‘It’s broken’: Fears grow about strength of US voting system

‘It’s broken’: Fears grow about strength of US voting system

‘It’s broken’: Fears grow about strength of US voting system

ATLANTA — The chaos that plagued Georgia’s primary this week is raising concerns about a potential broader failure of the nation’s patchwork election system that could undermine the November presidential contest, political leaders and elections experts say.

With less than five months to go, fears are mounting that several battleground states are not prepared to administer problem-free elections during the pandemic.

The increasingly urgent concerns are both complex and simple: long lines disproportionately affecting voters of colour in places like Atlanta with a history of voter suppression; a severe shortage of poll workers scared away by coronavirus concerns; and an emerging consensus that it could take several days after polls close on Election Day to determine a winner as battleground states struggle with an explosion of mail voting.

“We want a democracy in the United States we can showcase for the world, and right now it’s broken and on full display,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Officials across the political spectrum have raised concerns, but there is a contrast in the level of urgency by party, and even by race.

Democrats want to send billions of dollars to overburdened state and local election systems and expand in-person early voting and universal no-excuse mail balloting. Republicans, reluctant to inject the federal government into state elections, have resisted such efforts and instead call on local elections officials, who in urban areas are often Democrats, to fix the problems themselves.

President Donald Trump is also fighting states’ plans to expand voting by mail, raising repeated concerns with no evidence about voter fraud.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said he has lost confidence in the nation’s voting system, particularly across states where federal protections that ensured minority voters weren’t disenfranchised have been swept away.

“You’re almost back to the Confederates against the Union,” Sharpton said.

He offered a simple message to people of colour and those who run elections this fall: “If you do not vote and protect the vote, then you are helping to keep the knee on our necks.”

Election officials are expressing optimism as they scramble to address glaring problems. Amid continued pandemic concerns, many don’t have enough poll workers to staff voting sites, the capacity to train new workers in states featuring new equipment or the ability to efficiently process the surge in mail ballots.

The challenges have led to extraordinarily long lines, particularly in urban areas.

The final Las Vegas voter wasn’t able to cast a ballot until 3 a.m. Wednesday, eight hours after polls were supposed to close. Some Atlanta voters brought lawn chairs to wait in lines that exceeded five hours.

Wait times of two hours or more were reported in recent weeks across Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.

Beyond lines, the mail voting boom has caused unprecedented reporting delays.

Pennsylvania officials were still counting mail ballots from the state’s June 2 election on June 11. Because of a court order, Wisconsin didn’t begin to release results of its April 7 primary until six days after polls closed.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, said he’s confident in the state’s voting system and blames any issues on the “incompetence” of municipal election officials. The criticism was in line with that of Georgia’s chief elections officer, a Republican who blamed the election leaders of two Democratic-controlled counties for most of the problems in Tuesday’s primary.

That highlights a complicated reality across America. Each state has its own set of complicated ballot-access laws, adopted by the party in power at the statehouse and implemented by local governments with little to no federal oversight.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said he’s working to ensure Ohio has adequate poll workers. He’s tweaking a program allowing high school seniors to be poll workers, encouraging companies to give workers a paid day off and advocating state agencies that don’t already offer days off for poll workers to do so.

LaRose condemned those in both parties who have warned of voting challenges.

“What worries me is when someone with bad intentions can take a story about elections problems and then use it intentionally to try to cause people to self-disenfranchise, which is about the ugliest thing I can imagine,” he said.

In Michigan, absentee voting surged in the March presidential primary following a 2018 constitutional amendment that expanded the option. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, recently drew Trump’s ire by announcing that all 7.3 million registered voters would be mailed absentee ballot applications in the August and November elections. Michigan saw record turnout for local elections in May after a similar move.

Benson said there were no plans to consolidate polling locations in November, but she noted that polling sites may only be able to handle half their regular volume because of social distancing and safety requirements. Social distancing rules in metro Atlanta limited the number of people who could be in a polling place at one time, contributing to long lines.

The state has reached out to large employers, colleges and sports teams for additional poll workers.

In Pennsylvania, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, called on state officials to change rules that block them from beginning to count mail ballots before polls close on Election Day.

She could not promise that Pennsylvania would post its final results the night of the election: “Close races can take a while.”

Boockvar was also hopeful that conditions in November would be very different than they were last week, when the state held primary elections during the pandemic.

Some Pennsylvania counties used new paper trail machines for the first time; they were dealing with a new state law to allow no-excuse mail-in balloting; and massive protests raged across the state’s largest cities.

“The confluence of factors was obviously the biggest challenge here. My expectation is the absence of all those things happening at once will be hugely helpful,” Boockvar said.

Others aren’t so sure.

Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, the nation’s most influential pro-Democrat super PAC, questioned “whether or not the richest, most powerful country in the history of humankind can actually get people into a room to check a box and then get out in an expeditious manner.”

“Right now,” he said, “on many counts, we’re failing on that.”

___

Peoples reported from Montclair, N.J. Associated Press writers Julie Carr-Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; David Eggert in Lansing, Mich.; and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.

Steve Peoples And Christina A. Cassidy, The Associated Press

election

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A central Alberta woman is collecting Christmas gift donations for roughly 85 residents at Valleyview Manor in Rimbey. (Jennifer Feinberg/ The Progress)
Rimbey woman gathering Christmas gifts for seniors at Valleyview Manor

Margaret Tanasiuk says she doesn’t want anyone to feel forgotten on Christmas morning

Bids for Kids poster
Wolf Creek Youth Foundation online auction gets ‘overwhelming’ response

Santa’s Bids for Kids auction to benefit youth programs in Rimbey, Ponoka

skip2
Rimbey Christian School students experience the joy of giving

Grades three and four students raised $2,000 for Somalian children

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

Janelle Robinson owns and operates Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. The Ranch, just north of Stettler, is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety. Mark Weber/Stettler Independent
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Paramedics register patients at a drive through, pop-up COVID-19 test centre outside the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in Ottawa, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians aren’t currently worried that people in other countries might get a COVID-19 vaccine first. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Canadians not worried other countries will get COVID-19 vaccine first: poll

Forty-one per cent of respondents say they want the vaccine to be mandatory for all Canadians

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Executive Director and Co-Founder of Rock Soup Craig Haavalsen is sleeping in a tent outside Rock Soup’s location until the Go Fund Me for Rock Soup raises $10,000. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Putting normalcy into asking for help: New non-profit sets up in Wetaskiwin

Rock Soup non-profit is a new secular Food Bank putting down roots in Wetaskiwin.

Wetaskiwin Composite High School. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools prepare for transition back to online learning

Grades 7-12 will are mandated to transfer to online learning starting Nov. 30, 2020.

Lawyer Devon Page, Ecojustice Canada’s executive director, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Wed., Sept. 26, 2012. The environmental law group has lost its bid to pause Alberta’s inquiry into where critics of its oil and gas industry get their funding. Ecojustice sought an injunction this summer to suspend the inquiry, headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan, until there is a decision on whether it’s legal. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Judge tosses application to pause Alberta inquiry into funding of oil and gas foes

Ecojustice sought an injunction in the summer to suspend the inquiry

Janelle Robinson owns and operates Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. The Ranch, just north of Stettler, is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety. Mark Weber/Stettler Independent
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

Most Read