The Point of Early Voting Restrictions

As has been widely reported, the lines for early voting in Ohio and Florida, two very important swing states, have been astronomically long. People are waiting hours and hours in line to take advantage of early voting, largely because the lines will likely be even longer on election day. And none of this is a coincidence; it is absolutely intentional and planned.

In 2008, record numbers of voters in Ohio and Florida voted early because, in 2004, the lines on election day were so long they often had to spend all day in line. And the majority of those who voted early were voting Democratic, a fact clearly not lost on Republicans. So in both states, Republican-controlled legislatures and governors passed laws to cut back on the number of days for early voting and the length of the hours the polls were open on those days. The inevitable result: Longer lines.

And what do longer lines mean? It means some people aren’t going to be able to vote. People have jobs, kids with babysitters or at daycare, and other responsibilities. The longer the wait to vote, the fewer people are going to be able to cast a ballot. And that helps the Republicans. And they know it. In Florida, both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist extended the hours that early voting places were open to help ease the problem; Rick Scott is refusing to do so, even when county election clerks have asked permission to remain open.

After cutting the number of early voting days from 14 to 8 — after creating this problem himself — he is refusing to do anything to fix it. Because it’s only a problem if you care about voting rights; if, like Scott, you only care about helping your party, it’s not a problem at all — it’s exactly what you intended. It’s a feature, not a bug.

43 comments on this post.
  1. glodson:

    At least Scott isn’t even pretending to give a damn about the will of the people. That’s something, right?

  2. ashleybell:

    The polls should be open for a full week. Nationally. Everywhere

    States should NOT be allowed to set polling hours and conditions in elections for federal officials, which would IMO include those for the the federal House and Senate.

    It seems clear to me that this should not be a states rights claim.

  3. ashleybell:

    Oh and another thing, early voting gives election officials a chance to catch skeezy voting practices like conveniently losing 1000 votes in one district that manage to show up in another district.

  4. dingojack:

    Ed (or anyone else) – why are US Presidential elections held on a Tuesday? What was the thinking behind that decision?
    Dingo
    —–
    In the UK elections are tradionally held on a Thursday, don’t ask me why. Here they are usually held on a weekend.

  5. skeptifem:

    I read that tuesday was the best day based on norms from the time, like the rest of the week had important chores associated with them so tuesday seemed like the best day.

  6. Gregory in Seattle:

    @ashleybell – I was going to say that uniform federal elections would require amending the US Constitution, but then I found this:

    The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

    Article I, Section 4, US Constitution

    The bit about the places of choosing Senators was implicitly changed by the 17th Amendment, which required the popular election of Senators (previously, Senators were appointed by state Legislatures.)

    There is also

    The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

    Article II, Section 1, US Constitution

    So arguably, Congress could require a uniform period of several days, not just one, for chosing the Electors, which is all that happens when we vote for President.

  7. Doug Little:

    Couldn’t you make the case for election tampering? To me this seems like an application of a kind of a good Samaritan law, ie inaction in trying to alleviate the voting problem is the same as active suppression.

  8. Gregory in Seattle:

    @dingojack #4 – Precinct voting came about as part of the election reforms implemented between 1880 and 1920. Before then, all voting was done at the county seat, in the county courthouse, directly under the watchful eye of the county official solely accountable for holding a fair election.

    For many people, voting required a day’s travel from outlying parts of the county to the county seat. It was deemed impolitic to require travel on Sunday, and anyway, many churches liked to preach on civic duty during the services before the election. So, Monday was set aside for travel, which made Election Day a Tuesday, when the sermon would be as fresh as possible.

  9. Gregory in Seattle:

    @dingojack #4 – This Wikipedia article on Election Day (United States) is pretty good.

  10. brandon:

    How is this constitutional? You’d think whoever drafted up the Voting Rights Act would have required that everybody had easy access to voting machines. Wouldn’t it be really easy to suppress, for example, black voters by not putting enough voting booths in mostly black districts? Which I can guess is exactly what they’re doing. There needs to be a federal law that every square mile in the country must have a number of voting booths proportional to the population. Ashleybell is right, the states have clearly shown that they can not be trusted with this.

  11. grumpyoldfart:

    Land of the free, home of the brave.

    Strange slogan considering the way voters are treated.

  12. Modusoperandi:

    brandon, any rule you can think of is a rule that someone, suitably motivated, can get around.

