Fix Voting Glitches Before November Election
Whether the voting process in last Tuesday’s primary election went well or badly depended on who was asked. Some voters had no trouble, getting in and out of their particular polling places in minutes after casting a ballot easily and quickly. Other voters found their polling locations shuttered or the ballot scanning machinery not functioning or the type size of the ballots too small to be easily legible. Many deplored the apparent lack of privacy inherent in the low dividers between ballot marking stations or the scanning process itself.
Tuesday’s problems arose in part because there is no way to have a test run for an election. The snags in a given process must be worked out while or shortly after they appear–in real time, as the computer mavens say. There was no good way of predicting what might go wrong, although we were assured by the machines’ developer that procedures were in place to correct errors as soon as or shortly after they arose. That may be true, and we do not suspect or suggest that the foul-ups were deliberate or caused by mistakes that were known but still somehow overlooked. It does point out two truisms of modern life: one, applicable to the system designers: the mistake that was not planned for will be the one that causes the most problems, and two, which the Board of Elections might find useful: it is never a good idea to be the first one on the block with a new item. Get the second or third or fifth or sixth model after the bugs have been worked out.
We find it appropriate that several elected officials have called for investigations into the glitches and goof-ups. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has stated that the city council will hold a hearing in the coming weeks to examine any problems that arose last Tuesday and what changes might be made to improve the process in the coming months. The council will demand answers to the many questions that were raised in the course of the primary election of 2010, she asserted.
We respectfully suggest that the council demand those answers soon. Including weekends in the reckoning, there are 49 days between the primary and general elections; using a five-day-long business week as the frame of reference, the general election will be upon us in 35 days. By either standard, this is not a great deal of time. Voters stay away from the polls for many reasons, some of them more plausible than others, but in every case, a vote lost because someone stayed home leaves the door open for the diminution of democratic rule. In order for democracy to truly work, as many voters as are legally able to do so must vote. The council and the Board of Elections must work together to determine the exact nature and extent of the problems and find a swift and lasting solution. Every citizen of New York City who is legally entitled to cast a vote must be able to do so without hindrance. Only then will we be able to say that democracy is truly at work.