As the polls grind to a close, various images linger from the humorous of a surfer voting in California fresh from the beach with his board to the inspiring of a woman in labor insisting on voting before going to the hospital. However, one image remains consistent across the country: absurdly long line. Despite scandals from 2008 of people waiting for hours to vote, election officials have again produced endless lines by failing to produce adequate voting machines for the expected vote in many areas. My voting place in McLean was wonderful – enough machines and short lines. However, I have heard nightmare stories from others around the region including over three hour waits in Maryland.
I helped cover the last election in 2008 for CBS and recall discussing the lines in Ohio where people literally passed out waiting to vote. My students reported waiting for as long as three hours in Virginia. One student from New York applied for an absentee ballot almost two months ago and never received it. From New Jersey to Florida to Ohio, people are legitimately irate that after many billions of dollars in federal funds, states continue to fail to consistently offer sufficient resources for citizens across the country. We should have a consistent benchmark standard that voters should be able to get in line and vote within 30 minutes.
The lack of resources comes with suspicions of a planned failure. In Ohio in 2004, we were struck by the consistently long lines in Democratic and minority areas. We pressed the Kerry campaign whether it would challenge the pattern across the state. At first, the campaign indicated that it would but then Kerry himself threw in the towel. Now, four years later (and 12 years after the Florida disaster) we are again left astonished by the lines – forcing voters to wait for hours despite work and family obligations. Nevertheless, politicians continue to express contempt for the relatively low percentages of people voting while repeatedly failing to meet this very basic function of a democracy. Once again, billions evaporated into the pockets of lobbyists and contractors while the lines again appear around the country.
This evening on national news two stories were shown by NBC News. If you turned off the sound, it would seem that the network repeated the story. It showed endless lines of tired people. However, the first story was a line of voters at a typical voting place while the second story was a line of hurricane victims. After the debacles in 2000 and 2008, we are still faced with chaotic polling places with lines stretching for blocks. It is not just an insult to our citizens but a recurring embarrassment for the world’s leading democracy.