First came all the good news about the explosion of interest in Election 2008 -- skyrocketing registration, high primary turnout. Now come the darker warnings: is our patch-work national election system ready for an engaged electorate?
The New York Times spells out the possible voting problems in a cover story today. First there are big changes in voting technology:
At least 11 states [including Florida, Kentucky and Texas in the South - ed.] will use new voting equipment as the nation shifts away from touch-screen machines and to the paper ballots of optical scanners, which will be used by more than 55 percent of voters.
About half of all voters will use machines unlike the ones they used in the last presidential election, experts say, and more than half of the states will use new statewide databases to verify voter registration.
This will compound chronic problems such as under-funded election offices, an unstable base of volunteers that staff the polls, and confusion over who is registered to vote due to over-zealous purges by state officials trying to clean up lists. Jonah Goldman of the Brennan Center is especially worried about Southern states:
Mr. Goldman said his organization was closely watching Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, because those states have purged hundreds of thousands of voters since 2006.
Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina, which released a report today on the influx of new voters, argues that problems are preventable if action is taken now:
"[North Carolina] could have 700,000 or even one million more voters than the 3.5 million who cast ballots in 2004." Hall said. "There are already 700,000 more registered voters than there were in July 2004 and we've often seen 200,000 new voters added in the final months before an election."
"You can look ahead and see this horrible traffic jam, but it can be prevented if election officials take steps to add more opportunities for voting before the Election Day crush."