  13. laurentweppe:

    Once again, I think you really should title every post like this one “Cheaters caught cheating again“. The sooner people stop using euphemisms or jargon expressions to describes blatant attempt at rigging elections, the better.

  14. dingojack:

    Gregory – thanks for that.
    Did you know that (if the boundaries stayed the same) the largest county in 1842 America would have been Worcester country, Massachusetts (1510.77 mi²). If the county was square (a kinda wiggly rectangle actually) and you were in one corner and the country seat was in the other it would be about 55 miles as the crow flies.
    The smallest would be New York County, New York (22.83 mi²). Or, if square, about 6.76 miles across the diagonal.
    This has been #2,829,124 of the Election Trivia Collection, collect them all.
    :) Dingo

  15. tomh:

    So many problems could be eliminated if every state did what we do here in Oregon – vote by mail. Every registered voter receives a voter’s pamphlet, then a ballot which you can fill in at your leisure and mail in or drop off at a drop box. No lines, no fuss. That’s what Congress should mandate.

  16. gwangung:

    When are people going to wake up that this is a systematic and intentional attempt to suppress voting? It’s clear that this is an unspoken part of the Republican platform. We can see it in Flake’s attempt in AZ to call Democratic voters and given them wrong places to vote. We can see it King County, WA Republicans’ “kind” offer to pick up ballots for people. We can see it in the VA efforts. We can even see wide efforts in OH and FL.

  17. jeevmon:

    gwangung – of course it is, very obviously. But it’s not like any of this is particularly new. You could say that conservatives ask “who deserves to vote?” while liberals ask “who has the right to vote?” This tension over whether voting is a right or a privilege is long-standing.

  18. Doug Little:

    So many problems could be eliminated if every state did what we do here in Oregon – vote by mail. Every registered voter receives a voter’s pamphlet, then a ballot which you can fill in at your leisure and mail in or drop off at a drop box. No lines, no fuss. That’s what Congress should mandate.

    I would like to see internet voting as well. This has its own set of issues but I don’t think that they are insurmountable.

  19. D. C. Sessions:

    Land of the free, home of the brave.

    Strange slogan considering the way voters are treated.

    If they made freedom easy, we wouldn’t have to be brave!

  20. dcsohl:

    Year after year these stories continue to boggle and amaze me. The only way these stories are possible are through continuing efforts to make voting as difficult as possible.

    I live in suburban Massachusetts, and have also voted in urban Massachusetts and urban Rhode Island (well, Providence, which is what passes for urban in RI). I have never had to wait in line to cast a vote for more than five *minutes*. The idea of waiting five hours — and that this is routine and that thousands or even millions of people here in the US do this every four years — is just mind-blowing.

    How big are these precincts? How many people share a voting location? My precinct encompasses about 3000 people (and thus, probably about 1500 voters, 800 of whom can actually be counted on to turn out and vote). Even if it were ten times that many people, I don’t think there would be 5-hour lines.

    We use scantron ballots, so there’s usually about 8 or so booths set up for people to mark up their ballot, and then you go over to the machine to feed them in. Nice and cheap — there’s really only one “voting machine”.

    So what the hell are they doing in OH and FL? How are they deliberately — and it has to be deliberate — bungling this so badly?

  21. tomh:

    @ 18

    I would like to see internet voting as well.

    That sounds a little scary. I say start with vote by mail which has been reliable, secure, and virtually without problems in Oregon for 15 years. Of course, Republicans don’t want it since it encourages people to vote who might not otherwise vote. Fortunately, here in Oregon we don’t pay too much attention to Republicans.

  22. Gregory in Seattle:

    @tomh #15 – All mail-in elections come with their own set of problems.

    Here in Washington, there have been problems with counties getting ballots in the mail on time, and it is not unusual for ballots to get lost in transit. Our ballots have the voter’s name, address and signature outside, visible to anyone who looks at the envelope, which makes identity theft a concern. We don’t have partisan voter registration, so there is no way to tie an individual to a particular party, but ballots coming from a given neighborhood are trivial to identify, making it trivial to “accidentally” vanish ballots somewhere in the anonymous chain of unaccountable people who handle it. In King County, you can check online to see if your ballot arrived at the Elections Office, but many counties do not have this tool and options are pretty limited if it does not make it in.

    Then there is the issue of the effective poll tax of postage, with ballots in some parts of the state requiring two first class stamps to mail. Sure, you can drop it off at a ballot drop-off… if you have the means to drive out to one, and feel comfortable leaving your elective franchise in an unsupervised box out in public.

