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April 02, 2014 3:23 PM Another Data Point For Greater Nationalization of Election Administration

By Ed Kilgore

WaPo put up a fascinating timeline from last night which shows the bizarre series of events, non-events, announcements, and non-announcements from the incredibly slow count of yesterday’s D.C. party primaries. The account is both sad and hilarious, but then becomes infuriating with this ex-post-facto explanation of the problem from D.C. Board of Elections executive director Clifford Tatum, who indicated several electronic voting machines had not been shut down properly:

In the sit-down, Tatum blames the problems on the difficulty of training poll workers (“some of our workers have admittedly never touched laptops before”) and says the board will consider asking the D.C. Council for money to buy newer machines that are easier to shut down next year.

The obvious questions are (1) why a city relying on laptop voting machines employes poll workers “who have admittedly never touched a laptop before?”and (2) why funds were not requested to give them better training instead of now being requested to buy new machines?

This is a good example of the folly of leaving election administration, and the funding and standards involved in election administration, so entirely in the hands of state and local governments. Many long years ago when I was a poll worker we got paid barely anything and I was pretty much the only worker who hadn’t logged hundreds of miles driving with a turn signal left on. It doesn’t seem conditions have gotten much better.

I know some readers will say this shows the dangers involved with voting machines and that we ought to stick with paper ballots. That’s a separate issue, in my opinion. Whatever methods we use, the resources need to be there to ensure that votes are cast and counted fairly and efficiently. No, my heart doesn’t bleed that much for journalists and campaign staffers who were left in the dark last night due to the absurdly slow count. But if poll workers can’t figure out how to cut off the machines in their care, what other mistakes are they making? This is no way to run a 21st century democracy.

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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