Sunday, November 26, 2006

So Is It OK if Most Voters Aren't Disenfranchised?

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

That was basically my response (not verbatim) to my dad’s email after he read my diary from Friday about our very broken voting system. He thought that I was starting to sound like a fanatic and since the Democrats won, I should just be happy – especially since no republicans were crying “fraud”.

My response was that this is a non-partisan matter, and transparent, non-partisan, non-hackable and verifiable voting is key, regardless of who wins. Being that my parents live in Florida, I figured that FL-13 was a perfect case in point, but “some people probably just didn’t want to vote for that particular race” was about as far as the discussion got.

And then, as luck had it, I stumbled across this article from today’s NY Times, titled Experts Concerned as Ballot Problems Persist.

The article is chock full of anecdotes, many be non-partisan experts and groups like as well as The Century Foundation regarding the thousands of problems (large and small) that occurred this past Election Day, and it opens with a bang:

After six years of technological research, more than $4 billion spent by Washington on new machinery and a widespread overhaul of the nation’s voting system, this month’s midterm election revealed that the country is still far from able to ensure that every vote counts.

Tens of thousands of voters, scattered across more than 25 states, encountered serious problems at the polls, including failures in sophisticated new voting machines and confusion over new identification rules, according to interviews with election experts and officials.

And as many election experts indicate, my dad’s thought of “well if the Democrats won, why should you care” is less of an exception and more of a rule in terms of what went wrong. More accurately, the races weren’t close enough for the problems to have mattered, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still there, and aren’t still big.

As I noted the other day, there were over 12,000 calls to the Election Protection Coalition on Election Day (and an estimated 40,000 total calls to the Election Protection Coalition and Common Cause). They will release a study shortly with their findings and summary of the calls and problems.

Additionally, according to as well as the Denver Post an estimated 20,000 people just gave up and went home due to long lines and frustration:

The Denver vote on election day fell about 20,000 short of expected projections, reflecting voting day problems that now have elected officials considering a overhaul.


An analysis of past voting trends confirms that a sizable chunk of voters, confronted with long lines, likely gave up and went home fuming during Denver's disasterous Nov. 7 election.

There's no way to know exactly how many voters were affected, but when compared to past gubernatorial races, it's clear the Denver vote tally this time around came up short. "We're not going to pretend that people didn't leave without voting because they did," said Alton Dillard II, the commission's communications director.

The Century Foundation’s Tova Andrea Wang wrote the following in her article titled A Post Mortem on the Voting Process:
While voting machine malfunctions received the bulk of the press, the following are three issues that must be addressed prior to the 2008 presidential election.

Long Lines

In state after state across the nation, we saw reports of people waiting in line for hours on end because of machine failures, poll workers who didn’t know how to operate the machines, and, most troubling, insufficient numbers of voting machines. In Tennessee for example, too few machines in one jurisdiction led to waiting times of FIVE AND A HALF HOURS. This jurisdiction was predominantly minority. There were too few machines in jurisdictions in Maryland, too few poll workers in Colorado, and incredible lines in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Utah, and Massachusetts, where the problem also was predominantly in communities of color. In all of these places, many voters left without ever casting a ballot.


Identification Problems

As we predicted, there were serious problems with voter identification. Across the country, poll workers demanded ID from voters who were not required to show ID and improperly implemented the ID rules, such as by requiring the ID have a current address when that is not the law. It wasn’t hard to know where this was likely to happen and indeed it did go on in Georgia, Ohio and Missouri, all states that have had major controversies over voter identification. In Georgia, many people were improperly asked for identification; voters were confused and thought the recent court rulings meant they didn’t have to bring any ID at all to cast a regular ballot; and in at least one polling place there were signs saying “identification required” when it is possible to vote without one under existing law.


In Ohio, it appears that hundreds of voters were turned away because poll workers didn’t know the rules of what kind of ID should be accepted. Secretary of State Carnahan of Missouri was herself improperly asked for photo ID and reported that her office got numerous complaints of similar incidents throughout the day. There were reports of improper demands for ID in Maryland, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.


Deceptive Practices


In Virginia there were numerous reports of voters receiving calls telling them, falsely, that their polling place had changed, and telling them to go to the wrong precinct. Some of the calls told voters that since they were not properly registered, if they voted it would be a crime.


Similarly, in Colorado it was reported that Hispanics were getting phone calls telling them they were not registered and that they might be arrested if they voted.

The Times article lists a number of other states and voting machine “issues” as well, including the following:
In Arkansas, Florida and Pennsylvania, the questions were about the voting machines themselves. In addition to the Sarasota issue, which may have been caused by a software problem, there were similar problems in the Florida counties of Charlotte, Lee and Sumter. In those counties, said Barbara Burt, vice president and director for election reform at Common Cause, more than 40,000 voters who used touch-screen machines seemed not to have chosen a candidate in the attorney general’s race. But since one candidate won by 250,000 votes, the anomaly has been generally overlooked.

On election night in Arkansas, officials discovered that erroneous results had been tallied in Benton County. After retabulating the votes, they announced that the total number of ballots cast had jumped to 79,331 from 47,134, which meant a turnout of more than 100 percent in some precincts. After a third tallying, the total dropped to 48,681.

In Pennsylvania, computer problems forced polling places in Lancaster and Lebanon Counties to stay open late. In Westmoreland County, a programming error in at least 800 machines caused long lines.

Mary Beth Kuznik, a poll worker in that county, said she had to reset every machine after each voter, or more than 500 times, because the machines kept trying to shut down.

While it wasn’t all bad – as some experts believe that this past election was better than 2004 – that to me says that we graduated from “miserable” to “horrible”. According to the Times article:
But some of the biggest states have not been able to overcome problems with new technology or rules and the lightly trained poll workers who must oversee them. In Ohio, thousands of voters were turned away or forced to file provisional ballots by poll workers puzzled by voter-identification rules. In Pennsylvania, the machines crashed or refused to start, producing many reports of vote-flipping, which means that voters press the button for one candidate but a different candidate’s name appears on the screen.

Perhaps most notoriously, officials in Sarasota County say nearly 18,000 votes may never have been recorded by electronic machines in a Congressional race, even though many voters said they tried to vote.

Hmmmm.....Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Where have I heard about them before?

I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I certainly will try to stay on top of this, because 2008 brings us the same 400+ Congressional races, 30+ Senatorial races, countless state races and the big enchilada as well. These “errors” and issues are too large to let go. Too large to not do something about. Too important to sweep under the rug and hope for the best.

Our democracy is at stake and the whole world will be watching. Again. Let’s not be the laughingstock for the fifth straight election.

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