NBC News has confirmed that the issue at Anderson Livsey Elementary in Snellville, GA was indeed a lack of power cords. Gwinnett County Director of Communications Joe Sorenson tells @NBCNews “the machine was not supplied power and was running on battery & the battery ran out” 🤔 https://t.co/YFa45nihXs— Ayman Mohyeldin (@AymanM) November 6, 2018
Some of these problems may be the result of what we would call malign neglect. Others are outright voter suppression; when a majority-Hispanic city with a population of 28,000 has just one polling place and just before the election, officials move it out of the center of town to a location a mile away from the nearest bus stop, it’s pretty clear officials don’t want people to vote. Still other times it’s just the result of happenstance, inadequate preparation and inadequate funding.
But what we can say without question is that the United States’ system of voting is terrible. A couple of years ago, an international comparison rated the United States’ as the worst electoral system among long-established democracies, and 47th in the world overall.
Why is it like this? There are many reasons, but at the heart of most of them is the decentralized nature of the system.
Instead of doing what they do in most countries — have a system run by the federal government that can impose uniformity and adequately fund voting — we have a system run by states, counties, cities and towns. In some places they do a great job. In some places they do a terrible job. A big part of the administration is handled not by professionals but by volunteers, who may have had little training on the systems they’re using and have trouble solving problems that occur on Election Day.
And of course, the decentralized nature of the system leaves it open to manipulation by people who want to make it work poorly, at least for some voters. If you’ve been following the Georgia governor’s race, where the Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is also the secretary of state and one of the most aggressive vote suppressors in the country, you know what I’m talking about — and you’re completely unsurprised to hear that there are problems at polling places in heavily minority areas in the state.
I’m not saying that Republican officials intentionally sabotage the system for minority voters. But it does seem like an unusual coincidence when in every election we hear story after story about minority neighborhoods where machines break, they run out of ballots or some other mishap leads to people standing for hours waiting to vote while many give up and go home — and yet we don’t see nearly as many of those problems in areas where lots of conservative white people live.
But imagine what it would be like if we had an election and there were almost no problems. Imagine if everyone who wanted to vote could vote. If you weren’t worried that you’d been purged unfairly from the rolls. If you didn’t have to travel long distances and need a car to get to a polling place, or wait in line for hours or be told that you had the wrong kind of ID. If you weren’t unsure that your vote would actually be tallied correctly.
My preference would be to nationalize voting, at least to the extent of imposing systems, rules and procedures we can all agree on to make things work more efficiently. But there are other things we can do in the meantime to make Election Day and what leads up to it less stressful.
First, we can pass automatic voter registration everywhere. Registration is just one more hurdle to voting, and we should make it automatic for everyone. At a minimum, we should have same-day registration (which is already available in 17 states plus the District) so it isn’t something people have to worry about beforehand.
Next, we can expand early voting so that people can do it at their leisure in the days leading up to the election. And we should make Election Day a national holiday, so no one has to take off work in order to do it and we don’t get the early-morning and post-work rushes that result in long lines.
And more states should move to universal vote by mail, which can increase turnout and make things dramatically easier for people with disabilities, people with difficult work schedules and, really, anyone.
Those are just a few of the reforms we could adopt. But more than anything else, what we have to do is decide that we don’t need to live with the problems we have now. We can have a better system. Other advanced democracies do. We make a choice to have our system be such a mess; we just need to make a different choice.