Monday, November 3, 2008

THE FINAL presidential debate concluded with some stirring words, though not from either candidate. Moderator and CBS newsman Bob Schieffer said, "I will leave you tonight with what my mother always said -- go vote now. It will make you feel big and strong." Mr. Schieffer's message bears repeating, as partisans on both sides seem intent on whipping up voter anxiety over what to expect tomorrow.

Record-breaking turnout is expected, and that has voting rights advocates, political players and some officials sounding the alarm about possible problems. The warnings are dire: Long lines! Disenfranchised voters! Unreliable machines! A ballot shortage! Across the country -- but especially in battleground states -- legal challenges are being cranked up. In Colorado, a civil rights group went to court to stop a purge of voters from state rolls; in Indiana, a Republican Party lawsuit sought more scrutiny of absentee ballots. In Virginia today, a judge will hear the NAACP's bid to extend polling hours and reallocate voting machines.

Ever since the razor-thin closeness of the 2000 election, scrutiny of the electoral process has become more intense. That attention has helped spur corrective actions by states and localities while underscoring the need for further examination of how America votes. But the dire predictions can cause harm if they scare off would-be voters or instill more distrust than is justified. Year in and year out, this country proves its ability to conduct fair, honest and accurate elections. No, they aren't perfect, and glitches do occur. But those are problems that come with tens of millions of people (four years ago it was 122 million) descending on some 200,000 polling places manned by overworked volunteers.

We like the attitude of Mary G. Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters. She is more pleased than worried by predictions of a massive turnout, and she aptly observed that the willingness of people to wait in line for this historic vote -- already evident in places where there is early balloting -- is "affirmation our democracy is alive and well." Obviously, officials need to do all they can to hold a successful election and be willing, as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) was in extending polling hours for early voting, to put voters first. Employers should give workers leeway to vote.

There also are steps voters can take. They should make sure they are registered, find their polling places and study ballots in advance. Particularly helpful is the League of Women Voters' Tomorrow, the busiest times to be avoided are when the polls open, mid-day and after work. If a voter encounters problems that poll workers can't address, election experts suggest that the voter ask to speak to the regional manager. If that doesn't work, the League recommends these election hotlines:

1-866-MYVOTE1 (automatically connects individuals with their local elections office); 1-866-OUR-VOTE (connects to a live person); and 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA (connects to a live person who speaks Spanish).

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