As I was checking out of the hotel on Friday, a USA Today headline caught my attention. Eight years after the Florida election debacle, election officials are still singing the blues:
Since 2000, states and localities have replaced punch-card ballots in fits and starts, in some cases reversing initial decisions to go to entirely paperless systems. As a result, a number of key areas — among them Cuyahoga County, Ohio — will be trying out new systems. In Colorado, a number of new voting machines failed a test run in December.
In addition to huge lines and new equipment, problems could arise with registration rolls. State officials are already struggling with a huge increase in forms to process. Come Election Day, many voters are likely to show up thinking that they are registered, only to find that they are not.
To minimize the number of voters who will be crying the blues on Election Day, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Voices of the Electorate Democracy Reform Project will convene a symposium, “Election ’08: Still Not Ready,” on Tuesday, Sept. 23, from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
Voting rights experts, voter empowerment groups and community-based activists will identify steps that election officials and voters must take to remove barriers to the ballot and ensure that every vote is counted as intended (disclosure: I am the project coordinator).
In 50 days, voters will go to the polls and make history. Either an African American will be the next occupant of the Oval Office or a woman will be elected vice president of the United States. But for some voters, history will repeat itself.
During the primary season, voters encountered malfunctioning voting machines, inaccurate voter databases, confusing ballot designs and instructions, untrained poll workers, burdensome voter ID requirements, uncounted ballots and ballot shortages from Palm Beach County to Los Angeles County.
In the Sept. 9, primary in the nation’s capitol, electronic voting machines counted thousands of write-in votes cast by phantom voters. While election officials said it was due to a “computer glitch,” the e-voting machines’ manufacturer, Sequoia Voting Systems, says they're not to blame.
In Florida’s Aug. 26, primary, more than 3,500 ballots were lost in Palm Beach County. The missing ballots have since been found. But get this: there now are 139 more ballots than were originally counted.
Voters must not wait until Election Day to protect their right to vote. This point was underscored by the Rev. Al Sharpton during the National Action Network’s weekly rally:
Waiting until something happens does not lead to progress…Otherwise you wait on Election Day for the same trick. You don’t sit up and wait for an accident to happen. You avoid it. Sitting around waiting for accidents that are avoidable is unconscionable.
The Voices of the Electorate symposium is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. Please RSVP by Friday, Sept. 20 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For free voter information, including registering to vote, verifying registration status, early voting or polling place location, call the national voter assistance hotline, 1-866-MYVOTE1.