Holy Toledo! A Sky is NOT Falling Story

I had to blink 20 times after reading just the headline from this story in the Christian Science Monitor. In fact, I have pasted it as I saw it–in big type–since I doubt you will believe this either when you first see it.

Maybe election day won’t be a fiasco after all

Here is the key meat of the story, in which they quote our friend Charles Stewart extensively:

Election experts have no trouble painting doomsday scenarios in which control of the House boils down to one or two close races that are thrown into recounts and legal wrangling that drag on for weeks, even into January – which could leave it up to the current Republican majority to decide whom to seat and whom not to seat.

“But that would have to be a perfect storm,” says Edward Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University.

In fact, experts report the system is improving overall, even as intense scrutiny of problems threatens to undermine voter confidence in the accuracy of elections. An analysis published earlier this year by Charles Stewart, head of the political science department at MIT, found that a reduction in the “residual vote rate” – blank votes and over-votes in which too many votes are cast – led to the counting of an additional 1 million ballots in 2004, compared with 2000.

Three of the four states with big declines – Florida, Georgia, and Illinois – had made significant upgrades in their voting machines in the intervening years, and it is likely that those upgrades were a major factor, Mr. Stewart says. Florida alone saw a decline in blank votes and over-votes from 2.9 percent to 0.4 percent.

“The positive message I’m trying to bring is that if we focus on a particular problem, we can make progress,” says Stewart. The problem with voting machines “hasn’t been perfectly handled, but bottom line, more people were enfranchised as a consequence of what we did over the last four years.”

New machines, which featured improved interface with voters and no more hanging chads, were not the only reason for improvement, Stewart notes. States with lowered residual vote rates had also done a better job of training poll workers. And voters knew to be more careful as they voted, after the problems in 2000.