Well, I went to the polls this AM to vote –I get a kick out of voting on Election Day, that symbolic moment when we all come together to make a decision; it’s sort of romantic. But, lo and behold, when I gave the poll worker my name there was something odd written next to it on the paper voter rolls –INACTIVE. As a regular voter, even in tiny school board elections, who hasn’t moved and never received a card stating I was at risk of being purged from the polls, I was a bit shocked. Fortunately, I was allowed to vote a regular ballot, though the poll workers did request I fill out a new voter registration form. However, as I filled it out, I realized there was a problem because I wasn’t an inactive voter and I hadn’t moved. So, when the form asked something like, do you agree for us to cancel your voter registration in county x and state x, I realized I didn’t agree, indeed I wanted my status to be reinstated to active not canceled and reentered. Moreover, my understanding of the law is that if I voted from an inactive status I would once again revert to active status. Therefore, given the glitch was clerical and there were no changes to my voter information, the poll workers should have done nothing and let me return to my true state of activity!
The issue of purging voters has been a front burner election topic with our current Secretary of State who is concerned that the voter roles may have people on it who are not regular voters (go here). Amusingly, I join prominent political wives and election reform activists who were determined “inactive” in a recent Secretary of State mailing. Obviously, something is wrong with the process of identifying inactive voters.
This brings up a more important point; keeping voter lists “clean” may have unintended consequences like purging legitimate voters who have a right to vote. We included a question on our NM Election Administration Voter Survey this year that asks voters if they are concerned they might be accidentally purged from the voter file. Let’s just say after my own experience today, I’m a bit more concerned myself and interested in seeing how average voters feel about this issue.
As Hurricane Sandy approaches the coast of New Jersey and is causing havoc on the coast from North Carolina north, it is interesting to ask a simple question — what if this storm was hitting on November 5, not at the end of October?
The impact of such an event could be devastating to the ability of states to hold elections and to national politics. Steven Huefner at the Moritz College of law wrote a nice legal analysis of some of the implications of Sandy on elections. I want to make some of what he implied more specific and also raise some additional questions for consideration.
First, lets briefly consider some of the things likely to be wrought by Sandy.
Massive and lasting power outages.
- No power means that DREs will only operate as long as their batteries last. It also means that voters voting on paper ballots will not have the use of scanners to identify errors on their ballots. But wait, there is more!
- No power means no alarm clocks to wake up poll workers, no phones to call the custodian to open the school, and no lights in the school for voting.
- No power means no call centers for when problems arise, no printing last minute changes to the voter registration roster, and limited use of those automatic poll books.
Evacuations and Traffic.
- Some voters will literally not be able to vote because they will have been evacuated from their local polling place and there is no provision for remote voting. Imagine if Long Island was under an evacuation notice; how would those voters vote?
- Today in New York and DC, there is no transit. How do people get to the polls where there is flooding, no power for traffic lights, and no public transport available?
The Horizontal State Problem and the Early Voting Problem
- The horizontal state problem are best epitomized by Pennsylvania and New York. Neither state has early voting and both have very strict absentee voting laws. Hurricane Sandy hits tonight and there is no power on Election Day in Philadelphia or New York City. People are warned to stay indoors because of downed power lines and flooding. However, in the rest of both states, people can vote. Such an event could systematically disenfranchise major metropolitan areas critical to determining who wins these states in Presidential and Senate races. Also, who wins the contested House races in these localities.
- The early voting problem is an extension of the horizontal state problem. Imagine that North Carolina is severely hit — a state with extensive early voting and liberal absentee voting. Does the system make any allowance for one voter having an easier time voting than the voter who wants to vote on Election Day?
Not A New Problem
Ever since 9/11, we have all been well-aware that disasters can completely disrupt an election. However, Congress and state legislatures have avoided considering these contingencies. Perhaps we should before we have a real constitutional crisis.
Doug Chapin has a blog as part of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration. Given Doug’s knowledge of the field, I think this has to be an addition to the daily RSS feed.
In a recent posting, Chapin blogged about the challenging 2012 presidential primary calendar, and how constant shifting deadlines (and rosters of candidates) create administrative and budgetary challenges for administrators.
I’ll add a little spice to the mix: early voting makes the question of “when exactly is election day again” even more complicated. With the Federal Voting Assistance Program taking a muscular role in making sure that the MOVE Act is being fully implemented, Bob Carey is sure to pay close attention to presidential primary ballots.
“Election Day” starts 45 days before the first announced primary. If, as is being proposed, Florida moves its primary to January 31st, then the first presidential primary ballots will be mailed out on December 17th, and obviously prepared earlier than that.
The number of UOCAVA voters in NH is tiny–4221 in the 2008 EAVS. But Florida reported 121,395 UOCAVA ballots transmitted in 2008 (largest in the nation). When *exactly* is Election Day, again, Doug asks? I have an answer: right around January 1st, 2012, when the first UOCAVA ballots are likely to start to arrive.
Crossposted to earlyvoting.net