Ah, yes. If there's a way to screw up elections, we'll find it.
When poll workers could not find Kelly Pierce's name on the registration rolls during the primary here in March, they told him to take advantage of a new election rule that allowed him to cast his vote using a provisional ballot. The rule is intended to prevent one of the major problems experienced in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, when scores of voters, especially minority voters, were turned away at the polls over registration questions that could not be resolved quickly. So Mr. Pierce, who had voted regularly since 1989, filled out his paper ballot. Election administrators then proceeded to throw it out, determining that poll workers had Mr. Pierce file it in the wrong precinct.
He was hardly alone. Of the 5,914 provisional ballots cast in the Chicago primary, 5,498 were disqualified, mostly on technical grounds. Provisional voting, the centerpiece of the Help America Vote Act that Congress passed in 2002, will be put into effect across the nation in the coming presidential election in an effort to ensure that more votes are counted. But election officials say the experience of Mr. Pierce - and hundreds like him across the country during primary season - show how failures in carrying out the measure could end up disenfranchising voters instead.
All but a handful of states have passed legislation creating some form of provisional balloting. Most states adopted the new rules to make a deadline to get federal election money this year. An examination of those rules, however, shows there is no uniformity in how they are applied. Some states, for example, allow provisional ballots to be counted even if they are filed in the wrong precinct, but at least 16 states, including Illinois, throw them out. And few states have worked out the details of how to train workers to carry out provisional balloting and other voting changes, setting up the potential for a protracted ballot-by-ballot fight in any election that is close.
The fun thing is that the ballot spoilage rate in Cook County far exceeded that in Florida in 2000. Looks like we'll be headed to more fun results again. (Although Florida has so "improved" things that they may make us look positively competent by comparison.) Thing is, for the national races -- for president, senator and the house -- the spoilage rate isn't likely to make any difference, at least in the city of Chicago. Not one of those races is likely to be close. Where it will make a difference, again, is in the local races, county races, advisory and other referenda, the types of things that tend to have small numbers voting in any event, so anything with a substantial spoilage rate will alter the results.Posted by iain at August 06, 2004 05:51 PM