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Voting delays: The other national disaster

Long lines at gas stations in the Northeast will ease eventually, and were the result of a natural disaster, the "act of God" known as Sandy. But the voting debacle in Florida is man-made, and a true national scandal, in my view. It is a problem that could manifest itself in many places tomorrow, Election Day. That raises all sorts of questions about the legitimacy of our democracy. People waiting seven hours in line to vote? Voter fraud fears are unfounded. This is a real disenfranchisement, and while it seems to affect the working class and elderly and others on the margins the most, this seems like it is a problem that should concern both parties. Such lines are a great disincentive to voting.On this date in 1872, Susan B. Anthony voted (Republican) and was arrested, and later convicted for her crime. Is this any way to honor her activism?


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From what I understand each state is responsible for holding elections. They obviously require more polling places in certain counties.I know up here that volunteers staff polling centres (my mom was one at one time) and that representatives from each party are allowed to be at the table to observe and obviously elections officials oversee everything.If there are long lines and delays, it is due to poor planning, not enough polling centres and volunteers and ultimately poor leadership and organization at the state level.

Florida has had more than enough time to get its act together. I must ask if it may not be inappropriate for the federal courts in the state to get involved in light of de facto disenfranchisement. This is outrageous!

The best way to breed distrust and lack of interest on the part of voting citizenry is for them to have more than a little suspicion that the voting process is deliberatly rigged, mishandled or designed to disenfranchise certain segments of the voting population.This year is as close to that actuality that I have ever seen in my 54+ years of voting.This country is going down a bad road from which it may not recover as easily as the more naive among us believe. Contrary to what Fr. Flanagan said: there IS such a thing as a bad boy.

@George D (11/5, 11:38 am) "If there are long lines and delays, it is due to poor planning...."That depends on one's definition of planning. One possibility is, as you suggest, sheer incompetence on the part of local and state election officials in certain states.Another possibility---one for which there's a fair amount of evidence---is that the long lines and delays are due to *effective* planning by local and state officials who want certain constituencies *not* to vote. As tech geeks say, it's not a bug; it's a feature.

As a long time poll inspector I see the huge lines in Florida and Ohio as a treasonous GOP disgrace. In my twenty years as inspector there was never more than 5-6 people in line at San Francisco polling places. When there was a long, time consuming ballot more tables and chairs were placed in the church basement.

Early voting began in our state a few cycles ago. For a couple of weeks there are lines outside the early voting places, and people boast of waiting two to four hours to vote. For which I thank them. On election day, my wife and I have gone to our usual polling place and voted in under 10 minutes.The reason it takes so long to vote early is because our Legislature, in its wisdom :-( , and local governments in their chauvinism don't have any election districts that overlap, so every block needs a different ballot from the block across the street. So each voter's ballot has to be printed separately on printers (that break down). Eventually, the Lege will demand that each ballot be drawn by a calligrapher, and the lines will get longer. This year, to add to the fun, the Legislature included the full wording of its many and useless proposed constitutional changes -- a finger in the eye of the State 'Supreme Court which said the lawmakers' summaries were misleading (which they were). As a result, the ballot is as long as Anna Karina and not as interesting, but if people try to read it, we will be here well into 2013.

You mean they have to vote on Tuesday?!

Jim P., Is your comment above all that you have to say about this problem?For your sake, I hope not.

Thank you, Bernard D.

The bulletin in my state (Rhode Island) had ballot questions on how to spend money: do you want to give $x to veterans, $y to state parks, $z to local schools?Such questions strike me as very strange. How would I know the answer of such questions if I do not have a global view of the budget? Without the time to study it and competence to evaluate it, I would much prefer those to be resolved by elected officials. What are they elected for, if not to do some sound planning, and why should I make decisions that are really their job to make?But I suppose that long time US citizens are so used to it that it's normal in their eyes.

But let me not derail an interesting topic. The only connection is: "US voting has weird features"...

"...the ballot is as long as Anna Karina and not as interesting" Tom BlackburnAll happy elections are alike; each unhappy election is unhappy in its own way.

Bernard, John Page and all: sorry for the brevity. I don't think it's unreasonable to wait in line to vote. Lines can form on Election Day, or during early voting. Sometimes it's cold out, too. Sometimes it rains or snows. Sometimes it involves driving or riding a bus. None of these are insurmountable problems. So no, I don't find it a scandal or a crisis that voting may entail some personal inconvenience. Our laws ensure that employers permit their employees to vote on Election Day. If employers are abusing employees by not excusing them from work on Election Day, then the remedies provided in those laws should be applied.If citizens in Florida or some other jurisdiction want expanded early voting, they are free to petition the governor and their legislative representatives.Personally, I vote in the morning, before work, because the lines tend to be shorter than late in the day. I've gotten to know some neighbors by waiting in line to vote. It's a privilege to be able to vote in a democracy.

