The Franchise: Making every vote count

The long lines at the polls become even more puzzling when you consider this:

According to Curtis Gans,
Despite lofty predictions by some academics, pundits, and practitioners that voter turnout would reach levels not seen since the turn of the last century, the percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots in the 2008 presidential election stayed at virtually the same relatively high level as it reached in the polarized election of 2004....The percentage of eligible citizens voting Republican declined to 28.7 percent down 1.3 percentage points from 2004. Democratic turnout increased by 2.6 percentage points from 28.7 percent of eligibles to 31.3 percent. It was the seventh straight increase in the Democratic share of the eligible vote since the party's share dropped to 22.7 percent of eligibles in 1980.
Increased absentee voting. Increased early voting. The Democrats up a little. The Republicans down a little. But overall, only a marginal increase in the number of voters. So why the long lines?

Although a greater interest among voters concentrated in particular precincts -- areas with large populations of black voters or students, for example -- might have created enough congestion at those polls to satisfy the media's expectation of a big turnout, isn't it more likely that the impact of the electoral college, leading as it does to the disenfranchisement of minority party voters in non-competitive states and the focus of campaigns on a handful of constituencies, led to longer lines in those few locales where voters knew their vote would count. I know people in California and New York, for example, who stayed home because they felt their choice for president was moot.

Some of the advance voting problems can be attributed to the limited number of polling places in most jurisdictions. Nevada, an exception, allowed voting in some grocery stores -- it would be helpful to know how that worked out, but most states required early voters to travel to some remote county office or isolated post office to drop off ballots. If unprecedented numbers of people voted in advance, it must have eased the pressure on election day; and repeated warnings over many months of an impending deluge of ballots gave election officials plenty of opportunity to get ready; so it still seems odd that there were the number of problems there were on voting day.

Not being much of a conspiracy theorist, I'm reluctant to sign on to the theory that there was a plot to depress the tally. But it would be useful to the proper management of future efforts of this sort if we knew what did happen this time. Even if it was only a matter of increased turnout in districts where voting mattered, there might be ways to prepare for such eventualities in coming elections.

In any event, if it is not going to continue to distort campaigns and alter outcomes of elections, we have to get rid of the electoral college. It's past time for every citizen's vote to count equally.

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