All the other stuff we need to fix

So, in class last week I was lucky enough to have DJC as a guest speaker.  We talked a lot about the fact that there’s plenty we need to fix with our elections besides gerrymandering.  The truth is that we massivelyPost under-invest in election administration and equipment and this is a real problem.  Great piece in the last week, “What’s the matter with Florida?” where the point is that what’s the matter with Florida is the matter with most states.  Good stuff.  And really, just pathetic that we cannot find the political will (and, yes, one side is more to blame) to invest in, literally, a proper-functioning democracy:

First, we allow interested parties — not neutral officials — to oversee the electoral process. It may seem absurd that Florida’s chief law enforcement officer, Gov. Rick Scott, who is also the Republican nominee in the Senate recount, is in a position to allege crimes by election officials, attempt to seize voting machines and dispatch state troopers to try to intervene in the post-election dispute. But a similar spectacle has been unfolding for months next door in Georgia…

Second, we claim to revere democracy, but too often we entrust the conduct of elections to amateurs and incompetents, with dated technology and far too little quality control. In Florida, the machine recount struggled in Palm Beach County, not because of underhanded maneuvers but because old machines overheated from processing so many ballots. The greatest question in the Senate election dispute between Scott and the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, is almost 30,000 ballots in Broward County that recorded a vote for the state agriculture commissioner but no vote for the Senate. This improbable scenario is explained either by misprogrammed tabulation machines or a poorly designed ballot. The Senate race’s outcome may depend on which option turns out to be true. The fact that either is possible is an indictment of how the election was administered…

But again, that’s not just in Florida. While some election misadministration (such as inadequate numbers of voting machines in targeted areas) appears to be a deliberate effort to suppress the vote in minority communities, much Election Day mayhem is caused by systems that are poorly run and underfunded. No matter how much we hail democracy on the Fourth of July, come November, elections are just another government service: In communities where thin budgets and lax leadership produce scant bus service, slow ambulance response times and unkempt parks, we should not be surprised to find confusing ballots, bad instructions at the polls and slow vote tabulation. [emphasis mine]

Finally, the democracy-undermining rhetoric coming from Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) in Florida — equating vote counting with voter fraud — is by no means unique to Florida. Republicans fearing recounts launched similar attacks last week in Arizona, California and Georgia. There was at least one bright spot in Arizona: Martha McSally, the Senate GOP candidate, graciously conceded defeat in a close election, becoming a minor hero for doing what had been, until recently, the electoral norm.

It’s a depressing litany.  On the bright side, at least one party is beginning to take the issue seriously.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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