John P., Nicely done! I couldn't agree more.Jim P., It's a little more complicated than that. Chuck or Jake or Wolf or Mara would be proud to tell you that conventional political wisdom (their stock in trade) holds that early voters are Democrats while absentee voters are Republicans. The theory seems to be that Democrats have to work on Tuesdays, and Republicans can send their man to pick up their ballot and return it for them. I am not sure I believe the theory.But Republican governors, who watch Chuck and Jake et al, try to limit early voting hours, and Democratic governors try to extend them. And each side tries to counteract the other. Pretty soon the theory becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. The "citizens," especially those coveted independents, have no way to influence it. Of course.

Jim, my husband has arthritic hips and a pacemaker. After standing in line for an hour to vote, he was worn out for the rest of the day. You're very fortunate that (apparently) you're in such good health that you can be on your feet for a couple of hours, and can afford to lose a few hours' pay. Try putting yourself in the places of those of us who aren't.

Jim P - would suggest that the *catholic* position, if there is one, on voting would be to encourage, support, extend, influence, and all but compel folks to responsibly vote. The concept that voting happens on only one day is a figment of someone's imagination in today's world. Is there some magic to having to vote only on the first Tuesday in November? (30% of all voters this election will be early voters)Reality for catholic social justice is that many folks have to work on Nov. 6th; have family or other responsibilities in addition to work; do not have the *luxury* to take a vacation day or pay for children to be watched; elderly w/o transportation; elderly who can't stand in line for 3+ hours or in the freezing cold, military on duty; etc. (other arguments appear to sound like the Romney welfare w/o work mantra and, as FactChecker showed, has just as much truth)That barely 50% of the US votes is a scandal (if that high) There is no proven issue of fraud, voter mistakes, etc. so why the *high bar* for photo IDs; restricting early voting days/hours, limiting voting hours, etc.

Jim P."I dont think its unreasonable to wait in line to vote." But in Florida 6 hours, 8 hours? That is what is being reported.You mentioned that you vote early in the morning, when the lines are short. Consider this scenario:But lets say that the poll opens at 7 and you have a 2 hour commute to your job where it is important that you arrive at 9 and when you come home you are dead tired from being on your feet all day and oh, the kids are home from school and need dinner. Do you expect such a person would want to travel to their voting precinct and wait in line for several hours? Boo hiss.

Angela - I'm sorry for your husband. Bill - I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that everyone who works on election day is permitted by law to miss work in order to vote, and needn't spend vacation days. Helen - your employer needs to accommodate your right to vote. Tell her that you need to start at noon that day because you are voting. I'm glad people are willing to wait hours in line to vote, and I'm sorry the experience was so bad for them. But this is not the equivalent of being stuck on a highway for eight hours with no exit ramp. They were free to leave at any time, and come back tomorrow, or the next day, or to skip the whole thing without a penalty.Six hours is nothing. Try being impaneled on a jury. That's six weeks of my life I'll never get back. And it's not optional. Then there's military service ...

Jim P."Helen your employer needs to accommodate your right to vote. Tell her that you need to start at noon that day because you are voting."My scenario was a hypothetical. I live across the street from my polling place. I just have empathy for people who are not so fortunate. Your jury (for which I would think that you got reimbursed) and military service (which are no longer compulsary) comparisons are not convincing. The long lines and hoursof waiting to vote do not have to be that way. So, double my "Boo hiss."

Jim: With all due respect, the law isn't always much help to an employee whose boss doesn't want him to vote; when they say no, they mean no; Lord help the employee who appeals to the federal gov't (!). Work life for many African Americans in South Florida isn't much more fair than the situation they encountered when they showed up at their polling stations.

"Your jury (for which I would think that you got reimbursed)"That's true, I was. Actually, I was fortunate in that my employer continued to pay my salary, so financially, it was a wash for me. There were a couple of jurors on my jury who were self-employed, and it just about killed them financially. The reimbursement in Cook County, IL, where I lived at the time (this was back in the 1980s) was $17.20/day. I'm too lazy to figure out what the poverty line was that year, but I'm pretty sure that a worker making $17.20/day was below it. About half that reimbursement would have paid the parking garage fees for people who had to drive.For some reason, I've been called for jury duty nearly a dozen times, so I can vouch that, as of a year ago, Cook County was still paying $17.20/day. It probably doesn't cover a daily downtown parking rate anymore.At any rate: even people with long commutes or who are stuck at home with kids can make arrangements, one day every four years, to vote in a presidential election. If it's important to them, they'll figure it out. If they're not able to work out arrangements, they have problems a lot bigger than inconvenient polling hours. Sorry, I'm not very sympathetic.

