Hope and Experience: Election Reform through the Lens of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project

We launched the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project (ERP) in June 2005 with the encouragement and financial support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Five years later we bring the project to a close. We take this opportunity to reflect on the state of election administration in the United States almost a decade after the extended and controversial Florida vote count in the 2000 presidential election and suggest how additional changes in technology, election law and administrative practices might further strengthen American elections in the years ahead.

The Context

As a consequence of the Florida debacle, most Americans, ourselves included, discovered how little we knew about the myriad ways in which our system of casting and counting votes threatened a bedrock of democracy, namely that those who have a right to vote are able to do so, and have their votes counted accurately. Our uniquely American election administration system--highly decentralized, lacking uniformity within and across states, and predominantly overseen by partisan officials--proved especially vulnerable in the dead-heat Florida contest, where the ultimate outcome determined the next occupant of the White House. One of the most controversial aspects of the disputed Florida vote count was the apparent disparate impact on racial, age, and partisan groups of the mechanics of registration and voting. Wide variation across the states in voting equipment, ballot design, accuracy of registration lists, number and training of poll workers, lines at polling places, the availability of provisional ballots, the treatment of absentee ballots, and procedures for counting and recounting ballots advantaged some groups at the expense of others.

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John C. Fortier is a research fellow at AEI. Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI. Thomas Mann is a senior fellow at The Brookings Insitution.

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