A Call for Reform
In 2000, the hotly disputed presidential election between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush produced a massive albeit brief public outcry for reforms of voting methods. Across the nation, especially in Florida, voting technology was revealed to be outdated, malfunctioning, or still inaccessible for certain voters, especially African Americans and Hispanic people who repeatedly found their names wrongfully purged from lists of eligible voters. With visions of hanging chads dancing in their heads, members of Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. It provided federal funding to states and localities to replace old voting technologies. It also mandated that at least one voting device at each precinct be accessible to voters with disabilities. The act also allows voters whose names do not appear on registration lists to vote with provisional ballots, which can later be verified, and if proven legal, counted. This measure allows all citizens who are properly registered to have their votes counted. Although these reforms sought to expand not only the number of Americans registered to vote but also the percentage of those voting, overall turnout increased only moderately after HAVA’s passage.
Still, many new technologies sought to streamline the voting process as well as improve its ease and accuracy. The efforts were not without controversy. For example, many voters argued that some digitized ballots that leave no paper trail for verification could be manipulated easily or sabotaged. Steps have been taken to ameliorate these concerns, but the reforms have been gradual and have not yet yielded immediate, tamper-free, accurate results across localities and states (Renner, 2008). Congress has considered a variety of bills to modify current HAVA verification standards, such as requiring all states to have voter-verifiable paper audit trails, but these efforts have failed and have lost their sense of immediacy as the tainted 2000 election faded from memory and was replaced by concerns about the economy, health care, and two wars.
Unless a requirement is specified in the Constitution or by federal law, states have the power to define and change election laws. Despite the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Motor Voter law, and HAVA, voting laws still vary considerably from state to state. All states allow some sort of early or absentee voting with mail-in ballots if individuals are unable to vote in their designated precincts on Election Day.
Modes of voting are different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Oregon residents, for example, vote by mail-in ballot only, making voting booths obsolete. As of 2009, nine states allow same-day voter registration, and several states do not require any voter registration at all. In the 2004 and 2008 general elections, many states opened polling places days or even weeks prior to Election Day in a process called early voting; in these states, a significant number of voters opted to vote early. In 2008, early voters who identified as Democrats outnumbered those who identified as Republicans, reversing the earlier trend of Republican dominance in early voting states (Wolf, 2008). HAVA provided a greater range of options and times to register and to vote. Hence, voting is among the simplest ways for nurses to influence public policy since longs shifts on Election Day no longer means that the only opportunity to vote is missed.