This site for Broward County indicates that early voting in Florida was available from 10/27 through 11/3 this year. People complaining about long lines on 11/3 are like people who complain about the crummy postal service while they wait outside the post office with their tax return on 11:58 pm on 4/15.

Jim P. --Imagine this old lady -- 75 years old, family live in other states, serious heart problem, crippling arthritis (can't get into a bus), her friends are all either dead or they work so they can't help her to the polling place, and a cab would cost her two days food.If you were she, what would you do?

Ann - yes, I do understand that voting is a hardship for a number of people.It turns out that in some places, for some people, early voting is even more of a hardship than voting on election day. Lesson learned: those people should try voting on election day, when there are many more polling places open for longer hours with more people around to assist voters.Your hypothetical person would struggle to vote regardless of how many days and hours of early voting were available. In the old days, political parties had precinct organizations that would drive people in that situation to the polls. Maybe there is something to be said for that old-time, ground game organization.

Jim: Is that your argument? Early voting is harder before Election Day, which doesn't happen until tomorrow? You're quite confused. Voting is a right. Someone who favors democracy should favor a system that makes it easier for citizens to vote. A system that constricts the process, as we've seen in Florida and in Ohio, is not properly democratic, but rather, it seems, narrowly partisan. Your tough-love routine doesn't fly.

Allow me to quote Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain's '08 campaign (this has been widely noted, especially by Andrew Sullivan): "One of the things that you always want to be for, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, is that you want everyone who's eligible to vote to vote.... I think that all of this stuff that has transpired over the last two years is in search of a solution to a problem, voting fraud, that doesnt really exist when you look deeply at the question. Its part of the mythology now in the Republican Party that theres widespread voter fraud across the country. In fact, theres not."

"Jim: Is that your argument? Early voting is harder before Election Day?"No.The only argument I'm making is that those voters can vote on Tuesday; there are legal protections to ensure that they can vote on Tuesday; and voting, whether it's early or on Election Day, can require some planning ahead and a modicum of inconvenience. All of that seems so self-evident that I'm not sure why it would be controversial.If these points sound familiar, it's because I've made them all several times now.

It would be easier to agree with Jim P. that enduring a little inconvenience in performing a civic duty is not such a bad thing, if the whole sorry process was beyond human control. But that is not the case. It has been obvious for well over a year that the Republican Party is doing all it can to make voting difficult for citizens they think are likely to vote Democratic. Needess photo ID, misinformation, intimidation, shorter hours, long lines, it's all good if it discourages "those people" and gives another four years to folks who see their divine right to govern slipping away.This isn't about people who can't sort out their own lives enough to cast a vote. It's about plain, out-in-the-open, contemptuous finagling. Sympathy or the lack of it is beside the point. The right response is righteous, motivating anger.

@Jim Pauwels (11/6, 12:08 am) In my view, none of your points is controversial.Also, in my view, not controversial is the fact that there is a systematic state-by-state effort by one of our two major political parties to restrict the right to vote, to make it harder for many people to vote, to (in effect) reinstate a poll-tax-by-other-means by forcing some voters and would-be voters to spend hours of time (as opposed to actual dollars) for the right to vote.State laws vary widely as to whether employers must give employees time off to vote (e.g., Michigan, North Carolina, Montana, Rhode Island according to this information from the AFL-CIO, Some states require employers to give employees a specified amount of time off (e.g., two hours in CO, GA, IL according to this chart from a human resource management association,, for example, someone whose polling place is a half-hour's drive from their place of employment literally can't afford to wait in line for longer than 1 hour without risking their job in many states.

Jim P. -- "Our laws ensure that employers permit their employees to vote on Election Day" and "there are legal protections to ensure that they can vote on Tuesday". Wrong. Our laws require or oblige employers to permit . Ensuring that an employer actually does so is an entirely separate matter that may involve, among other things, important work that he needs to have done on Tuesday and later reactions to an employee who is missing when needed. Inconvenience aside, an employee may easily be trapped between two goods. Suing the boss for whom you want to keep working may support the civic good but not likely the other one.

Just voted at 2:30pm Tues. Number ahead of me exactly 0. At 7am, lines had been extremely long with people trying not to interrupt their work day, whatever the law might permit or require.

"A modicum of inconvenience." Some people have stood in line for seven hours.


About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.