Monday, November 03, 2008

Early voting issues and the general election

I keep hearing from various news outlets that the early voting lines are outrageously long, and some CNN callers complained that the early voting setup was not accommodating to older voters. There's a serious irony in this, since early voting programs exist in order to ensure that voters that need more time and assistance voting can receive it. Also, the media is suggesting that counties are not anticipating increased voter turnout tomorrow, arguing that long early voting lines are a harbinger of things to come on election day.

There's a serious PR problem here, that the federal election commission, along with state and local elections officials, could have done more to address before tomorrow. Not many people know that elections are administered at the county level. This means that county officials, who collect voter registrations, also recruit polling sites, and recruit and train poll workers. In addition, they procure equipment and allocate polling places and poll workers according to anticipated turnout. Any county that has failed to anticipate voter turnout and hire poll workers and distribute voting equipment and ballots accordingly has no excuse for doing so, having had eight years of scrutiny leading up to this election. I'm not suggesting that county election officials, or the poll workers they employ on Election Day, are totally competent, but they are not complete doofuses either. And to be perfectly honest, this stuff isn't rocket science. A decent training program could overcome most potential confusion.

The one potential issue I see as it relates to election irregularities pertains to same day voter registration. I think poll workers, if not voters, understand how to issue provisional ballots, and election officials are required to make good faith efforts to match provisional ballots with registered voters, but verifying election eligibility on the day of the election, or having a slew of them to verify before counting the votes, or having to explain to voters that their vote may or may not be included in the final tally, would be a nightmare.

In the final analysis, I can't help but feel like the media has confused its public interest mandates with respect to exposing voting irregularities and educating the public on how to cast a vote. In addition to encouraging people to tweet, call, blog, and e-mail voting problems, they should also be ensuring that voters know exactly what is on the ballot, what kinds of voting technologies are available, when to register, how long lines will be at peak times, how provisional ballots work, etc. The difficulties associated with voter education stem from a lack of uniformity in our voting procedures and the extremely intermittent nature of voting. Couple that with a hodgepodge of suspect technology and we'll all be just as confused and suspicious as we became after the 2000 election. I feel like the media should be trying equally hard to prevent that, not simply to expose the potential weaknesses of our patchwork system.

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