published Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Problems taint voting rights

Though uniformly held as sacrosanct, the right to vote in America remains subject to much needless abuse. That's not to say that one or the other political parties still stuffs the ballot box the old-fashioned way, with votes of the dead for their candidates while losing boxes of ballots for opponents. Rather, it's to underscore that despite periodic reforms, flaws in voting processes -- and new ways to blatantly suppress the votes of likely opponents -- continue to haunt our most vital constitutional franchise.

A broad new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, covering every state in the union, points out a range of common flaws that have become endemic in voting systems in some states: long wait times at the polls particularly in urban areas, problems causing rejection of absentee and provisional ballots, and the accuracy of ballots.

Other reports confirm the obstructive hardships of patently transparent voter suppression tactics, including the manipulation of early voting days and hours, onerous new requirements to meet voter ID standards, and the premature closing of precincts on election days while voters were still waiting outside. These are among the tactics used to thwart or exclude particular blocs of voters and minority groups.

Hours-long wait lines in some key Democratic precincts in Florida, for example, are now estimated to have caused hundreds of thousands of voters to give up waiting, and to go home or back to work without voting. And Tennessee's harsh voter ID system still hinders voting by the elderly, minorities and the disadvantaged.

Such problems have become so perniciously partisan in some states that President Obama is likely to call in his State of the Union address Tuesday for federal minimum time-frames for early voting and online registration.

Even as existing flaws in the voting system are attracting focus, Republicans in select states with a majority of GOP congressional members have begun pushing for a new formula for dividing electoral votes to maximize their clout in presidential elections. The revised formula would give smaller rural congressional districts more electoral votes than those accorded to larger gerrymandered districts in these state's urban centers, negating the popular vote advantage for a Democratic presidential candidate.

If this scheme had been in place in the swing states of Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania last November, Mitt Romney would have won the election with 277 electoral votes to President Obama's 261 electoral total -- never mind Obama's 5-million-vote advantage in the national popular vote.

The problems pointed out by the Pew Charitable Trusts are more invidious, yet perhaps more easily addressed than the new GOP tactics designed to give the presidency to a minority white Republican candidate as the nation's demographics shift.

Problems cited by Pew generally relate to building sufficiently large and well-trained staff for handling mail ballots, provisional ballots and the accuracy of ballots. The problems appear greater in urban centers and less affluent areas. A related study by Charles Stewart III, at M.I.T., found that Democrats had longer wait times than Republicans; that wait times were higher in urban areas; and that whites had shorter wait times than blacks and Hispanics. Surprisingly, early voters had longer wait times on average than those on voted on Election Day.

One pertinent caveat to the litany of problems affecting states' myriad election and ballot problems is this: Washington state and Oregon avoid all the wait time, early voting and precinct-related issues because they have adopted, and virtually perfected, elections based solely on mail-in ballots.

The range of state issues and problems connected to states' disparate voting systems should be subject to an easy fix through uniform model ballots and rules that simplify identity, residency and voter verification standards. That America still lacks a well-functioning election system owes mainly to states' resistance to uniform standards, and to an overly partisan embrace of local and state voting systems that suit the party in power.

Voting rights may be sacred, but power over voting rules still goes to the politicians in power.

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AndrewLohr said...

Voting could be easier, but those problems don't strike me as too serious: someone who really wants to vote these days can, unlike, say, southern blacks 60 years ago. I don't notice this editorial referring to any news about actual particular people unable to vote.

But voter fraud is still a genuine problem the article should not brush off, according to a fairly recent book (within a year?) mentioned in National Review Online. Some Democrat running for Congress in Maryland? got into hot water for it. The video showing a white man letting the poll workers think he was Eric Holder and getting an invitation to vote without ID shows possibilities. World magazine staffers in the A.D. 2000 election had several opportunities to cast unlawful ballots. Everyone now admits Lyndon Johnson stole his senate seat. Vote difficulties may be worth fixing (ID is a reasonable requirement, as it is for other things), but vote fraud hits near the root of democracy, and needs to be fixed. Whatever we think of those elected or of those who elected them, honest voting gives some chance of fixing such mistakes. Fraud may tempt a turn from ballots to bullets. Huey Long couldn't be voted out. He was shot.

February 9, 2013 at 1:46 a.m.
Easy123 said...

AndrewLohr,

"I don't notice this editorial referring to any news about actual particular people unable to vote."

Do more research.

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/03/22/449243/report-nine-people-denied-voting-rights-by-voter-id-laws/

"But voter fraud is still a genuine problem the article should not brush off"

No, it is not. Several studies have shown that voter fraud is nearly non-existant.

"(ID is a reasonable requirement, as it is for other things)"

It only started to be "a reasonable requirement when Barack Obama became President.

"but vote fraud hits near the root of democracy, and needs to be fixed."

Nothing is broken. Voter fraud is a non-issue.

February 9, 2013 at 10:48 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

10 Feb NRO article: 19 people in Ohio voted twice last year?

Tell the Times to do research--their editorial didn't cite any actual cases. Your research cites "nine people." Can we call nine a non-issue? The nine had paperwork problems, not constitutional problems. Let people in such cases decide who they want to vote for and ask that party for help getting the paperwork done. The point of ID is ID, not paperwork, so I'd be OK with ID laws allowing for appeals and exceptions. If someone has been signing voting rolls which still exist (do they?) for the last 30 years, maybe their signature would be ID enough to secure new ID.

February 10, 2013 at 12:20 a.m.
Easy123 said...

AndrewLohr,

"10 Feb NRO article: 19 people in Ohio voted twice last year?"

Conveniently, you've provided no link.

"Can we call nine a non-issue?"

Absolutely not. One person not being able to vote undermines democracy.

"The nine had paperwork problems, not constitutional problems."

It's never been about "constitutional problems. It's all about changing voting laws. Then it becomes all about paperwork. You've unwittingly found that to be the case.

"Let people in such cases decide who they want to vote for and ask that party for help getting the paperwork done."

It doesn't work like that.

"The point of ID is ID, not paperwork, so I'd be OK with ID laws allowing for appeals and exceptions."

There are no appeals or exceptions with the new voting laws and now the Republicans are trying to rig the election by changing electoral college.

February 10, 2013 at 2:45 a.m.
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