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Democracy Agenda: Voting

The Democracy Agenda includes a series of common-sense steps that candidates and Congress can embrace to improve our voting system.

Published: February 4, 2016

Read our 2018 Demo­cracy report here.

Amer­ican elec­tions need repair. Turnout in 2014 plunged to the lowest rate in seven decades. One in four eligible citizens can’t vote simply because they aren’t registered.[1] Those who show up are often met with hours-long lines, outdated voting machines, or error-laden lists that prevent them from cast­ing a ballot.

We hear calls for change each elec­tion year, but the prob­lems remained unsolved.

This year can be differ­ent. States are already lead­ing the way, improv­ing our elect­oral process through new, common-sense, modern tools: Online regis­tra­tion, voting before Elec­tion Day, user-friendly voting machines. These propos­als have bipar­tisan support because they boost parti­cip­a­tion while saving money. They prove that each of the major prob­lems hinder­ing our elec­tions, from low regis­tra­tion rates to long lines at the polls, is solv­able.

But most states haven’t yet embraced compre­hens­ive reform, mean­ing millions of Amer­ic­ans will face the same famil­iar prob­lems in 2016.

Candid­ates and Congress can help change that.

The Bren­nan Center has outlined a series of concrete propos­als that candid­ates should embrace to improve elec­tions in Amer­ica. These ideas include: modern­iz­ing our outdated system of regis­ter­ing voters, expand­ing early voting, fight­ing back against efforts to pass discrim­in­at­ory laws, restor­ing voting rights to people with past crim­inal convic­tions, and inspir­ing a race to the top to get more Amer­ic­ans to the polls. Finally, we address Elec­tion Day issues includ­ing outdated voting tech­no­logy and the persist­ent prob­lem of long lines.

Many of these reforms are the purview of states. But the national govern­ment can and should play a strong role — setting national stand­ards and help­ing states to achieve them.

  1. Modern­ize Voter Regis­tra­tion
  2. Restore the Voting Rights Act 
  3. Expand Early Voting
  4. Restore Voting Rights to Citizens with Past Crim­inal Convic­tions
  5. Replace Outdated Voting Machines
  6. End Long Lines
  7. Prior­it­ize Increas­ing Voter Turnout
  8. Other Voting Reforms

[1] Jose A. DelReal, Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since WWII, Wash. Post, Nov. 10, 2014, avail­able at http://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/blogs/post-polit­ics/wp/2014/11/10/voter-turnout-in-2014-was-the-lowest-since-wwii/; Pew Center on the States, Inac­cur­ate, Costly and Inef­fi­cient: Evid­ence that Amer­ica’s Voter Regis­tra­tion System Needs an Upgrade 1 (2012), avail­able at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2012/02/14/inac­cur­ate-costly-and-inef­fi­cient-evid­ence-that-amer­icas-voter-regis­tra­tion-system-needs-an-upgrade.