Fixing The Process, Take 2

Check out this video of 8-10 hour voting lines in Atlanta. It’s pretty astonishing.

It’s also something that should never, ever happen. Christopher Edley:

“Suppose in your neighborhood there are 600 registered voters per machine, while across town there are only 120 per machine. (That’s a 5 to 1 disparity, which is what exists in some places in Virginia today.) On Election Day, your line wraps around the block and looks to be a four-hour wait, while in other areas lines are nonexistent.

This ought to be a crime. It amounts to a “time-tax” on your right to vote, and some of your neighbors will undoubtedly give up and go home. This scenario raises three questions: Nationwide, will it discourage tens of thousands, or untold millions? Which presidential candidate and down-ballot candidates might benefit from this “tax”? And what can be done in the next few days?

Voting rights advocates, watching this slow-motion train wreck that could disenfranchise so many minority voters, have filed emergency litigation in Virginia and Pennsylvania demanding that, at the very least, officials be prepared with plenty of paper ballots and reserves of competent poll workers. More litigation may follow elsewhere.

Judges can hold official feet to the fire, but they shouldn’t have to. Assigning blame — whether the fingers are being pointed at Congress or the Justice Department, county registrars or state legislators — isn’t crucial this week. Neither is this the time to focus on the reasons for failure — whether indifference, incompetence, indolence or animus. What’s crucial is that state and local officials nationwide salvage the situation by implementing second-best strategies: For starters, redistribute machines on the basis of voter registration, instead of assuming that minorities won’t show up. Stockpile paper ballots, under lock and key, and offer a paper ballot voting option if wait times reach 45 minutes. Train platoons of reserve poll workers and stand by to shuttle them where they are needed. Commit right now to holding the polls open late if necessary. Advertise what you’re prepared to do. For heaven’s sake, a lot of people bled for this opportunity.”

Even if we stipulate, for the sake of argument, that voting machines are not distributed unevenly, so that (for instance) people in richer or whiter suburbs end up being able to vote much more easily than people in poorer or blacker neighborhoods, it’s discriminatory in effect: not everyone can wait in line for eight to ten hours, and asking them to do so means that people who are infirm or disabled, or have jobs that aren’t willing to give them ten hours off to vote, or have left their children in the care of someone who doesn’t have ten hours to spare, will be a lot more likely to be deterred from voting.

Besides that, the idea that anyone should have to wait for ten hours to vote is insane. And while I’d be happy to chalk up, say, 30 minute waits to unexpectedly high turnout, there’s a point at which you just have to think: don’t we pay people to estimate how high turnout will be, and to plan accordingly? And don’t ten hour lines call their competence into question?

We have to fix this. It’s shameful.