I woke up Tuesday with that little buzz of excitement and apprehension that comes every Election Day. This year, though, I was more anxious than usual. Not only because of how close the contest was and the possibility that there would be no final outcome for weeks— but also because after voting, I would head off to spend my day at an Election Protection call center.
I was most worried that after two years of states passing laws to make voting harder, the onslaught of calls generated by confused and misinformed voters and poll workers would be far greater than in past years. And despite the many successes in blocking the worst of these laws, I was confident there would be no escaping the fallout from seeing so many changes in the rules so close to the election.
After 14 hours of supporting an amazing team of volunteers responding to thousands of calls from voters in multiple states, I can’t say those fears were unfounded. Minute to minute, I triaged the most problematic reports, and it was evident that confusion and misinformation — and, yes, people wrongfully prevented from voting — was happening.
But far more common was the frustrating situation in which an Election Protection volunteer was forced to tell someone who really, really, wanted to vote, and cared enough to call the hotline, that the caller was almost certainly unable to vote. Why? Not because of a new restrictive photo ID law. Not because of a wrongful purge. But simply because the person registered too late, or had not yet registered, or had moved to another county or state without re-registering.
To echo President Obama’s reaction to another election administration problem this year — the unacceptably long waits for voters trying to cast ballots — “we have to fix that.” This country has at least 50 million eligible citizens who do not participate in our elections. Many attribute this to apathy, or a citizenry so frustrated with politics they have given up on the constitutional promise of a government for the people, by the people.
That’s not what I heard on Election Day. I heard a chorus of people who want to vote, who want to have their say, and who are asking to do so. But, instead they find themselves stymied by an antiquated, confusing, and unnecessarily burdensome voter registration system. It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s fix that.