Where are all the election lawsuits?

Voting problems point to a need for a national voting system.

This time four years ago, the country was consumed with lawsuits necessary to decide who won the presidential election. Thankfully, democracy has largely been spared such hassles this year. There is a downside to the certainty of knowing President George W. Bush won: The election was by no means perfect, and sometimes it takes strife to get change.

The problems fall into three categories. The first is the waiting time in some precincts. It might be difficult to ascertain the staff needed, especially given the increased voter turnout, but anecdotes seem to indicate that if you voted in a largely minority district or at a college campus, you were likely to wait – up to eight hours at Kenyon College in Ohio. Voting is a civic duty that should require a couple hours of your time.

Another problem was a blatant drive to disenfranchise voters. Misinformation campaigns, among other tactics, reminded people to vote Nov. 3. Some officials attempted to use bizarre and archaic regulations, such as Ohio’s secretary of state attempting to throw out registrations because the paper they were on was too thin. These dirty tricks have different solutions.

The former set requires stricter statutory penalties and aggressive prosecution of violations. The latter problem, the more official disenfranchisement, requires larger changes. For reasons passing understanding, you are more likely to get a fair shake from an NCAA referee than from most states’ election officials, many of whom have shown themselves as partisan hacks. At least sporting officials are independent.

Finally, the criticism of electronic machines was evidently correct. While there is no evidence of systematic malfunctions large enough to affect the election’s outcome, smaller problems ran amok. One county in Ohio recorded 4,000 votes for Bush, despite the fact approximately 800 people voted there. In Florida, when the absentee ballots began processing, vote totals went down instead of up.

As we have said in the past, all these issues point to a need for a national voting system. It should be electronic in nature, but with a paper trail. When Congress gets back to work, it should set about approving the Help America Vote Act, with an eye toward such a system.