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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Doubting the Vote

posted by on October 29 at 10:25 AM

Dan’s heart is breaking (sort of) for the people in this New York Times story. Mine is currently breaking for the people in this one, which explores the widespread (and somewhat justified) fears among black voters in Florida that their votes won’t be counted:

Wounds have not healed here in Duval County since the mangled presidential election of 2000, when more than 26,000 ballots were discarded as invalid for being improperly punched. Nearly 40 percent of the votes were thrown out in the predominantly Democratic-leaning African-American communities around Jacksonville, a reality that has caused suspicions of racial bias to linger, even though intentional disenfranchisement was never proved.

Now, in a show of early election enthusiasm, more than 84,200 people have already voted in Duval County, surpassing the number of early votes cast in the last presidential election. Added to 33,800 absentee ballots collected so far, the numbers show that 22 percent of registered voters cast their ballots as of Oct. 27, county election officials said.

But amid excitement over Mr. Obama’s historic candidacy and the chance that the country might choose an African-American president within a matter of days, there is an unmistakable sense of anxiety among blacks here that something will go wrong, that victory will slip away.

“They’re going to throw out votes,” said Larone Wesley, a 53-year-old black Vietnam veteran. “I can’t say exactly how, but they are going to accomplish that quite naturally. I’m so afraid for my friend Obama. I look at this through the eyes of the ’60s, and I feel there ain’t no way they’re going to let him make it.”

Mr. Wesley refuses to vote early. “I don’t believe the machines work properly in general,” he said, “and they really don’t work properly when they think you’re voting for Obama.”

As TIME Magazine’s Michael Scherer noted recently:

We can go to the moon, split atoms to power submarines, squeeze profits from a 99 cent hamburger and watch football highlights on cell phones. But the most successful democracy in human history has yet to figure out how to conduct a proper election.

Which is a sad national disgrace.

RSS icon Comments


You know, in Canada they have a national election in 30 days - start to finish - and use pencils and paper ballots with an accuracy rate NONE of our states have EVER matched.

Of course, they have only one type of ballot, not 2000 different types.

Makes you wonder ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 29, 2008 10:56 AM

Same thing in Australia, where everyone is required to vote, anyone can vote *anywhere* in a country basically the size of the US, and most places use pencil and paper with a more complex transferrable-vote system. The elections run just fine.

The key is that the Aussie election is federally run with consistent processes across the country. The fact that every county does something different here is just a recipe for disaster.

Posted by david | October 29, 2008 11:03 AM

I hope a huge chunk of Obama's $700 million has been set aside for election fraud legal fees.

Posted by DOUG. | October 29, 2008 11:11 AM

wow. i didn't catch that article. I live and vote in Jacksonville, and the early voting lines have been insane. i've been volunteering with a voting rights group, making sure that everything goes correctly. the problem is that once the voting sheet goes into the optical scanner, there is really no way to verify the results. i certainly hope, and think, that the votes are being counted correctly, but it's difficult to explain that to a person who has lived with bigotry and division their entire lives.

Posted by konstantconsumer | October 29, 2008 11:21 AM

We can run Powerball lotteries every week and never screw up the results. We can easily run elections properly.

Elections in this country have always been designed to discount the vote of the poor without totally snuffing the democratic myth.

Obama probably needs 4 million extra votes to overcome the election rigging and win the popular vote.

Posted by Curmudgeon | October 29, 2008 11:29 AM

You gotta love all this coverage of election "worries" that make it sound like the problems are purely due to inefficiency or some other innocuous cause. If the voting "problems" in Florida, Ohio and other swing states were just caused by an antiquated patchwork system then one would expect to see errors distributed more or less randomly, favoring neither party. That is most certainly not the case. The NYT article makes it sounds like Florida blacks are just fretting and worrying, not like they are legitimately concerned after a long history of systematic disenfranchisement.

This might be the election where Americans of all walks finally wake up to the fact that their votes are not being counted. Whatever the outcome, electoral reform is called for, and real reform this time, not Bush's "Help America Vote Act."

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 29, 2008 11:45 AM
If the voting "problems" in Florida, Ohio and other swing states were just caused by an antiquated patchwork system then one would expect to see errors distributed more or less randomly

Not necessarily. Poorer counties have less money to spend updating their equipment, so I think you'd still see discrepancies in more Democratic-leaning districts. But the discrepancies we've seen over the past decade are far too widespread for that excuse to work.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 29, 2008 11:57 AM

I voted in St. John's county in 2000, the county south of Duval. Even though I live 3,000 miles away now, the memories of all of that are what is giving me such major election anxiety right now.

Posted by samantha | October 29, 2008 12:01 PM

@7: I see your point, but let me point to another example from my home state, Ohio. A Federal court ruled a decade ago that the discrepancies in the educational quality in differing school districts within the state was symptomatic of systematic discrimination and must be corrected. Essentially they said that allowing the distribution of tax funds to follow regional disparities in income amounted to deliberate neglect of poorer regions. There was also a demonstrable racial element to the differences in educational opportunities offered under this funding system. It amounted to a de facto discriminatory educational system. (This pattern emerged following the "white flight" from the cities in the wake of forced desegregation in the 70's.)

If that's true for schools, it's true for voting machines. If it's known that it's easier for rich people to vote than poor people and no steps are taken to correct this, it amounts to de facto discrimination.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 29, 2008 12:06 PM

@9 You are correct, flamingbanjo, for that is just the amount of time I have lived in this sorry-ass state, and guess what? The school funding formulas STILL haven't changed despite the ruling.

What hope does that hold out for meaningful voting reform?

Posted by emma's bee | October 29, 2008 6:31 PM

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