Going to the Polls

Going to the Polls

With states across the country touting record numbers of newly registered voters, some credit Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with sparking interest in the political process due to the historic implications of their respective campaigns. But some political observers are concerned that a surge of new voters could create a host of new problems, as election officials grapple the challenges inherent to making Election Day run as glitch-free as possible.

“There is a huge concern that election officials who are responsible for getting everyone onto the rolls won’t have the resources or the systems to be able to put that into place,” says Jonah H. Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections. Should that occur, it wouldn’t just affect those who are registering for the first time. “It could lead to really long lines and it can lead to confusion at the polling places,” Goldman says.

Not only could the record number of voters pose a challenge for election officials, but a number of states have upgraded their voting machines since the last presidential election. Historically, there tend to be unexpected glitches when new technology is rolled out. “There was a huge problem with the technology in the last election in North Carolina and Florida,” says Laughlin McDonald, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project. “Machines stopped working and there were thousands of people whose votes were never counted.” Human error is also a possibility when it comes to making sure the voting machines are working since many polling places are understaffed and under-trained, McDonald says.

In addition to the logistical concerns raised by adding thousands of newly registered voters to the rolls, political observers are concerned that efforts may be made to keep registered voters from actually placing their vote in order to affect the outcome of the election. Such tactics have been used in the past, particularly targeting minorities and elderly voters, says Andrea E. Brooks, national vice president for Women and Fair Practices for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The AFGE began its voter protection campaign in 2004 and monitored cases of voter intimidation across the country. ”In 2004, we found tricks like in Baltimore, where they said that if you had a parking ticket you would be arrested, so don’t come and vote,” Brooks says. Other incidents across the country included cases in which people were ticketed for bringing voters to the polls and charged with operating illegal cab service. In some predominantly black districts, the AFGE found that there would be only two or three voting machines, compared with five or six machines in predominantly white districts. The result: “In the black districts the lines would be longer and people would be more apt to leave and not vote,” she says.

Similar problems have already been reported during the primary season, Brooks says, but with black voters expected to turn out en masse in support of Obama in November, political observers expect such tactics to continue. “You’re going to have worse