Board called a meeting to figure out how to deal with the flood of new registrations they had received for the presidential primary—including 1,500 on the primary deadline itself, out of a citizen voting age population of only around 90,000. Apparently the 1,500 forms were collected by the Obama campaign, which has made voter registration drives a focus of its efforts with student populations in particular. The Delaware Elections Board was operating at reduced capacity already because, under state law, the Board, which must have the same number of Democratic and Republican employees, is short a Republican—so they’re down two whole workers. (Partisan election administration is a blog post for another day.) Will Statom, a Republican board employee, was apparently so angry that this meeting was called without complying with an Indiana public meetings law, he started a fight with a reporter for the Muncie Star-Press, which Statom claimed had “promoted” the “illegal” meeting. Statom shoved Nick Werner into a wall, tried to choke Werner, and then ended up punching Barry Welsh, a candidate for Congress, in the eye when Welsh tried to break up the fight. Statom was charged with misdemeanor battery, but returned to work the next day-the office needed his help to process all those registrations. (He has since been given a three-day suspension).
In 2004, elections officials in swing states also received many more forms than they were expecting—in large part because of the success of voter registration drives that registered a bunch of new voters and pulled more people into the process—something that’s already happening this presidential year. Sometimes, those forms simply couldn’t be processed in time, and voters had to cast provisional ballots. Other places, voting machines were distributed before all those voters registered, meaning long lines for some on Election Day. Ultimately, though, there was record registration and record turnout levels—something we can all agree is good, right?
Maybe not. Afterwards, some officials responded like Statom—they got angry, or ended up punching the wrong person. States across the country passed restrictions on these drives. Instead of giving counties all the money and capacity they needed to hire as many people as they could to process forms and ensure all voters new and old were able to vote, these dates decided to restrict the inputs—to limit drives’ ability to reach new voters. States claim these laws are necessary because groups “hoard” forms—save them till the last minute and then turn them in all at once. But as tax day tells us (and as a study we did in Florida demonstrates), that’s what voters do anyway—all groups do is increase the overall number of people who register to vote. Here at the Brennan Center, we’ve challenged these laws—successfully—as unconstitutional in Ohio and Florida. But they’re still on the books in a number of states as we head towards the fall registration season. Rather than giving a black eye to new voters, states should figure out ways to process the form of every American who wants to register and vote.