Christian Science Monitor
Voting technology: Will the chads
By Linda Feldmann
October 30, 2002
after the Florida election fiasco of 2000, nationwide reform of
America's voting mechanics has only just begun.
President Bush signed legislation that authorizes $3.86 billion to
replace antiquated and mistake-prone voting systems and implement
new federal standards. The plan calls for changes to be in place by
But the danger, say observers of reform, is that it focuses
too heavily on technology and not enough on the human element of
voting finding and training dedicated poll workers and educating
"Any legislation that directly or indirectly equates
election reform with new voting machines risks missing the mark,"
reports the Washington-based Election Reform Information Project.
handful of states that have already implemented changes discovered
this the hard way during fall primaries. In Florida's two largest
counties, insufficiently trained poll workers and some who didn't
show up at all spoiled the debut of state-of-the-art touch-screen
voting machines and produced massive, embarrassing delays.
Touch-screen machines also baffled some poll workers in Montgomery
County, Md., in the Sept. 10 primary, and communications glitches
delayed reporting of final results until 2 a.m. Since then, the
county has retrained poll workers and installed computer modems to
speed reporting of returns.
County Board of Elections Director
Margaret Jurgensen says she's "on track" to line up the 4,000 poll
workers she needs for Tuesday and has been holding training sessions
almost daily. She's also still recruiting bilingual poll workers to
help with the county's burgeoning Hispanic population.
doubt that elections can look messy in America both before reform
and after. In Michigan, which hasn't started reforms yet, a
confusing ballot design led to the invalidation of about 10 percent
of primary ballots this year. And with many tight races that could
determine control of the House, Senate, and statehouses, cries of
election fraud and unfair practices are already ringing out
Bogus absentee ballots have turned up in South Dakota.
Arkansas Democrats are charging Republicans with "bullying tactics"
to keep African-Americans away from the polls, though GOP officials
deny the charge. Both parties are recruiting lawyers to monitor
polling places in anticipation of disputes. By election night, the
United States could look like 50 Floridas.
But both experts and
those in the trenches of conducting elections come back to a key
theme: that citizens need to be energized to help run elections.
"As our poll-worker community gets older, we need to make sure
we're reaching out to younger populations, not just to engage in
civic participation but also to work at the polls," says Rashad
Robinson, field director for the Center for Voting and Democracy in
Takoma Park, Md. Indeed, Kentucky, West Virginia, and the District
of Columbia have new rules allowing older teenagers to work in
Yet the bulk of the reform to come will center on
technology and most states have been waiting for federal money to
foot most of the bill. The new Help America Vote Act calls for the
federal government to pay 95 percent of the cost, with 5 percent
coming from the states. (So far, though, there is no money; Congress
has not yet passed an appropriation.)
In addition to providing
block grants to the states for upgrading voting equipment and
improving election administration and training of poll workers, the
law calls on states to:
’ΔΆ Allow for "provisional voting," beginning
with the 2004 presidential election. This allows people whose names
are not on registration lists to vote anyway; the vote counts if the
registration can be verified later.
’ΔΆ By 2004, require people
registering to vote to provide a driver's license number or the last
four digits of a Social Security number. If a person has neither, a
number will be assigned. The goal is to prevent fraud.
state-wide, computerized voter registration databases by 2006. This
will make it easier to confirm if someone is on the voter rolls.
Allow "second chance voting" by 2006. Voters will be allowed to
check for errors and redo their ballots.
’ΔΆ Provide at least one
handicapped- accessible voting machine per precinct by 2006.
Define a "legal" vote clarifying, for instance, the fate of the
hanging chad for each type of voting machine by 2006.
One of the
largest sticking points on the legislation was the issue of voter
identification. To critics, the requirement flew in the face of the
American tradition of allowing people to vote without showing ID, in
the name of encouraging participation. There is concern centered in
the Hispanic community that identification requirements will depress
Latino turnout, especially among naturalized citizens, who may lack
"Some new citizens may not have proof of citizenship,"
says Angelo Ancheta, legal director of the Civil Rights Project at
Harvard University. "After 9/11 we're seeing immigration used to
address security concerns, and some immigrants are having trouble
getting a driver's license."