This report (“From the Voter’s View: Lessons Learned from the 2016 Election”) focuses on the lessons that can be learned from the experiences of North Carolina voters who faced problems at the polls in the 2016 general election. Because of the unseen and under-appreciated work of hundreds of election administrators and thousands of poll workers, most voters show up, stand in line, cast their ballot, get a sticker, and go home – satisfied to have done their civic duty. When the system works well and election rules are designed to maximize access, voters have a generally pleasant experience, even if their candidate loses.
But that easy voting experience is derailed when voting rules are inconsistently applied, lines are excessively long, equipment breaks down, or poll workers are untrained and unwelcoming. Many of the worst polling place problems happen when these issues occur in combination, compounding the negative effect on voters.
Full report available at demnc.co/elexreport.
Much of the post-election reporting has focused on the “horse race” – who won and why. But very little is written about the nuts and bolts of how the election was actually administered, despite the fact that election administration fundamentally shapes voters’ experiences and may even determine their ability to vote. In North Carolina, elections officials faced a constantly shifting landscape of election law, forcing them to quickly retrain poll workers, change early voting schedules, adjust voting systems, and navigate intense disputes in a hyper-partisan atmosphere. We encourage more analysis and reporting about the pressures on elections officials, their resource constraints and needs, and their success in implementing safety-net provisions restored during 2016 by a federal court.
This report, however, looks at the elections system from the perspective of voters who encountered significant problems, because we believe their perspective is critical for evaluating the health of our democracy. We examine these problems and offer recommendations in the spirit of helping busy election administrators to identify gaps, areas of miscommunication, or system glitches that, if corrected, could lessen voter anxiety and frustration.