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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Friday, March 2
Obama's Democracy Index Bill
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has instituted the "Voter Advocate and Democracy Index Act of 2007," designed to institute a system by which states' election systems could be measured. A release describing the bill may be found here and the text here courtesy of Rick Hasen.

The bill would create an Office of the Voter Advocate within the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Among the responsibilities of this new office, as described in Sen. Obama's release, would be to measure:
- The amount of time spent by voters waiting in line;

- The number of voters incorrectly directed to the wrong polling places;

- The rate of voter ballots discarded or not counted along with an explanation;

- Provisional voting rates and the percentage of provisional votes cast but not counted;

- The number and description of election day complaints; and

- The rate of voting system malfunctions and the time required on average to get the systems back online
The bill draws on an idea by Professor Heather Gerken of the the Yale Law School, which appeared in the Legal Times. After my colleague Ned Foley wrote a weekly comment in response, Professor Gerken offered these further thoughts here on the EL@M site a few weeks ago.

The idea of creating a mechanism by which to measure the health of each state's election system is an excellent one. Despite all the attention devoted to election administration these days -- or maybe because of it -- it is sometimes difficult to tell where there are really serious problems, as opposed to partisans angling for position. Creating a sense of performance standards is a worthy enterprise, one that in the long run could make our election system function much better.

That said, it will undoubtedly be a major challenge to get a bill of this nature passed. There will almost certainly be resistance on the part of Republicans, at least to the way the bill is presently framed. Senator Obama's bill focuses on issues of access and, if the debate over HAVA a few years ago is any indication, Republicans are likely to be more interested in issues of "integrity" like combatting voter fraud. I'd also expect resistance from some election administrators, who are likely nervous about the possibility that their states will look bad.

Designing a fair and workable Democracy Index will also be a major undertaking. Still, it's a worthy enterprise, and I very much hope that some version of this bill is eventually enacted into law.

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