New study reveals far-reaching U.S. voting issues

Dorothy Ann Van, of Surf City, Long Beach Island, N.J., who was displaced by superstorm Sandy, stands at the front of a line to vote, Nov. 5, 2012, in Burlington, N.J., at a Mobile Voting Precinct. Election officials say superstorm Sandy had knocked out about 900 polling places in one way or another, though only around 100 voting stations remained without power Tuesday.
AP Photo/Mel Evans

Last November, as voters headed to the polls to choose the next president of the United States, familiar problems were reported at the polls: In states like Virginia and Florida, people were waiting hours at a time to register their votes; in Pennsylvania, there were reports of poorly-trained voting officials and broken machines; and in New Jersey, which had been recently struck by superstorm Sandy, some voters attempted, unsuccessfully, to submit their ballots by fax.

According to a new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, issues like these at the polls on Election Day are hardly the exception: The report, which measured data from the 2008 and 2010 elections, showed that only seven states performed well in election administration during those years.

The rankings were derived from a calculation of 17 measurable data indicators, from voting wait time; to the turnout and voter registration rate; to the number of absentee ballots, registrations, or provisional ballots that were either rejected, not returned, or problematic.

"Election officials can use this data to benchmark their own performance over time, and help assess which policies have been working most effectively for their own citizens," said David Becker, director of Pew's Election Initiatives project, in a statement. "Pew's goal in developing this new online interactive tool is to promote the highest standards of accuracy, cost-effectiveness, convenience, and security in America's election administration system."

So far, the jury is still out on which states did well in 2012 -- the Pew research will be updated with that data when it becomes available later this year - but the 2008 and 2010 results show that problems at the polls range the gamut demographically and geographically alike. The worst performing states for those years include Alabama, California, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Meanwhile, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin had the best performances in 2008 and 2010.

The states with the longest average wait times in 2008 were South Carolina and Goergia; six of the states ranked lowest due to registration problems, including Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin, were ranked low due to widespread registration problems, allow Election Day registration.