lessons from America

The early voting quandry

Minnesota doesn’t allo early voting.  Its citizens seem to take pride in having huge turnouts on election day.  The state usually tops the list in terms of turnout.  You can get an absentee ballot though, and you can vote early at the City Hall, though not many people do.  When phonebanking at the Obama office I did speak to some concerned elderly and frail people, or those with young children, who the thought of spending hours in line to vote was not a happy, or possible one. 

One solution, at least for a few people in one location in Minneapolis, is the advent of ‘kerbside voting’.  Its a variation on the US tradition of ‘kerbside check-in’ at airports, but here the ballot box – along with two election officials – come to your car outside the polling station if someone is physically not able to deal with getting into the polling station and waiting in line.  Neat idea.  Though it does require greater numbers of trained pollworkers to be on site to fulfill that service and keep the rest of the lines moving.

Early voting is better for the parties: it means activists can spend their time doing GOTV rather than standing in line on election day; it is votes in the bag which can’t be lost through an October / November surprise; and it means the parties can focus their efforts more effectively on the day itself.

However, early voting isn’t necessarily an easy option for voters.  It may still mean standing in long lines, for hours, especially when so many other people are doing the same.  In Denver a week ago early voting was running at 20% of eligible voters.  In figures quoted on, “in North Carolina, 42% of all Democrats, 35% of all Republicans, and 30% of all independents have already voted. In Florida the numbers are 22%, 15%, and 20%, respectively.”  The TV has been showing scenes of massive queues of people waiting to vote at some polling stations.  In many (urban) places in Florida, the wait is 5-6 hours on average.

How many people can afford to take that time – to be at the polls and thus not be at work or looking after their children? Or what happens if they are too frail to wait in line for that long?  There is plenty of scope for these arrangements to disenfranchise people – a “new poll tax” as Rachel Maddow called it on her MSNBC show tonight.  And it really is an issue here in Ohio.  Reports from Columbus talk about the problems experienced around that area  And in Ohio as a whole, it is estimated that 10,000 more people have given up queuing for casting an early vote than was the Bush victory margin over Kerry in this state in 2004.

I believe in the value of early voting.  But just as Rachel Maddow and others point out, the elections infrastructure needs to be fixed and modernised – and overseen in a non-partisan way – in order for the full democratic benefits of early voting to be felt.


November 3, 2008 - Posted by | counting votes, lessons from America

1 Comment »

  1. it’s awesome that there has been this “problem” of long lines all over… people taking a greater interest in public issues is always a good thing

    Comment by patrick | November 7, 2008 | Reply

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