Not Again! How Our Voting System Is Ripe For Theft and Meltdown in 2012
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Election officials, of course, know what is going on with their voting systems. Trade publications, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures’ The Canvass, have reported on the aging voting machine fleet and lack of funds—from Congress or the states—to shore up current stockpiles.
These publications tend to take a dispassionate view and highlight the pioneering work done by a handful of wealthier counties to develop new voting procedures and technologies, such as Los Angeles and Travis County, Texas. But most medium- and small-size jurisdictions are stuck with what they have. They are looking at cost-cutting ideas that might confound voters, such as replacing established polls with vote centers and printing paper ballots on demand.
While nobody is hoping for voting systems to fail—or be tampered with—the frontline in November, as in all elections, are poll workers. These are local people who are paid a pittance and have an increasingly difficult job. They must not only contend with voting technology issues, but they also have to implement the new voting laws—which often come with fine print.
The average age of poll workers is going up. In 2010, more than half nationwide were older then 60. In recent years, it has been increasingly hard to find enough poll workers, election trade publications have reported. Looking to this fall, that could be problematic. In Virginia—a state with some of the oldest and least reliable electronic voting systems—the state announced earlier this year that localities could use unpaid poll workers if people wanted to volunteer.
Insider's Advice To Election Officials
Doug Chapin, a blogger and self-described election geek who founded an election administration training program at the University of Minnesota, dropped his chin-up demeanor recently, comparing the East’s heat wave to 2012’s elections, where he sees “a rising tide of anger and frustration—almost across the board—on just about every detail of the election process.”
“Quite simply, this isn’t good; not for the field and not for democracy overall,” he wrote. “It’s going to get hotter and hotter as November approaches: My plea to you is simple: stay cool.”
That’s the view looking outward from the eye of an emerging hurricane. For those of us looking inward and vesting our hopes in a fair vote, there’s no shortage of fuel for cynicism, as new voter suppression laws, other anti-democratic antics, aging equipment, overwhelmed poll workers, litigation-prone partisans and vote count uncertainties are hovering.
One can always hope that the presidential race will be decisive and not come down to a single problematic state. But there certainly will be close congressional and state contests, where it will be anyone’s guess just what might undermine the democratic processes. And that’s exactly the problem in 2012: the closer you look, the more you find cause for concern.
Steven Rosenfeld covers democracy issues for AlterNet and is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).