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Many Voters Frustrated With Their Party's Nominating Process


We're going to spend a few minutes now talking about the election, but in this instance we're not going to talk about politics so much as the process itself. This past week, NPR and member stations have been talking about voters' confidence in the electoral system. This is all part of our ongoing project, a Nation Engaged.

And a recent poll number helps explain why this is on our minds. According to a poll by the AP, only 31 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans say they trust their own party's nominating process. With that in mind, we've been asking people around the country if they think their votes matter, and we found that people were very eager to be heard on this.

RICHARD GREEN: Neither of the major parties in the country represent my views well, and the third parties are little too fringy and radical to put my name next to it. It would be a little better if unaffiliated voters could vote in primaries here.

MARTIN: That's Richard Green (ph), an unaffiliated voter in Colorado who spoke with Colorado Public Radio. Here's Francis Burnett (ph). She's 91 years old. She's from Hutchinson, Kan., and she's a Democrat who had an interesting idea about how to make sure her vote mattered.

FRANCIS BURNETT: When I was at the library one day, and somebody was talking about changing parties, and a big light bulb came on. I thought, if I change parties, I could vote in the primary, so you're now speaking to a Republican.

MARTIN: That was from member station KCUR in Kansas City, Mo. And now we're going to hear from two Texas voters.

JAMISON HIRTZEL: Jameson Hirtzel (ph), 42-years-old, Garland, Texas. I think every time you don't vote, someone else's vote weighs more than yours. I vote for Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate, because I can't vote for Trump, and I can't vote for Hillary.

ERNEST HARWELL: Ernest Harwell (ph), I'm 47 years old from Dallas, Texas. I'm going to vote for Donald Trump. Obama hasn't done a great job. I voted for him the first time. Hillary's going to be more of the same, and I think, you know, the reason why Trump's done so good is because people's tired of politicians, which is what they are. So he can't mess it up any more than anybody else could.

MARTIN: That's from member station KERA in Dallas. To tie a bow on this, we're joined now by NPR's Pam Fessler, who kicked off NPR's coverage of this topic earlier this week. Hi Pam, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: At the beginning of our conversation, we mentioned this recent poll number that suggested that a very low number of Americans have confidence in their party's nominating process. First of all, is this unusual, and secondly, why does this matter?

FESSLER: It is higher than - this lack of confidence is higher than it has been in the past. One of the reasons is we have a lot of first-time voters not used to the rules. They don't understand the rules. They are very confusing, especially in the primary process. Some of them feel that they're shut out because they're independents, and they have been shut out of the process.

We also have candidates who have been questioning the fairness of the process. They say that it's rigged. And the reason that it matters - if voters don't have much confidence in the electoral system, then they're going to question the fairness of the outcome of the election. And this is very important in a democracy. The people feel like the winner won fair and square.

MARTIN: In fact, this year there were a number of things that raised a lot of questions. For example, the 2012 study by the Pew Center on the states found that 24 million voter registrations were wrong or invalid. That's 1 in every 8.

Member station WNYC explored that question, looking at how the New York City Board of Elections mistakenly purged more than 120,000 voters from its rolls in Brooklyn, which is 10 percent of registered voters there. This is Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections.


MICHAEL RYAN: We have a transient metropolis and a transient society in general in the United States. And the boards of elections - not just the New York City board of elections, but all over the country - don't have the ability to track people's movements.

MARTIN: Pam, why do we keep seeing problems like this come up?

FESSLER: We're talking about a process that involves tens of millions of voters who - you know, they come to the polls once, twice a year, maybe. And it's a process that's run by millions of volunteers and very small offices that are locally run. A lot of them are underfunded. All the rules differ from state to state, and so some problems are bound to show up periodically.

This year, we had long lines in Arizona. We had lots of uncounted ballots still in California. So these things get a lot of attention, especially against the backdrop of a lot of frustration with voting in general and the electoral process.

MARTIN: So what's the larger takeaway here?

FESSLER: Well, it's that people who run elections are going to have do it the best job that they can to try to make things run as smoothly as possible. And on the more positive side, most polls show after elections the overwhelming majority of voters had absolutely no problems.

After the 2012 election, well over 90 percent said their voting place was very well run. Most people waited less than 10 minutes to vote. They have no problems with the machine, and they are very, very confident that their vote counted. So we'll have to see what happens this year.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Pam Fessler. Pam, thank you.

FESSLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.