    Personally, I would much rather have a polling place.

  23. hope annenathan:

    dingojack:

    Voting on Tuesdays, and also voting in November, both come from the time when the US was more of an agricultural economy.

    We vote on Tuesdays because, back when people (well, men) (well, OK, white men) would often have to travel great distances to reach a polling place, we did not want them to have to travel on Sundays, forcing them to choose between church and civic duty. Hence voting on Tuesdays rather than Mondays. And we vote in November because it’s after the bulk of the harvest work should be completed.

  24. dcsohl:

    Internet voting? No way in hell.

    I make my living writing software. There is no way I would ever trust Republicans with internet voting. I can’t trust them with electronic voting in a polling place. How would I trust them when I couldn’t even see the machine I was voting on?

    No. If it doesn’t create a tangible ballot that I could, at least briefly, hold and inspect, there’s no way you’re getting me to use it.

  25. Gregory in Seattle:

    @dcsohl – For one thing, urban voting stations typically cover multiple precincts. When Washington State had polling places (we moved to all mail-in elections a few years ago), my location covered 11 precincts. That’s not as bad as it sounds, given that the neighborhood is densely populated, and 11 precincts covered only about 14 blocks.

    Part of the voter suppression effort has involved consolidating polling places “for the sake of saving money.” Six locations get consolidated into one, the 50 machines that used to service those six locations are reduced to 15, and you have the same number of election workers signing people in and handing out ballots that you did with one of the older location. The result is much longer wait times, exactly as intended.

  26. Gregory in Seattle:

    @dcsohl #24 – Exactly. If there is no paper trail, no actual, physical ballots that can be examined, no way for independent third parties to verify the validity of an election, then the election is not worth shit.

  27. Pierce R. Butler:

    Here in Fla, the Repubs in the state legislature have added 11 constitutional amendments to the ballot. Many of these are bring-out-the-teabaggers measures (an abortion ban, a “religious freedom” amendment that will open the state treasury to church projects, several tax limitations); some are trivialities the legislators could and should have handled directly (e.g., student representation on the board controlling state universities).

    But all of them will mean conscientious voters will have to spend a lot more time reading their ballots, and the lines will grow correspondingly longer. If you think that’s a coincidence, I have a creepy robot governor for sale who makes Mitt R look warm and trustworthy…

  28. baal:

    @modus
    Despite the ability to jigger around rules, I have to imagine we could do better than having one party go batshit to keep people from the poles. There should be jail time easily appended to even the appearance of voter suppression. The words ‘free’ and ‘democracy’ seem mightily at odds with the way the right wing is out to control the vote (i.e. make sure POC and poor don’t get to vote).

  29. tomh:

    @ #22

    there have been problems with counties getting ballots in the mail on time

    Seriously? That’s a difficult problem to solve?

    it is not unusual for ballots to get lost in transit.

    More than any other type of mail? US mail is actually very reliable.

    Our ballots have the voter’s name, address and signature outside, visible to anyone who looks at the envelope, which makes identity theft a concern.

    Have there actually been reported cases of this? Or is this just speculation from people who object to voting by mail. It has not been a problem in Oregon which has voted this way much longer than Washington.

    making it trivial to “accidentally” vanish ballots somewhere in the anonymous chain of unaccountable people who handle it

    More speculation. You’re talking about postal employees? Because the election workers who receive and check the ballots are neither anonymous nor unaccountable.

    In King County, you can check online to see if your ballot arrived at the Elections Office, but many counties do not have this tool

    Well, they should have. Very easy to do.

    Sure, you can drop it off at a ballot drop-off… if you have the means to drive out to one

    You mean in the same way that you can vote if you have the means to drive to the polling place. With vote by mail, for the price of a stamp you can vote by going no further than your mailbox. No driving necessary.

    None of these objections have any validity. They are the type of speculation that is invented by people who object to vote by mail for their own reasons.

  30. barefootbree:

    Are there any laws or regulations (preferably federal) which limit how many citizens a polling place can serve? As in, each can serve no more than X registered voters?

    There should be. It’s not just all the shenanigans already outlined; it’s a matter of plain numbers (physics, if you will): 10,000 voters cannot vote in one place in one day.

  31. Modusoperandi:

    tomh “So many problems could be eliminated if every state did what we do here in Oregon – vote by mail.”
    Sure, but nobody cares about Oregon. It’s practically Canada.

