Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In heavily contested battleground states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida, state elections officials recorded ever-expanding voter rolls month after month. But in most cases, they only marginally expanded access or upgraded their voting machines. Tuesday, the high turnouts proved they weren’t ready. Election officials need to explain why.

Virginia’s 1st Congressional District — which includes parts of 18 counties from suburban Fredericksburg, Triangle and Dumfries in Prince William County down to rural Williamsburg — added two voting precincts for 46,615 new voters who were registered between Jan. 7 and Nov. 2, according to the Commonwealth’s Board of Elections. The 3rd Congressional District, which includes Richmond and the Hampton Roads area, registered 60,616 new voters in the same time period, but not a single new precinct was added. This explains why former Virginia Gov. and current Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder warned Oct. 29: “Due to the record increase in voter registration… it is doubtful the current polling hours of 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. will accommodate the numbers of people in many areas of the state.” The NAACP followed that warning with a lawsuit aimed at keeping the polls open longer. It was dismissed.

“The state’s election mechanisms are not equipped for the expected record turnout in a contentious race, and not allowing early voting compounds the problem,” Jonah Goldman, director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections, told Ben Conery of The Washington Times.

In Pennsylvania more than 215,125 voters registered between November 2007 and May. From May to October, another 429,908 were added to the voter rolls. All told Pennsylvania added 645,033 voters in one year, and yet Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — the state’s largest metropolitan areas — had problems ranging from old machines that broke to imprecise voter lists. Philadelphia Elections Supervisor Bill Rubin told CNN that voting machines failed in eight out of the city’s 1,681 election divisions. He said voters at those sites were allowed to use emergency paper ballots.

Across the country, an estimated 9 million new voters registered. States had months to prepare. Since 2002, states have been struggling to comply with the Help America Vote Act, cleaning up their voter rolls and ensuring that they have the necessary resources, including voting machines and counting apparatuses, to make sure all votes are legal and counted. But in election after election since Florida 2000, some battleground state finds itself ill-prepared and overwhelmed.

The point of the Help America Vote Act is precisely as its name applies. The various states — battleground or not — must be held accountable. Voters were ready but the states weren’t.

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