November 11, 2013
The counting is not done for Democrat Mark Herring, left, and Republican Mark Obenshain, the candidates for Virginia attorney general. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
The counting is not done for Democrat Mark Herring, left, and Republican Mark Obenshain, the candidates for Virginia attorney general. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Over in Virginia today, Democrat Mark Herring today moved into the lead in the Attorney General election over Republican Mark Obenshain by exactly 100 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast. Seems that one precinct in Fairfax forgot to count one of the machines, and once that was found and included, Obenshain’s previous 17 vote lead was reversed.

Anyone who has been following this — and I highly recommend Dave Wasserman on Twitter for blow-by-blow, or, rather, ballot-by-ballot, updates — knows that this could reverse again before it’s done. The twists and turns are highly entertaining but hardly something to be proud of.

Election law expert Rick Hasen makes the right point: “[E]lections are always this messy. We just never had Twitter before to demonstrate that in real time” (see also Ed Kilgore, who makes the point that we don’t usually care about missing ballot boxes and uncounted machines unless the count is very close).

Anyone who has looked into this, or been stuck in a line to vote for over an hour or had a ballot challenged because of an inexact name match between the voter rolls and a driver’s license (okay, that last one is just for Texas), knows this is a disgrace. And very, very fixable. This is one case in which throwing money at the problem would probably solve most of it. If poll workers had more training, if outdated machines were eliminated and broken-down machines replaced promptly and if more and better-equipped polling places were the norm, voting could be much easier and the tallies much more accurate.

That they’re not is basically because we collectively don’t really care very much about it. That’s the truth.

The worst part is that some — largely, in recent years, Republicans — have been making it harder to vote because they want fewer people voting. But when Democrats had the votes to do something about it in 2009-2010, improving the infrastructure of democracy simply wasn’t a priority. Granted, Democrats had important things to deal with, but this was important, too, and overlooked at that point. More recently, Barack Obama highlighted voting problems after his reelection, but action has been scarce. Political junkies might recall that Obama got around to appointing a commission back in May to look into voting problems, but so far, a year after that 2012 election, nothing seems to have come of it.

It’s pretty simple: Anyone who cares about real democracy should care that elections are well-administered, and that it’s easy for everyone to participate. The United States asks more of voters than practically any other democracy — but does less to make their task routine than most. It’s really not something for the nation to be proud of.