Hope and Experience: Election Reform through the Lens of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project

We launched the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project (ERP) in June 2005 with the encouragement and financial support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Five years later we bring the project to a close. We take this opportunity to reflect on the state of election administration in the United States almost a decade after the extended and controversial Florida vote count in the 2000 presidential election and suggest how additional changes in technology, election law and administrative practices might further strengthen American elections in the years ahead.

The Context

As a consequence of the Florida debacle, most Americans, ourselves included, discovered how little we knew about the myriad ways in which our system of casting and counting votes threatened a bedrock of democracy, namely that those who have a right to vote are able to do so, and have their votes counted accurately. Our uniquely American election administration system--highly decentralized, lacking uniformity within and across states, and predominantly overseen by partisan officials--proved especially vulnerable in the dead-heat Florida contest, where the ultimate outcome determined the next occupant of the White House. One of the most controversial aspects of the disputed Florida vote count was the apparent disparate impact on racial, age, and partisan groups of the mechanics of registration and voting. Wide variation across the states in voting equipment, ballot design, accuracy of registration lists, number and training of poll workers, lines at polling places, the availability of provisional ballots, the treatment of absentee ballots, and procedures for counting and recounting ballots advantaged some groups at the expense of others.

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John C. Fortier is a research fellow at AEI. Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at AEI. Thomas Mann is a senior fellow at The Brookings Insitution.

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About the Author

 

Norman J.
Ornstein
  • Norman Ornstein is a long-time observer of Congress and politics. He is a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic and is an election eve analyst for BBC News. He served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann (Oxford University Press, 2006, named by the Washington Post one of the best books of 2006 and called by The Economist "a classic"); and, most recently, the New York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann, published in May 2012 by Basic Books. It was named as one of 2012's best books on pollitics by The New Yorker and one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post.
  • Phone: 202-862-5893
    Email: nornstein@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Jennifer Marsico
    Phone: 202-862-5899
    Email: jennifer.marsico@aei.org

 

John C.
Fortier

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