Early voting helped enormously to reduce voting problems across the nation this year. But there were still enough glitches to warrant better procedures to ensure a fair and efficient voting process.
Among the problems:
Long lines caused by too few voting places and machines.
Paper ballots not available in case of machine breakdowns, or for people who were still in line at the close of the polls and couldn't get to machines to vote.
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Provisional ballots not provided or not counted. The rules governing provisional ballots have become more complicated in recent years, and poll workers are often confused and give bad information.
Misleading information provided to voters including text messages and fraudulent “robo-calls” encouraging them to vote the day after Election Day.
Unclear voter registration lists and confusing ballots.
North Carolina had a few minor problems, but the state managed a mostly error-free election. Election officials and observers credit the state's Public Confidence in Elections Law passed in 2005. The law requires paper ballots, with random post-election audits to check the computer count against the paper record. Also, vendors providing voting machines had to post a statewide bond to protect the state's elections from any failures caused by their machines.
Still, Joyce McCloy, director of the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting, says there are weaknesses in three areas: voter registration lists, touchscreen voting machines, and a confusing straight ticket voting law.
Some N.C. voters came to the polls thinking they were registered but were not on the rolls. Lack of standards for online voter databases, problems in moving voter registration and lack of voter education all played a role. Those issues need to be addressed.
Touchscreen voting machines are unreliable, McCloy says. A couple of states have already banned their use. North Carolina will too, she predicts, and replace them with paper ballot optical scanners.
Straight ticket voting here is problematic. Straight-ticket voters must cast a separate vote for president, causing confusion. Researchers say in 2000, more than 3 percent of N.C. voters failed to vote for president. The undervote apparently was much smaller this year. But the state should eliminate this kooky set up and include a vote for president in straight-ticket voting on the ballot.
Voter turnout this year – 69 percent statewide – was a dramatic show of civic engagement. Public officials in the state and the nation should aggressively tackle nagging voting problems so even more will exercise their right to vote.