Thursday, September 18, 2008

Elections Problems Expected (Already)

It’s September 18, 2008, and people are already, and once again, concerned with polling place procedures and issues that are expected for the November 4 election. According to a Washington Post article this morning, the large increase in voter registration requests, new procedures and new technology leads one only to expect further problems with our nation’s Presidential election.

The goal of these new procedures and new equipment was to avoid problems as experienced in 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio). However, as the article explains, and many people have already experienced, such measures have done little except to discourage voters and cause new problems. In many places, such as Ohio, there has been much discussion of the touch-screen systems that had been put in place and the additional problems they have caused. Such states are now turning to paper ballots, to be read by an optical scan machine; even with the addition of this “paper trail” though, there are concerns about adequate reading of the ballots and the procedure for how and where these ballots are to be read.

Also, this upcoming election will be the first Presidential election where federally mandated state databases for matching voters to their information will be implemented. Any small error in this database and the voter may be wrongfully denied their vote. With the matching requirements being so strict, in addition to the higher expected turnout, it is very likely that there will be several such issues.

Some local primaries have already evidenced the problems that can be expected in November. In some cases, the vote count was artificially inflated while in others some votes went missing. Results have been delayed due to technical issues, and the manufacturer of many of the voting machines in use has admitted to issues with the machines and the opportunity for lost votes.

Many of these issues have been discussed here and elsewhere many times before. However, with this being the first Presidential election since many of these procedures and new equipment have been mandated, this may very well be the true test, and perhaps downfall, of these measures. Jurisdictions are already receiving a huge influx of voter registration requests, and it is likely that the turnout for the Presidential election will be higher than that for local elections. With the larger amount of people present, the expected problems will only be exacerbated.

One apparent saving grace, assuming people are aware of it, is the ability in many states, including Ohio, to vote absentee without requiring any reason. In fact, Montgomery County has been sending absentee voter applications to houses in order to make voters aware of this option. However, to vote absentee, one must have faith that their ballot will be received and must still maintain the faith that the voting equipment will actually read their ballot correctly.

It is hoped that the election goes off without any problems, however that seems very unlikely. If the expected problems occur to the extent expected, it will be interesting to see what the states and federal government attempt next to solve these issues. If we keep changing the procedures and equipment though, it seems unlikely that anything will ever finally “stick” and we will be reading articles such as this for a long time to come.

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