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Statements On Introduced Bills And Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 737. A bill to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 in order to measure, compare, and improve the quality of voter access to polls and voter services in the administration of Federal elections in the States; to the Committee on Rules and Administration.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President. I am proud to introduce the Voter Advocate and Democracy Index Act of 2007 with the goal of having the Act help inform voters and State officials on how well their States are doing on a basic set of procedural standards for making polls accessible to voters and making the right to vote as easy to exercise as possible.

The Act would establish an Office of the Voter Advocate within the Election Assistance Commission that would be charged with creating a Democracy Index. The Index would rank States according to a system of measurable, basic state election practices. With that information, States could identify weak spots in their process, and voters could push for better performance.

The concept is based on a proposal that Yale Law School Professor Heather Gerken published this January in Legal Times. It focuses on issues that matter to all voters: How long did voters spend in line? How many ballots got discarded? How often did the balloting machinery break down?

The Act would constitute an important first step toward improving the health of our democracy. We are all familiar with the problems that have recently plagued our elections: Long lines, lost ballots, voters improperly turned away from the polls. These are basic failures of process. Until we fix them, we run the risk in every election that we will once again experience the kind of chaos and uncertainty that paralyzed the Nation in 2000. We can do better. We must do better. But to do better, we need more than anecdotal information. We need better, nonpartisan, objective information.

This bill would provide that information. Some voters have personally experienced problems in casting a ballot; others see stories on the news about election results tainted by malfunctioning machines, inadequate registration lists, or poorly trained administrators. I believe that these issues are merely the visible symptoms of a deeper, systemic problem in the way our election system is run. But voters need a yardstick for evaluating the full extent of the problem and what needs to be done to improve the election process in their State.

Toward that end, this bill would charge the Office of the Voter Advocate with creating the Democracy Index and specifying the success or failure of States in meeting the criteria that the index is going to measure. The bill also ensures that the Office of the Voter Advocate will draw upon the experience and knowledge of experts and citizens in thinking about what information voters would want to know in evaluating the health of their State's election process. And it requires the Office to establish a pilot program for the 2008 election, use the lessons learned from that experience, and make the Index a reality nationwide as soon as possible.

The Democracy Index would encourage healthy competition among States to improve their systems. It would allow states to engage in healthy experimentation about how best to run an election. In short, the Democracy Index will empower voters and encourage States to work toward the goal we all share: an election system that makes us all proud.


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