On Nov. 8, the Statesman printed an Associated Press article titled Long lines, confusion reveal U.S. election flaws. Following the challenges experienced in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, Congress and state legislatures began repairing elections legislatively; Idaho was no exception. The greatest example of this was the Help America Vote Act of 2002. By bringing in new voting equipment, databases, and greater scrutiny, elections were going to be brought into the 21st century.
Unfortunately, on Nov. 6, Florida once again took the lead in demonstrating the inadequacies in our election systems. Voting lines over five hours and a three-day wait for results can hardly be a sign of progress. While Idaho has thankfully not regressed to a Floridian condition, it does take significantly longer today to get results than it did 12 years ago. Also, the reporting of poll worker mistakes and other election errors seems to have risen.
At its very core the idea of bringing 184,000 Ada County residents together, in a single event, to express their views on representative government is inherently challenging. Each added guarantee of secrecy, security, or limitation only adds to this basic challenge. As added perspective, Boise State saw just over 37,000 people when the Broncos played BYU this fall. BSU faced many of the same challenges as seen with voting, such as adequate parking, lines checking people in and out, assisting those with disabilities, and finding enough dependable staff to facilitate it all. Now increase that by five times and add many more legal requirements about how, who, and when people can participate and you have an election.
Many point to the more controversial changes like photo ID requirements, party affiliation, and the like as to why things are not improving. While these policy changes certainly have an impact on the administration of elections, they are not holding back progress. Before or after photo ID, many of the same election troubles exist. As a Little League coach would say, we need to go back to the basics. The simplest aspects of election administration need to be reviewed before new requirements and equipment are added to an otherwise aging foundation.
This past month a record 19,728 people voted early at the Ada County Elections Office. In each instance voters were asked to fold their ballots and place them in two envelopes before depositing them in the ballot box. Preforming this task is particularly difficult if youre a disabled veteran with only one arm. All this took place, as the law required, despite the fact that it took 100 people two days to open all of those envelopes and that folded ballots delayed counting by hours.
A quick thumb through Idahos Election Code quickly reveals that most of our statutes originated in the early 1970s or earlier. During the past 40 years much has changed. Developments in technology, greater mobility of society, and changes in public policy views are all incentives to review how we do business. Rather than waiting four years before we all come together again, it may be time for us, as Idahoans and as a country, to step back, review our expectations, and realign our voting system to meet them. The ability to express our views through the act of voting is fundamental to this great nation. However, its substantially less satisfying when you have to wait in line for hours to do so.
Phil McGrane is chief deputy to the clerk of the District Court in Ada County.