No Way to Run an Election

Navel-gazing about the results and implications of Tuesday’s voting will continue through a few more news cycles. At the least. You can’t stop a media freight train on a dime, after all. And while some of that analysis and examination may prove worthy of the effort, much will simply be indulgent insider chatter.

One topic, however, must not be swept aside in coming days and weeks as journalists move on to other subjects. And that is the fundamental flaws in this nation’s election system. While the chaos that many observers predicted did not occur, this is no way to run an election.

As Ohio election law expert Daniel Tokaji told Adam Liptak in today’s New York Times, “[f]our- and five-hour-long lines are inexcusable. They are a blot on our democracy.”

Throughout the course of this election season, Times editorial writer Adam Cohen has written extensively on the election process in a series entitled Making Votes Count. In today’s editorial, Cohen also takes up the matter of lengthy delays at some polling places:

In some areas, the wait to vote was four hours or more, and in many cases the longest lines were in minority neighborhoods. Many people literally cannot afford to wait that long to vote, and there were numerous reports of voters leaving the lines without voting. The nation should commit itself to providing enough voting machines and election workers to make waiting times reasonable.

Congress thought it had solved many problems with the Help America Vote Act. Turns out, the legislation probably did more harm than good this time around. The law’s vagueness on issues such as provisional ballots, and a lack of uniform standards for new voting machinery, created confusion in many portions of the country.

Cleaning up the nation’s voting system isn’t a sexy story. It’s not one likely to bull its way on to page one on its own. And it’s going to take a lot of digging, legwork and thought. (That’s three strikes already.) But while the frustrations of waiting, the worries about disenfranchisement, and the widespread bumbling of local and state election officials are fresh in everyone’s mind, it’s a story that merits the full attention of a campaign-weary press.

More than 114 million Americans — the folks who navigated all the obstacles on Tuesday — are potential readers.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.