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Barriers To The Ballot: 2008 Election and Beyond




(WASHINGTOND.C.)—The Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization, released Barriers to the Ballot: The 2008 Election and Beyond.  The report outlines significant electoral problems and voting barriers in five states that needlessly disenfranchised tens of thousands of eligible voters in 2008. If the problems remain unaddressed the integrity of the upcoming 2010 midterm congressional elections could be jeopardized.


Some of the documented voting problems became apparent to the nation on Election Day 2008 when voters at some polling places in the country waited as long as seven hours to cast ballots. Other barriers to voting, as the report shows, resulted from cumbersome and unnecessary rules restricting voter registration, inadequate poll worker recruitment and training; insufficient and inequitable distribution of polling place resources; improper use of provisional ballots and politically partisan practices that restricted the ability of voters to cast ballots.


Barriers to the Ballot looks behind the 2008 results to assess the performance of the election process in five key battleground states where Advancement Project had a strong advocacy presence:  FloridaMissouriOhioPennsylvania, and Virginia. The report urges reforms that would bring greater integrity to the election process and enable eligible voters to cast ballots unimpeded by voter registration, election administration and resource issues.


Among the report’s key findings are:


  • In Florida, a significantly smaller percentage of provisional ballots are counted than in most of the country.  In 2008, about 56% of the ballots statewide were not counted. The state’s use of provisional ballots was closely linked to its troubled registration system – the issues surrounding no-match, no-vote, among other matters.


§         In Ohio, the number and rate of provisional ballots cast rose in 2008 from the 2004 election, partially as a result of apparent poll worker error and confusion.  Ohio voters cast 206,859 provisional ballots in 2008 – or approximately 3.5% of all ballots cast—up from 2.7 percent in 2004. 


§         In Pennsylvania, rejection of a high percentage of provisional ballots cast (44 percent) reflects insufficient poll worker training.


§         In Missouri, some 180,000 more ballots were cast statewide in 2008 than in 2004, resulting in a record turnout rate statewide of 68.2 percent of the total voting eligible population. Among African-Americans, turnout surged. Eight percent of Missouri’s voters were African American in 2004 but 13 percent of the state’s voters were African American in 2008. However, in St. Louis County, which has a 21 percent African-American population, turnout in that population dropped four percentage points from 2004 to 2008, prompting Advancement Project’s call for an investigation.


§         In some areas of Virginia, communities with high percentages of people of color had fewer voting machines per registered voter than predominantly White communities, causing significant wait times on line to vote. For instance, in Richmond, in areas where more than 50 percent of the residents were people of color, there were 20 percent more voters per machine than in precincts where people of color made up less than 50 percent of the population.



Nonpartisan political scientists have already estimated that approximately eight million registered voters did not cast ballots because of administrative problems – such as long lines at the polls, registration issues, and absentee ballot issues in 2008.


Elizabeth Westfall, Advancement Project’s Director of Voter Protection, is urging immediate reforms to address these problems and improve the functioning of the nation’s democracy.


“In our democracy, every state should seek to administer its elections so that all eligible voters may participate,” Westfall said. “Unfortunately, in many respects, election codes and the practices and procedures of election offices unnecessarily impede voting.  These barriers must be addressed and remedied well in advance of the state’s 2010 elections.”


To read more about Advancement Project’s findings, download Barriers to the Ballot: The 2008 Election and Beyond at: www.advancementproject.org



Sabrina E. Williams

Managing Director, Communications

Advancement Project

1220 L Street, NW

Suite 850

Washington DC20005

202/728-9557 (voice)

202/728-9558 (fax)




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