The System Worked

Sunday, November 12, 2006

AN ESTIMATED 83 million Americans voted in last week's elections. Some people encountered difficulties, but not of the scale or scope that had been predicted by Election Day doomsayers. Overall the voting system worked.

Because the vote of every person is so important, problems are not to be minimized. It is unconscionable that some Prince George's County voters had to wait in line for four hours to vote. It is disturbing that Virginia election officials received reports of people being given incorrect information in an apparent effort to intimidate them not to vote. Balky voting machines, faulty software and disputes over whether voters were properly registered cropped up across the country.

Local and national election officials must focus on these problems as they assess their election night performance so that further improvements can be made. By the same token, the politicians and critics of electronic voting who tried to undermine public confidence should be mindful that the chaos they predicted did not occur. They should be responsible in their future suggestions for change.

No one denies there are shortcomings. The generational decline in voter turnout is more reason than ever to figure out better ways to encourage voting. Is early voting a good idea? Should Election Day be a national holiday? How about adopting Oregon's system of voting by mail? All are ideas worthy of consideration, but let's not fool with parts of the process that aren't broken.

A key here is the public's belief that the votes they cast will be counted. That confidence was reflected in national exit polls showing that 88 percent of Americans trust the system. More telling, though, was the way the nation accepted without question the outcome of two razor-thin contests that decided which party was going to control the U.S. Senate.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company