Sunday, November 07, 2004

The New York Times > Election 2004 > Voting Problems in Ohio Set Off an Alarm

The New York Times > Washington > Election 2004 > Voting Problems in Ohio Set Off an Alarm:
"'We dodged a bullet this time, but the problems remain,' said Heather K. Gerken, who teaches election law at Harvard. 'We have problems with the machines, problems with the patchwork of regulations covering everything from recounts to provisional ballots, and problems with self-interested party officials deciding which votes count.'

Had the electoral math been only a little different, lawyers would be examining even closer finishes in other states."

The state relies heavily on punch-card balloting machines of the hanging-chad variety. Voting machines in Ohio failed to register votes for president in 92,000 cases over all this year, a number that includes failure to cast a vote, disallowed double votes and possible counting errors. An electronic voting machine added 3,893 votes to President Bush's tally in a suburban Columbus precinct that has only 800 voters.

Officials in Ohio will be able to reject some of the approximately 155,000 provisional ballots cast there, offered to potential voters whose names could not be located on local election rolls, because of the ambiguity of the standards.

There were also long lines at the polls, and it is unclear how many people grew too dispirited to keep waiting and ended up not voting.

"In Ohio," said Edward B. Foley, who teaches election law at Ohio State University, "there is a cloud over the process, even though there is not a cloud over the result."

Based on the Ohio experience, election law scholars advocate two types of broad reform: more uniformity within states - in registration lists, voting technologies and the distribution of voting machines - and replacing partisans with professionals in election administration.

"Congress has got to try again," Professor Foley said. "We need more money for machines. We need uniform allocation of machines. And Congress has to develop a clearer picture of the process for evaluating provisional ballots."

All these issues might have been before the courts if the vote in Ohio had been a little tighter.

"We had cases ready to be filed," said Daniel J. Hoffheimer, state counsel to the Kerry campaign in Ohio. "If Senator Kerry had decided to really go to the mat on provisional ballots, the Kerry-Edwards legal team would have looked at all the issues out there."

Most scholars and lawyers agree the main problems in Ohio resulted from technical failures and inadequate resources rather than partisan bickering in polling places or intentional disenfranchisement. But they said poor and minority voters may have suffered disproportionately.

"There is a feeling here that the long-line problem was a problem of disparity that fell along socioeconomic lines," Professor Foley said. "There were isolated instances of long lines here in the seven- to nine-hour range, and the common lines were two to three hours. When your line gets to two or three hours, it's system failure."

Even if the waits were comparable in poorer and richer precincts, legal scholars said, they might have had a disproportionate impact. If time is money, a long wait is a sort of poll tax, and the rich may be more able to pay it.
con·cept: The New York Times > Election 2004 > Voting Problems in Ohio Set Off an Alarm