Despite changes, voting snafus persist

Although allegations of voter fraud, miscounted votes and disenfranchised voters seem to be prevalent in almost every election in this country, election crises and serious calls for reform are surprisingly rare. The large number of votes cast generally provides a margin for error that allows for a few mistakes by voting machines, poll workers or voters themselves. This was especially evident on Tuesday, when chaos seemed to break out in relatively few places, all of which seem to be heading for recount.

The most serious of these is a House race in Florida, where the choices of 18,000 voters were not recorded. The Democrat in the race is crying foul and is seeking out legal options, while the Republican claims they must have all simply not noticed it on the ballot. (The latter won the race by approximately 300 votes.) I am not willing to pick sides in this one quite yet, but I must say that 18,000 people not noticing a key race on a ballot would be an issue by itself.

A more sinister scandal occurred elsewhere in the South, when voters were called and told that their voting places were changed or that they would be arrested if they voted because they were registered in multiple states. In Florida, black get-out-the-vote organizers were investigated and intimidated, though this has been somewhat of a trend in the central part of the state for the last decade.

I followed Election Day mostly through Internet blogs, and one exchange among readers brought up an interesting concern: Why can’t we pull off elections? Our problems seem localized and have been solved by plenty of developed countries. The first poster set a list of demands: nationalized standards, closely watched elections, votes centrally tallied, etc. The second responded briefly: Are you trying for a dictatorship here? Flawed elections seem in this way to be a part of the American electoral process; the introduction of random chance in some way precludes systematic unfairness. Our collective fear of the establishment can only be satisfied if we know that no one person controls the way we vote in an election. There seems to be no other way to explain the reluctance of the country to reform its voting practices; we have known for years and decades that systematic disenfranchisement is a biannual phenomenon. Perhaps improvement will come (and has come) on the level of individual districts.

This is not to say that voters were not individually disenfranchised. Even some officials attempting to vote for themselves were turned away for lack of ID. Chelsea Clinton’s voter registration had been lost. One voter reported that a religious movie was playing in the background while she voted at a church. Another reported that anti-Bush posters were plastered all over the walls inside the voting place. In Missouri, an official was repeatedly asked for ID, even though the state Supreme Court had ruled against that law to much fanfare before the election. A few districts ran out of ballots. Finally, the following quotes from an election blog are worth repeating:

1. “To make sure I was voting for who I thought I was voting for, I scrolled back on the electronic voting machine. … The conformation section showed that I had no one selected. I … reselected Jim Webb and still got only his first name as conformation.”

2. “Most people got in line without registering. The only check was a poll worker who asked some people if they had registered — but never checked to see if they had done so before voting.”

3. “I made my selection, which was misunderstood by the machine. There was nothing we could do. … I ended up accepting what the machine defaulted to.”

4. “The man in front of me had moved but he wanted to vote here anyway. A very geriatric poll worker said ‘OK.’”

5. “Apparently, Diebold machines won’t operate consistently once the temperature hits 85.”