Friday, August 15, 2008

Ballots and Machines

Expect a lot from me in the coming weeks and months about election processes. I'm of the opinion that the problems that have arisen in Ohio voting in the past have been (with a few notable exceptions) due to performance difficulties in the administration of elections rather than political attempts to influence or steal elections. Unfortunately, those who are concerned with the fact that problems have disproportionately affected voters who tend to vote for Democrats like to attribute the existence of these problems to intentions of Republicans. Republicans, in defending themselves against spurious charges of intentional disenfranchisement, tend to downplay the fact that the accidental disenfranchisement did in fact disproportionately disadvantage Democrats. None of what I write on this subject is intended to be partisan. Some of it may be partisan despite my intentions, and some of it will seem partisan by what amounts to coincidence- When it comes to election integrity, progressives are more concerned with the idea that some people who should be able to vote are prevented from doing so, and conservatives tend to be more concerned with the idea that some people who shouldn't be allowed to vote might find a way to do so. This tends to fit in very well with the principles of each group, and the fact that pursuing these principles leads to potential electoral advantage is for many simply a bonus.

On to today's notes.

--I wrote an email to the Franklin County BOE regarding their website, which prominently displays the same paragraph that everybody looks at first regarding ID requirements from ORC 3503. Unfortunately, nearly everyone who reads that paragraph out of context walks away with a complete misunderstanding of the law. Because of this, I'm not thrilled with the BOE posting it in that manner.

While it is absolutely important to make sure that voters are aware that they need identification in order to vote, the section of the statute (3503) you have on the front page of the BOE website can be confusing or misleading when taken out of context. As you're aware, from Chapter 3501: "Election Procedure; Election Officials, in 3501.01 Election procedure - election officials definitions: (aa)(2)
a legal and valid driver's license does not have to have a current address to be legal and valid. More simply, a driver's license by statute does not need to have a current address. This has been a source of confusion in elections past, and you have an excellent opportunity to clarify it by adding to the notice on your front page.

In addition, it is my understanding that the Secretary of State has issued an advisory (2008-12) that indicates the statute you have displayed will change (along with many related statutes) on Sept. 24 as a result of HB562, such that it will allow valid military Identification that lacks an address to be considered acceptable for voting.

To avoid confusion, would it be preferable to remove the notice until Sept. 24, and put up a new notice that more precisely and accurately describes the ID requirements?

Thanks for your consideration,

Jason Sullivan,


-- I couldn't attend the public hearing on voting machine distribution last night, and minutes won't be available for two weeks. All the reports I've seen referencing the allocation process give the good news first, and the bad news second, if at all. So allow me to do it the other way. According to a study commissioned by the Franklin County Board of Elections, the county is hundreds of machines short of what they need under a best-case scenario to avoid lines of 2+ hours for voting at some precincts. Even the shorter ballots in the suburbs will take longer than the 5 minutes allowed by statute for voters to complete, with ballots in the city of Columbus expected to take 9 minutes for the average voter to complete. And because the average voter in most precincts is a very different voter than the average voter countywide, these estimates may miss the mark by quite a bit in some precincts. In other words, in Franklin County we are almost guaranteed of a limited repeat of 2004, in which some precincts have voting lines that are more than long enough to cause some voters not to vote, because they either cannot or will not wait 2+ hours, and it is not unlikely that these long lines will not be randomly distributed. The good news is that the problems should be much less extreme than they were in 2004, because the two biggest sources of variance - individual voting time differences based on ballot length and differences in turnout patterns for presidential elections have been addressed.

--Speaking of voting times, everyone who has seen the result of the ballot-language negotiations regarding the payday lending referendum expects that it will confuse voters (who will be asked whether a repeal of a repeal shall be repealed). This confusion will add to the overall voting time. The only upside is that the campaign on this issue will be high profile enough that most voters will be pretty confident of their choice going in.

--In addition, the Dispatch has weighed in on the 600 character limit the BOE wants to put on ballot language, saying it's a good idea as long as it is done fairly and doesn't advantage one group over another. Which is fine, but in the same piece they offer up the Buckeye Institute's new transparency site as "a public service." What do you want to bet that counties like Franklin and Cuyahoga will get more attention than counties like Delaware and Butler? County BOE's were designed with fairness in mind. The Buckeye Institute was created with advancing conservative causes in mind. Tell me again which innovation is more likely to be spoiled by a lack of fairness.

1 comment:

Paul said...

When it comes to election integrity, progressives are more concerned with the idea that some people who should be able to vote are prevented from doing so, and conservatives tend to be more concerned with the idea that some people who shouldn't be allowed to vote might find a way to do so.

I realized that you couched this with a couple of "tend to"s, but I can't agree with your characterization. I think the real truth might be something like:

Partisans want to be sure that every person who wants to vote for their party's candidate is given the benefit of the doubt, and that every person who wants to vote for the other party's is given no latitude.

When elections are as close as they've become in this country, very small influences can swing the outcome.

It's like trying to defend against an Earth-killing asteroid strike - a little nudge a few hundred million miles away is a lot easier than exerting a really big force when it gets close. These games with voting rules are the little nudges which their perpetrators hope can take place undetected by the public, and especially by the other party.

And it's a cumulative effect - our elections are influenced by a number of things, not the least of which is the long emplaced gerrymandered district.

I think most of us have no idea how ugly and manipulative American politics has become. And I think the professional politicians just laugh at us commoners thinking we can change anything significant.

Nonetheless, thank you for raising the issues you do. It might not change things in 2008, but your work might be one of those little nudges that pay off down the road. I know that's why I do what I do re the Hilliard community.