By Shane D’Aprile
2008 presents the greatest challenge ever to America’s election system. That’s the conclusion of a new report from Electionline.org and the Pew Research Center. A combination of new voting technologies, a surge in new registrants and the potential for record turnout next month only serve to heighten the potential for problems at the polls on Election Day.
“Change breeds uncertainty and uncertainty is fertile ground for error,” says Doug Chapin, director of the Pew Center on the states’ electionline.org project. “We’ve seen more change in the last few years in the machinery that we cast our ballots with than in any other time in history.”
New voting systems are in place in several states including Florida. For voters in South Florida, 2008 marks the third time in as many presidential election cycles that they will have to use a brand new voting system. New voting technology is also in place this year in Missouri, and in parts of Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Ohio.
Another potential hurdle for election officials is millions of newly registered voters. While most of the focus is on how new registrants in states like Virginia and Pennsylvania will sway the vote count, the more pressing issue is how local election officials will even be able to process all the new registrants in time for Nov. 4. In some jurisdictions it could mean that some recently registered voters may not be on registration lists when they get to the polls.
Controversies over voter registration are still raging in Ohio and Wisconsin where confusion over who is on the rolls and who isn’t come Election Day is a real possibility.
We will be looking at the potential for Election Day chaos in more detail on the Campaign Insider blog from now until November 4. For now, check out some of Pew’s “places to watch” on Election Day…
Florida: New optical scan voting machines are in place and will be in use for the first time in a presidential election this year. In local and state contests earlier in 2008 some Florida counties have already had difficulties, including Palm Beach County.
Missouri: New optical scan voting machines are in place here as well, which may be a concern given the expected high turnout.
Ohio: The battleground state has been at the heart of a voter registration controversy that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in recent weeks. Last week the court said that local election officials don’t need the chance to cross-check new registrants against other state databases to root out potential fraud.
Pennsylvania: New voting technology will be in place in several counties this fall. And in an effort to alleviate long lines, many jurisdictions are changing the location of polling locations which could lead to even more confusion for voters.
New Mexico: Expected to be a crucial state next month, voters here will also be dealing with new voting technology. The state has abandoned touch-screen voting machines after reliability issues. After the Feb. 5 Democratic presidential primary this year it took nearly a week to get a winner out of the state.
Indiana and Georgia: New voter identification requirements will be enforced for the first time in both states this year. Voters are required to present a photo id before casting a ballot.
Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine.