The morning after

It’s almost Election Day, and the humorless pundits, spinners and attack-ad creators are out in force. Thankfully, so are the nation’s satirists. Over at The Onion ( you can find a 2004 Election Guide that features, for example, a photo of President George W. Bush striding to the podium in unusual attire, with a caption: “Bush Arrives at Debate Wearing Flight Suit.” The guide also has a handy info-graphic about the myriad problems Americans may face on November 2 with new electronic voting machines. Examples: “Long Line Forms Behind Voters Who Get Drawn into System’s Solitaire Game” and “Machines Themselves Get 23 Electoral Votes.”

Laugh now, but who knows if we’ll be able to laugh on the morning of November 3. As newspaper articles have been proclaiming all week, many of the voting problems that existed four years ago during the 2000 election debacle—the puzzling butterfly ballot and the “chads” that don’t punch all the way out—still exist today. Add to this the fact that hundreds of counties will be using new voting machinery for the first time (the kind with no paper trail) and you have to fear the potential for trouble.

The Election Reform Information Project recently warned that three battleground states—Missouri, Florida and Ohio—are especially ripe for potential voting difficulties. For example: Although Florida has gone to touch-screen voting, the punch-card chad system that state found so troubling in 2000 is the very type that will be used by most voters in Ohio. Meanwhile, an army of lawyers (the Democrats alone have 10,000 attorneys at polling spots in battleground states) are ready to go to court if they see any voting irregularities or civil-rights violations at the polls. And dozens of organizations are sending lay “poll watchers” and computer techies to likewise ensure that every vote gets counted.

Another wrinkle is the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a law passed supposedly to ensure that we don’t repeat the events of 2000. Among other things, HAVA requires states to allow voters who believe they’ve registered to vote but aren’t on the voter rolls to cast a “provisional ballot.” But who decides (and when?) whether these ballots actually get counted? It sounds like litigation-ripe territory to us.

There’s no denying that all this signals that public confidence in the voting system is at a low ebb as we head toward Election Day. And if, on November 3, we find ourselves heading into another prolonged season without a president-elect, a complete and deserved overhaul of the American election system surely will be in order.

But don’t be deterred. Get out there and vote. Then, as more or less suggested by the folks at The Onion, be prepared for anything.