Friday, November 04, 2005

Elections: Don't Just GOTV, Get Out the Voting Machines

Mark Kleiman has an interesting proposition/question:
Private contributions to shorten voting lines?
A reader makes a point that's obvious once mentioned, but which I haven't seen discussed.

The (mostly Democratic) voters in some poor urban areas face long lines to vote because their local elections departments can't afford enough voting machines. One way to fix that is to switch to optical scanning, where the cost is in the counters and marginal voting station is virtually free.

But taking the technology as fixed, how about private or foundation contributions to simply buy more voting machines? Shortening the voting lines in Columbus would be orders of magnitude more cost-effective than running TV spots, and could probably be done on a tax-deductible basis.

This suggests five questions:

1. Would this be legal?

2. How many of the relevant jurisdictions would accept the money? (In some cases the problem may be state or county officials who don't want inner-city residents to vote.)

3. Is it being done?

4. If so, where do I send my check?

5. If not, who wants to start it up?

I'm on the road and won't be keeping up with my email, so I'm going to experiment by allowing comments.

Well, Mark's comments don't seem to be working, which is unfortunate, since I'd like to know more, and no one reads me... Hopefully he (or someone) follows up. This is what I tried to post over there:

An excellent question (or five), Mark. Makes total sense. And since a good part of the Republican strategy is based on suppression, how would they counter this? By placing more machines in rich, white districts? If this is legal and doable, it would be great...


Brett said...

I think it's a pity Mark just ignored the possiblity that it really IS the local election officals' fault, not something that's being done to them from higher up. In many of these jurisdictions you can easily see rampant corruption and incompetence in other aspects of city government, why should they be any better at running elections?

As well, where machine politics ventures into ballot box stuffing, there are distinct advantages to such long lines; They both discourage people from voting in person, (Absentee ballots are more easily manipulated.) and result in an excuse for late counts, essential if you're to know how many ballots need to be stuffed to make the difference in state wide races.

But Mark isn't much for considering the possiblity that Democrats might be causing their own problems, when there's some way of blaming them on eeevil Republicans.

Mr Furious said...

Piece of shit. I spent quite a while this morning crafting a response, and now I see it didn't "take" for some reason. Grrrr.

Brett said...

For instance, take a look at what's going down in Detroit at this very moment. Corrupt hardly even begins to describe it!

The problem there isn't that they can't afford the machines, it's that their elections are run by incompetent criminals.

Mr Furious said...

Alright, let's see if I can remember what I wrote this morning...

I actually started out talking about Detroit (I am in Michigan...) as an example of complete corruption and failure at the local level. This is a Democratic city with two Dems running for mayor and the federal government is taking over the election as there are already dead people voting. So, no, new voting machines are not in order here.

Mark's suggestion is a hypothetical, and certainly does not address every failure in an election. For instance, in Detroit, I wouldn't trust Jackie Currie (City Clerk) with free donuts never mind free voting machines...

In many precincts in 2004 however, long lines and a shortage of equipment was a real problem. It is ridiculous to expect anyone to wait eight hours to cast their vote. And this tends to be a problem in poor urban areas, and often that is Democratic as well. Neither I, nor Mark (who never even uses the word Republican) think that this is because of evil Republicans, but I do think thay are all too happy to take advantage of it. It is a fact of life that those in power have the motive and predilection to do whatever it takes to keep that power. In Detroit that is the Dems, in many other places (ie the Federal and state levels) that happens to be Republican.

In a precinct where the officials are incompetent and corrupt, new machines are not the answer. But in plenty of places I bet it would be a big difference in turnout and accuracy. And who can honestly be against that?

Damn, I wish I could remember what I wrote this morning, it was waay better than this...

Brett said...

I certainly agree that there are areas where a simple lack of resources is the problem, and Mark's suggestion could help THERE. Some of them are heavily Republican rural areas, too, contrary to your remark about rich, white districts. It's anybody's guess which party would gain more by the proposal.

I simply objected to the way Mark won't confront the areas, and there are a LOT of them, where the problems are more on the order of Detroit's: Corruption and incompetence.

Oh, and Mark didn't mention Republicans in that particular post, but he isn't shy about blaming them elsewhere in his blog, and I took this line,

"2. How many of the relevant jurisdictions would accept the money? (In some cases the problem may be state or county officials who don't want inner-city residents to vote.)"

to incorporate those accusations of Republican vote suppression by reference.

Mr Furious said...

...Republican vote suppression by reference.

If the shoe fits...

Seriously, I agree that there are bigger problems in many places. In a city like Detroit (or Cleveland), folks on the national level decry the poor turnout as costing, say, Kerry an election. But those on the local level benefit like any other incumbant from poor turnout. For them the broken system works.

For a democracy to work, turnout should be higher. If that means turnout is higher on all sides, fine. Even if a guy like Bush won. I'd have an easier time accepting a "mandate" if it actually came from a majority of eligible voters.

Brett said...

I'm not sure that Detroit's turnout is actually all that poor, when you consider that the voting rolls are inflated with dead people, non-citizens, fictional characters, and people who've simply moved somewhere else. The percentage of registered voters who are real, and actually qualified to vote, is pretty high. It just looks low compared to the unrealistic "registered voters" numbers.

Elizabeth said...

How much does a voting machine cost? Is it really possible that there is not enough money, even in cash-strapped districts?

Somehow I doubt it. I think that it must be incompetence / corruption. After all, they manage to do this in countries with much lower GDPs tha even the ghettos of Detroit, and normally it's not the waiting times that are the problem. Did you see those pretty glass boxes they had for Kosovo's more recent referendums?

Scott said...

It's a scary idea, because as you said, groups will spend money on districts voting their way already. There's already so much money affecting politics - this would just seal the deal. Bloomberg spent about $100 per vote in NYC. That's insane.
Besides, once private money starts buying votes by putting machines in partisan areas, government will start pulling their money out. And the biggest losers? People in 50-50 districts. Why would a Republican or Democrat spend money to put voting machines there when a lot of their efforts will go to giving votes to the opposition.