Election Day Mess
We could well be in for our third controversial presidential election in a row, Mary Pat Flaherty reports in a front page story in today’s WaPo.
Faced with a surge in voter registrations leading up to Nov. 4, election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.
The crush of voters will strain a system already in the midst of transformation, with jurisdictions introducing new machines and rules to avoid the catastrophe of the deadlocked 2000 election and the lingering controversy over the 2004 outcome. Even within the past few months, cities and counties have revamped their processes: Nine million voters, including many in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado, will use equipment that has changed since March.
Since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act six years ago, $3 billion in federal funds has been spent to overhaul voting operations, much of it for new equipment. With touchscreen machines falling out of favor, an increasing number of the nation’s voters — just over half — will use paper ballots, which will be read by optical scanners. That will produce a paper trail that can serve as a backup if questions arise over tallies.
For more than half of the states, this will be the first presidential election using statewide databases required by the 2002 law to improve the accuracy of voter rolls. When voters arrive at the polls, their information must match the list in order for them to receive a regular ballot. That could trigger contentious questions in places with particularly rigid rules on what constitutes a match.
Both campaigns have lined up teams of lawyers to challenge any irregularities, from registrations to polling place problems to vote counts.
Just what we need.
This just shouldn’t be that hard. No system is going to be perfect given the combination of very large turnout and close results. At the very least, though we should be able to eliminate people leaving the polling place unsure of who they voted for or total reliance on machines.
Hand-marked, machine readable paper ballots have been around for decades, are easily understandable, and provide a backup plan in case there’s a problem with the machines. The worst possible system is one that’s constantly changing, so that neither the voters nor poll workers are familiar with the process.