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Let's Be Careful Out There: Election Officials' New Role as Voter Protection Advocates

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[Image courtesy of discoveroptions]

Yesterday, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant issued a warning to voters about suspicious phone calls notifying them that their polling places had moved or been closed for yesterday's special election. As Tennant noted, an election office is almost certainly not going to be contacting voters by phone on Election Day.

I understand that politics is a rough and tumble game, and as I've noted elsewhere, campaigns have an incentive to do what they can to win. But activities like this - that appear to be aimed at interfering with individual voters' specific opportunity to cast a ballot - are over the line. [Yesterday on Twitter I went so far to characterize them as NOT. COOL.]

It's not just in West Virginia, either; in Louisiana, Secretary of State Tom Schedler is warning Pelican State voters about a voter registration website that not only appears to be fraudulent but is hosted outside of the United States.

Unfortunately, activities like this are not unusual, and increasingly they are forcing election officials to add the job of "voter protection advocate" to their list of duties. This voter protection function goes beyond warning voters of scams, however; it also includes setting up trusted and reliable methods for voters to negotiate the voting process.

One way to do this is to establish a voting information website, and both states have done so. While Louisiana's GeauxVote.com is the clear winner over WVSoS.com in the "coolest name" contest, West Virginia is taking the idea a step further by making official information available to voters through the Voting Information Project (VIP) partnership between election offices, technology companies and the Pew Center on the States.

Indeed, in the aftermath of Tennant's announcement yesterday, VIP partner NOI put out an online solution that would allow voters to use official state data and their own address to find or confirm their poling place.

As we enter what looks to be a fiercely contested Presidential election, election officials will be called upon more and more frequently to steer voters clear of trouble. Fortunately, they will have a growing arsenal of tools and tactics that can help their citizens "be careful out there" on Election Day.

2 Comments


  • There is one thing worse than shadowy third parties giving out wrong election information: A government agency, charged with running elections, giving out wrong information.

    In Wisconsin, there is no requirement that municipalities keep the statewide voter registration system up to date with polling places locations. Voters who look up their polling place on the Wisconsin GAB website (“Voter Public Access”) might get the wrong information. Worse, recent registrants get a postcard verifying that the registration has been processed, but it might tell you to go to the wrong polling place.

    In an election this summer, 20% of the Glendale Election Day voters showed up at closed polling places. Fair Elections Wisconsin is asking for SB-116 to be amended to protect voters again surprise polling place changes. Details are at http://tinyurl.com/ClosedPP

  • Rhode Island's Secretary of State incorporates polling place locations into a searchable database. Voters with upcoming elections can use our Voter Information Center to confirm the accuracy of their voter registration info as well as find their polling place -- https://sos.ri.gov/vic/.

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