Post-Election Views: Assuring the Integrity of the Vote - 2

2 - Conduct of the Election Process

Elections can be skewed at the polls in several ways. Most of them have been tried this year in various parts of the country, particularly those controlled by Republicans. While unforeseen problems can accidentally cause disruptions to the process, what we’re talking about here is meddling designed to impede certain voters.

Inconvenient location

In a suburban area, most people get around to conduct their business by car. So, a polling place would need to have easy access and ample parking. In an urban area, especially one with many low-income residents, the polling place should be within walking distance or accessible by public transport. In either case, if it’s hard for voters to reach the polling place, they’re less likely to vote.

Following the Supreme Court decision that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby v Holder, 2013), a number southern states reduced the number of polling places.  By November 2016, the total eliminated had risen to 868, many in areas that promised a close presidential race. This particularly impacted voters of color.

Long waits in line

Fewer polling places, besides being less easy to reach, can also mean more voters at each and longer waits to vote. Remember Arizona in the March primary? There were five-hour waits in line in some precincts. The elderly and infirm can’t stand in line an hour or more. Neither can people who have to get to work or home to relieve a babysitter.

Few or badly distributed voting machines

Even if there are enough polling places, lack of equipment or staff inside can cause delays. In Franklin County, OH, in 2004, Clintonville voters waited up to three hours. Clintonville is a mixed-ethnic, working class, usually Democratic area near the Ohio State campus. Across town, in Upper Arlington, a high-income suburb that leans Republican, voters were in and out in ten minutes. This year, similar problems were reported in Maricopa County, AZ … home of the infamous, now-former Sheriff Joe “Pink Underwear” Arapaio.

Confusing information

If voters are given partial or wrong information, they may lose their franchise. Rightly or wrongly, they may be told their voting place has moved. They may be sent to another location, or given a provisional ballot that may or may not be counted. They may hear they need a photo ID, when none is required. Poll workers may give a provisional ballot but, by ignorance or design, not tell the voter essential information about documentation needed to verify their registration. Changes in state laws, even if overturned by the courts, may stick in voters’ minds, adding further confusion.

If your polling place is ‘abroad’

For voters abroad, the situation can be more confusing. Voters in the US, at least, live within one state and have to contend with its rules, only. Overseas, information handed out to voters often tries to generalize as much as possible to cover all states. However, deadlines and rules about obtaining and returning registration forms and ballots may differ widely.

And worse, consider the case for Democrats Abroad. The same online platform, votefromabroad.org (VFA) can be used to fill and print out an application for registration and request for ballot and also to join DA. It’s simple, really, just one more click on the screen.

But some voters still don’t realize that the two processes are separate. Joining DA doesn’t register one to vote. Registering with one’s home state to vote, even in a Democratic primary, doesn’t automatically ‘join’ the voter to DA. And non-members … don’t get the very informative emails and reminders from their country committees.