Voting was too difficult for too many — and the reference doesn’t even involve such things as voter IDs and other new hurdles some states, including Georgia, have been adding.
When President Obama finally appeared to make his victory speech at about 2 a.m. local time — one of the best delivered addresses he’s ever made no matter what one’s opinion of its content — the very first thing he mentioned was this problem: “I want to thank every American who participated in this election — whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.”
Largely because of the heavy turnout, and local/state officials far less adept at handling crowds and long lines than are those running Disney World, some voters had to wait 3, 4 even 7, 8 hours to get to the head of the line and cast their ballots. Some did so standing outside in the cold or other lousy weather. The impact of Superstorm Sandy appeared to have little to do with it as Florida, Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin reported some of the longest lines.
For the most part, the majority appeared to stick it out though some no doubt gave up after a while and went away. This is not a political party problem but an “everybody” problem. Those so intent on voting, in being a part of U.S. democracy, but discouraged can just as easily be Republican as Democrat, Libertarian as independent.
BECAUSE OF the mishmash of rules, procedures, methods across the states and counties and cities — not to mention the variance in competence among those handling these nuts and bolts — voting can be a comparative breeze (around here) or a terrible ordeal (northern Virginia). Additionally, it can be not just an inconvenience but even an economic setback.
For example, though few know it, Georgians must be given two hours off from work (without pay) by their employers to vote if they require it. When a voting line takes 7, 8, 9 hours to navigate that would be losing a whole day’s pay. As U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) put it: “It’s a form of voter suppression. For people to have to give up hours out of their work day … how is that different than a poll tax?”
That’s why, between what Obama said, “We have to fix that,” and outcomes (both ways) perhaps determined only by voter endurance and dedication there have been rumblings about Congress addressing the creation of uniformity for casting ballots in federal elections, which take place every two/four/six years depending on the office involved.
That would involve only a total of 537 offices but across all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) and likely wouldn’t involve the “how” of voting (paper, machines, mail) but be more along the lines of hours, days, how much early voting, how many access points per eligible population and that sort of thing.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely anything will happen. Come 2014 and 2016 the same problems are likely to be seen at the polls as well as variations caused by political party preference among elected overseers of the process. And, let’s grant the size of the election process that must be assured is actually greater below the federal level: There are 87,000 local and state governments where elections decide 511,000 offices.
However, were a federal pattern established to improve accessibility it is likely all states would largely fall vaguely into line even though their mechanics might continue to differ. However, having different access provisions for state offices than federal ones would likely leave the impression that local politicians were trying to rig the outcomes — which of course they are, as redistricting gimmickry makes very obvious. Conversely, if Washington ran the Rome/Floyd County elections nobody would trust the announced results either.
THERE’S NO question but that Congress has the power to guarantee fair elections, including equal access to them. It already sets all sorts of rules for its own offices, such as age of eligibility ... and who votes. It repeatedly has modified them with those not landowners, not males and not white having been added to all voting lists in the past.
Why Congress has never acted to guarantee a minimum of uniformity and efficiency in casting ballots, and speed in counting them is really probably another one of those examples of tiptoeing around state powers and seeking not to rock the common boat any more than the Civil War already did.
Still, there is no shortage of possible ideas of what such federal voting uniformity might involve. And, if Congress ever learns how, there is plenty of room for compromise and adjustment and perfection of such ideas.
For example, already mentioned are such as:
A national registered voter list starting with all those now on the rolls and then adding others as they graduate/drop out of high school, including paying all costs of getting any basic documents required but not in the believed-eligible American’s possession (like proof of birth). When a voter moves and/or fills out a change of address form, the registration gets transferred to the correct state, county, precinct. No new registration process with each move.
A permanent national voter ID card, not necessarily with photo (you don’t look the same at 18 as you do at 65) but with a thumb print on file so there is a way to verify/allow a voter who has forgotten/lost his/her ID card.
A federal standard to create voting machine or methodology uniformity. (Georgians would appreciate a guarantee that constitutional amendment phrasing actually says what will be done.) Federally standardized training programs for poll workers and officials.
Inspections to ensure each polling place has enough of whatever is needed to cast votes (machines, ballots) and that all are in working order.
Expand early voting, clearly growing in popularity, and make its duration/hours uniform nationwide.
IF A STATE continually messes up its election process (Florida being a great example because it did real badly on this latest one, too, although not really having an impact this time) federal overseers could mandate repairs (as was done with Georgia’s mental-health hospitals, so there is plenty of precedent).
And, declare election day a national paid holiday (everybody gets off to vote without losing anything) or move the balloting away from Tuesday and make it last for two days, preferably Saturday and Sunday.
Avoid fears of a “federal takeover” by leaving the actual counting, as it is now, spread across both local and state officials.
It is interesting to note that when Obama was declared and accepted as the winner it was long, long before the Electoral College met to so decree. In fact, it still hasn’t met to do its largely technical duty. The states counted the votes of their people and tossed them into a generally accepted unofficial pile. Then the news media kept track and tally until there was general agreement on an “over the top” declaration. Which we now all accept, happily or sadly, as the actual result.
That is very much in keeping with the “we, the people” founding principle. That part should definitely be kept. It is assuring that all among “we, the people” can easily and smoothly participate that needs the attention.