Skip Navigation

Statement on Election Day

Universal voter registration, contingency plans needed to ensure every eligible vote can cast a vote that counts.

November 5, 2008

For Immediate Release

Contact: Tim Bradley, 314–440–9936 (cell) or 646–452–5637 or

Record Turnout, Registration Hurdles, Machine Failures & Long Lines Put Strains on the System


New York – Following an Election Day full of record turnout, long lines, machines problems and registration challenges, the voting rights and voting technology team at the Brennan Center for Justice issued the following statement:

“Overall, the election ran smoothly in many places, with huge voter turnout. An unprecedented number of Americans voted, many for the first time, and that is great news,” said Wendy Weiser, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice. “But while a lot of people voted, a lot of people also had problems at the polls,” she continued.

"The number one problem on Election Day was registered, eligible voters’ names not appearing on the voter rolls.  Second, the vast turnout put a major stress on the system, leading to long lines in many places because of machine failures and a lack of contingency plans.

“Our democracy is strong, but the problems we saw before and on Election Day are proof that the process is way too complicated and that the registration system is too vulnerable to error and manipulation. Americans deserve confidence that they will get to vote and that their votes will be counted.  We should take this opportunity to improve our voting system—especially the voter registration system—to make it work better for all Americans.  We don’t want to spend every election fighting over the rules of the game and who gets to vote and questioning whether the result will be legitimate,” Weiser stated.

The estimated national turnout was 64%, according to Michael McDonald of George Mason University.

“If we are to continue moving toward fuller participation, the system has to be ready,” Weiser continued. 

“Record turnout is a good thing, but it creates strain on the system,” said Lawrence Norden, director of voting technology at the Brennan Center.  “And the big question when machines fail is, what plans do jurisdictions have in place to deal with them? We saw on Election Day that the biggest problems came from states where machines failed and there was a little or no contingency plan to handle it,” he stated.

“Technology can fail—but that only becomes a dire problem when there is not a clear response plan in place, including requirements to have emergency paper ballots at the polls,” Norden stated.

“There were a lot of healthy signs on Election Day, including record turnout and many places where voting went smoothly,” stated Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center. “We just have a system that needs updating. The registration system needs to be fixed, and we need to ensure that the system accommodates all voters. Many of the problems and frustrations voters encountered this election could be resolved by modernizing our voter registration system.  We need a system of standard voter registration in which the government makes sure that every eligible citizen is automatically registered, so that every eligible voter’s voice can be heard when they take responsibility to vote,” Waldman stated.

For more on universal voter registration, visit the Brennan Center website here.

Michael Waldman, Wendy Weiser and Lawrence Norden are available for interviews. Please contact Tim Bradley at 646–452–5637, 314–440–9936 or