    Doug Little “I would like to see internet voting as well. This has its own set of issues but I don’t think that they are insurmountable.”
    I don’t think it’s a good idea to have any kind of voting that could attract 4chan.
    Unless you want “President Stinkbutt”.

    Gregory in Seattle “If there is no paper trail, no actual, physical ballots that can be examined, no way for independent third parties to verify the validity of an election, then the election is not worth shit.”
    Plus, there are no Xbox achievements.

    baal “@modus Despite the ability to jigger around rules, I have to imagine we could do better than having one party go batshit to keep people from the poles.”
    Sure but, sadly, you have to pass those rules past that same batshit party in the first place.

  32. kermit.:

    In Sheriff Joe’s home turf, Maricopa Co. Arizona, they mailed out registration forms with the wrong date for election day – on the Spanish side of the form.

  33. Doug Little:

    @Internet Voting,

    Yes I’m aware of the paper trail problems, but how many voting precincts actually have paper trails these days? Since I have not voted here in America for the internet Nay sayers what makes you comfortable about the current process vs a more electronic one?

    Would it make you more comfortable if for argument sake you could vote on your cell phone, ie have to be in the vicinity of your polling place, receiving a code from an election official that enables you to log on and vote and then receiving a printout of your vote that you then hand over to the the election official for filing, counting etc. It would help with the bottle necks of malfunctioning and limited voting machines.

  34. Doug Little:

    Furthermore you could then check that your vote counted by accessing a website and putting a code that you received on your printout and verifying that the information is the same on your print out that has been entered into the database.

    Of course the whole thing could be rigged, but I don’t think that there is a system that could be completely impervious to fraud. This type of system has a paper trail plus the ability of the end user to check that their vote is correct.

  35. hunter:

    dcsohl @20″

    Ditto here — I live on the North Side of Chicago, and my polling place is shared by several precincts. Never have to wait more than a couple of minute to vote.

    Of course, in Chicago, we like for people to vote. (The obvious joke is “as often as possible,” but that no longer seems to be true — our elections are pretty transparent these days.)

  36. davem:

    14 days reduced to 8? What’s the problem? Here in the UK, we do it all in ONE day, and without queues.

  37. Modusoperandi:

    davem “14 days reduced to 8? What’s the problem? Here in the UK, we do it all in ONE day, and without queues.”
    Everything’s bigger in America. Even the lines.

  38. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d:

    How does voting work in the USA? In English towns I have never had to walk more than ten minutes or wait more than two minutes to cast my vote. When I lived in the country I had to cycle for ten minutes. Every state school is a polling station and there are quite a few others- church halls, parish halls, even the (closed) bars of pubs- if necessary.

  39. sorenkongstad:

    In Denmark anyone over 18 who is not homeless receive a voting card by mail before the election. (Homeless has to vote early, or jump through a few hoops to be registered at a municipality)

    The polls are generally at the local school, or city hall, and they are always paper ballots.

    The polls close at 20, and anyone in line at the time are allowed to vote.

    At 23 a majority of the vote is in and the layout of the new parliament is mostly settled. At midnight, or at 1 at the latest the election is basically over.

    The following couple of days the ballots are counted again, and personal votes are counted. This will put a name on the elected, and sometimes move a mandate from one party to another.

    The country is divided into districts of about 30-50000 voters, each district has a number of polling places averaging perhaps 4 polling places.

    This means that when counting votes, each polling place has to count at maximum perhaps 20,000 votes or generally perhaps only 10,000.

    The delay is in aggregating scores, or the districts where the votes from the individual polling places are transported to a central location, to be counted serially.

    I cannot fathom why most of the US insists on making voting so complicated.

  40. Doug Little:

    I cannot fathom why most of the US insists on making voting so complicated.

    A lot more people and 50 different states with 50 different sets of rules.

  41. Election open thread.:

    [...] have made early voting (which generally favors Democrats) more difficult.  They’ve also ensured longer lines during those times.People are waiting hours and hours in line to take advantage of early voting, largely because the [...]

  42. davem:

    A lot more people and 50 different states with 50 different sets of rules.

    So lots more ballot places, and lots more people to organise it…

    What’s the next pathetic excuse?

  43. Tea Party leader temporarily honest about GOP’s racism.:

    […] course, this is only auditory confirmation of the obvious (all those anti-voter fraud and ID measures to solve a non-existent problem just coincidentally kept likely Democrat voters away).  We already […]

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