Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Rant about Early Voting in Palm Beach County

My library, my place of employment where I spend 40+ hours every week, was one of eight early voting locations in Palm Beach County, Florida. Yes, that Palm Beach, home of the hanging chad & the butterfly ballot and the place where the courts get to decide who the people really voted for. Although the supervisor of elections was run out of office, it didn't happen until August of this year - making her the lame duck super lame supervisor of elections and the person in charge of this presidential election.

Her solution to the butterfly ballot/hanging chad problem was to get rid of the punch card voting system used in the 2000 election. She sold the units on ebay, made a few bucks for the county. Then she bought electronic, touch screen voting units. They seem like they work pretty easily, most people can figure out what to do. They seemed like a good idea, except for one little detail - there is no paper trail. And by the time this got dragged through the courts, there was nothing anyone could do about it.

If that doesn't scare you, try this: the average number of voting machines at each of those eight early voting locations is five. 5. Let's do some simple math (it has to be simple, I'm an English major). 8 locations X 5 machines = 40 machines for the population of Palm Beach County who choose to vote early. The population of Palm Beach County is approximately 1,216,282. Granted, lots of those people aren't eligible to vote, they're children or felons or they're not citizens or they didn't bother to register to vote. But if even half are eligible and registered to vote, that invokes another simple math problem: 1,216,282 divided by 2 = 608,141 people who can vote on 40 machines over a two week period. What all this math comes down to is this: lots of waiting. The average waiting time to vote at the early voting location in my library started out at about 2 hours but within a couple of days, it jumped up to 4 hours. Lots of people came and went, refusing to wait. Lots of people kept coming back, trying time and time again, only to get more and more frustrated as the wait lengthened instead of shortened.

To add to the confusion, there was an historically large number of requests for absentee ballots, the last number I heard was well over 100,000. But lots of those folks never received their ballots. My mother, for example, has voted absentee for several years now because she is not well enough to wait on line to vote on election day - and the wait then is usually no more than 30 minutes or so during peak voting times. She got her absentee ballot for the primary, but it never came for the general election. So she called the supervisor of elections' office a week after they were mailed and she hadn't received it. She was told they would mail out another one. That one never showed up either. And she is not alone. Lots of people in the early voting line are there because they never received their absentee ballot and they cannot vote on election day. But other folks are there because they have nothing else to do and gives them something to bitch about, or because they don't know any better and their friends told them they should do it, or the campaigners called and offered them a ride to early voting, or for a myriad of other reasons. And it is close to impossible to get through by phone to the supervisor's office due to the sheer volume of calls.

All I know is my job has been much more difficult for the past two weeks. More frustrating. Louder. And much more stressful. I think I'll go read a book.

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