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November 12, 2013 10:48 AM You Get What You Pay For

By Ed Kilgore

Jonathan Bernstein doesn’t pitch fits in print very often, but he’s picked a good subject for it: the kind of sloppy and potentially corrupt voting procedures and practices that we only notice when elections are crazy close:

Anyone who has looked into this, or been stuck in a line to vote for over an hour or had a ballot challenged because of an inexact name match between the voter rolls and a driver’s license (okay, that last one is just for Texas), knows this is a disgrace. And very, very fixable. This is one case in which throwing money at the problem would probably solve most of it. If poll workers had more training, if outdated machines were eliminated and broken-down machines replaced promptly and if more and better-equipped polling places were the norm, voting could be much easier and the tallies much more accurate.
That they’re not is basically because we collectively don’t really care very much about it. That’s the truth.
The worst part is that some — largely, in recent years, Republicans — have been making it harder to vote because they want fewer people voting. But when Democrats had the votes to do something about it in 2009-2010, improving the infrastructure of democracy simply wasn’t a priority. Granted, Democrats had important things to deal with, but this was important, too, and overlooked at that point. More recently, Barack Obama highlighted voting problems after his reelection, but action has been scarce. Political junkies might recall that Obama got around to appointing a commission back in May to look into voting problems, but so far, a year after that 2012 election, nothing seems to have come of it.

People consulting dusty history books might remind us there was another “window” for dealing with the banana-republic state of election administration in major parts of our country: after the 2000 elections, when for a while even Republicans supported (or at least paid lip service to) the idea of minimum national standards for voting and vote-counting. But all that produced was the poorly funded Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and then many state officials whined that they just couldn’t afford to give people the opportunity to vote or have their votes counted fairly, and we were more or less back to square one (though with a lot less support or even lip service from Republicans).

It’s a continuing disgrace, and if progressives don’t get loud and abrasive and angry about it, there’s no way it will ever change.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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