Voters gain faith in American elections

No shortage of e-voting problems, accusations of voter repression but on the whole an amazingly strife-free election when some were expecting disaster.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Overall, the 2006 election has restored confidence in the American election system. So says the Christian Science Monitor.

That's an amazing fact, considering the massive deployment of electronic voting machines and the publicity around potential problems. But, the Monitor says, it's not because there were no problems with electronic voting, untrained poll workers or voter repression. Rather it speaks to the record setting turnout among voters in general and the famously reticent youth vote. As to the problems, there were:

  • Machine problems. Some didn't start up, others displayed the wrong ballot, and others, according to unverified allegations, registered votes for candidates whom voters had not picked.
  • Poll worker gaffes. In several states, voters reported being asked for unnecessary identification. In Montana, a worker forgot to reset a counter, delaying the tally.
  • Allegations of voter suppression. Democrats in New Mexico have charged that voters received calls that offered directions to the wrong polling place. In Virginia, the FBI is investigating similar complaints as well as an allegation that a resident was threatened with arrest if he voted.
"In 2006, there were more problems overall, but they were largely minor," says Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan reform watchdog in Washington. "Lots of fender benders, no pileups."

The problems weren't surprising, he and others say, in a year that saw the largest rollout ever of electronic voting machines. On Tuesday, more than 4 in 5 voters used some kind of electronic ballot.

For those voters tied to their Internet connections, there was no shortage of information about where the problems were.

This year, a new initiative called "Video the Vote" enlisted amateurs to film poll irregularities. The idea: to bring attention to voting problems even in elections where the winning margin was large enough that they would normally receive little attention.

"There's so much focus on calling the winners and losers ... that we lose sight of whether the voter was a winner or loser," says Ian Inaba, one of the leaders of the project that has posted hundreds of interviews at videothevote.org. "You look at those lines in Denver and Missouri or listen to some of those voters in Maryland or even New Jersey - things were not OK [Tuesday]. There were a lot of frustrated people."

On the bright side was the high turnout among young voters, many of whom never voted before. Clearly they were energized by anti-Bush fervor, but get-out-the-vote campaigns also were kicked into high gear.

"There's a new generation of voters that will turn out ... if candidates target their vote. Young voters have left their mark on the 2006 election. It shows that they are a force," says Heather Smith of Young Voter Strategies, a nonpartisan organization in Washington aimed at increasing youth turnout.

Young people voted for Democrats by a wide margin: 22 percentage points, according to CNN's exit poll data. Many sought change on issues like Iraq, jobs, and education, says Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.

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