Thursday, October 30, 2008

Formulate A Plan For Election-Day Choas Now

So we keep hearing all sorts of predictions of election-day chaos, backed up by good evidence (e.g. accounts of hours-long lines even for early voting). So I'm going to go out on a limb here and conclude that election-day chaos is reasonably likely.

Now, what's the right thing to do if there are still long lines when the polls are supposed to close? Do we keep the polls open x hours longer? Do we keep them open until everyone has voted? Do we stick to the pre-established schedules? I know I keep harping on this point, but: the time to make decisions like this is before the event, before the chaos, in a cool hour. In fact, it's probably a little late now, as my guess is that we are already in a position to know who benefits from which course of action. (Presumably Obama would benefit from polls staying open longer, right?) The worst thing, it seems, would be a mixed strategy in which polls some places stay open longer while polls in other places close on schedule despite the presence of voters who haven't voted. If, say, polls in red states tend to stay open while polls in blue states tend to close (or vice-versa), that would fairly clearly be a problem.

The problem in 2000 wasn't so much that we hadn't established a policy about recounts ahead of time--actually there were policies, but they weren't adhered to. But most members of the chattering class didn't have positions ahead of time, and so they mostly just seemed to adopt whichever position would benefit their preferred party. In unclear cases in which good judgment is required, it's difficult to make an unclounded judgment in the heat of a dispute. So best to figure out where we ought to stand before the fact.

Me, I'm not sure. If, say, a given polling place is quiet most of the day, and then tons of people show up at the last minute and can't get in, there seems to be no obligation to let them vote. On the other hand, if the polls are slammed all day long and people remain at closing time, I'm inclined to think that there's an obligation to let them vote. The state has an obligation to give everyone a reasonable opportunity to vote on election day. The state also has to make guesses about how many voting machines it needs. If it guesses wrong...well, then, it seems to have an obligation to try its best to correct for its error. And that at least seems to mean keeping the polls open longer. So there's my position, FWIW.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some observations:

1. Many voters have only limited control over when they arrive at the polls. If you work 8-6 and the you have an hour commute, you arrive at 7.

2. Voters have no way of knowing how long lines are in advance and no way of controlling them at all. By contrast the state and poll workers have a lot of control over this. To expand on this point: if voters are denied the right to vote because the lines are too long, this gives malicious pollworkers an opportunity to suppress votes, at least of those arriving late.

3. In Santa Clara county, CA, at least, as long as you're in line prior to closing (which you can control), you're allowed to vote.

10:14 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I saw an interview with someone whose name I have now forgotten, but she was a part of some sort of ...

Ugh, this is going to be so vague as not to be helpful.

Basically, saw an interview with an important-sounding person who is tied to an important-sounding group of people in some way linked with establishing voting policy in Virginia, and she said that if you're in line before 7:00, you're going to get to vote no matter what.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add a little weight to The Mystic's observation, it is also my understanding that the policy in Virginia is that if you're in line when the polls close you will be allowed to cast your ballot.

I don't have a specific source, but I recall hearing this on the news every election.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

That's good this post only applies to states that don't have such a policy already in place.

5:00 PM  

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