Sunday, November 02, 2008

Getting your vote to count

So the election is almost over. Sarah and I voted last Thursday, so I have been kind of chilling on the whole thing. One very interesting thing happened when we went in. We had our voter registration cards, which clearly showed us registering with our current address on May 2 of this year. But we got in to the early voting place and we were not listed on the voter rolls.

At this point, a poll worker told us we could vote provisionally. She insisted it was just a paper ballot and there was no big difference. I told her that it made my vote less likely to be counted. See, for example, a recent article about Ohio's provisional voting situation, with my emphasis:

But the most likely source of litigation is the state’s heavy use of provisional ballots, which are issued when a voter’s identity or registration cannot immediately be verified or when polls stay open late. Ohio has a history of requiring large numbers of voters to use these ballots, which are easy to disqualify and are not counted until after the election.

“Provisional ballots are really the Achilles’ heel of our electoral process, because in a close race that is the pressure point lawyers use to try to undo the results,” said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University who is one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting litigation. “The larger the number of provisional ballots cast in a state, the more vulnerable the Achilles’ heel, and Ohio has for a couple of elections used more of these ballots than most any other state.”

Provisional ballots are second-class citizens in our electoral system. You are strongly advised to avoid casting one or treating it as a substitute for a real ballot.

Fortunately, I had taken two hours off of work and there were no lines. So I stuck to my guns and the poll workers called the central office (Secretary of State? I don't know). It turned out that Colorado switched its registration database or some such this year, and oopsie, my wife and I got lost in the shuffle. That's my fodder for conspiracy theories about election dirty tricks.

Frankly, after a couple of election cycles of this mess, I think we should treat elections as if we're conspiracy theorists. It is appalling that elections are not above reproach and a rational person like me can put on the tin-foil hat when it comes to voter registration snafus, provisional ballots, vote machine under-distribution in urban (minority, which is to say Democrat-dominated) neighborhoods, and the exhaustively documented security apocalypse that is the electronic voting machine and vote counting system. When you read What Went Wrong In Ohio and realize that not much, not enough has really changed in the last four years, you'll put on your tin-foil hat too.

Don't forget that David Iglesias, one of the US Attorneys fired by the Department of Justice for not being ideological and partisan enough, was fired specifically because he refused to bring suit against Democratic organizations prior to the 2006 elections for "voter registration fraud". Here he is on October 18:
David Iglesias says he's shocked by the news, leaked today to the Associated Press, that the FBI is pursuing a voter-fraud investigation into ACORN just weeks before the election.

"I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again," Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. "Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic." In 2006, Iglesias was fired as U.S. attorney thanks partly to his reluctance to pursue voter-fraud cases as aggressively as DOJ wanted -- one of several U.S. attorneys fired for inappropriate political reasons, according to a recently released report by DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.

Iglesias, who has been the most outspoken of the fired U.S. attorneys, went on to say that the FBI's investigation seemed designed to inappropriately create a "boogeyman" out of voter fraud.

We waited for several minutes while our registration was transferred manually from the old system to the new one. If this happens to a bunch of people on Tuesday, the polling place will be swamped. They finally printed our election labels. I expressed my thanks to the ladies who had worked to get us straightened out, and the one who had downplayed the significance of voting on paper said she was glad that we were getting to vote the way we wanted.

Completely missing the point.

I hope she watches the news when those provisional ballots go to the courts, as they well could in Colorado. It's possible that there will be enough provisional ballots cast to put the state's electoral votes in Limbo. The only way it wouldn't is if an Obama landslide puts the battleground states out of reach.

Again, be frank, be polite, but remember: Provisional ballots are second-class citizens in our electoral system. You are strongly advised to avoid casting one or treating it as a substitute for a real ballot.

I figured out a secret of this blogging thing. I have a few more things to say tonight, but I will put them in one post per topic...

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