I was reading an op-ed by Carrie Scherpelz at USA Today which deals with volunteers at polling places today and found myself left with a few questions. Carrie is a poll worker at “a busy polling place” in Wisconsin and the title of the piece informs us that she dreads her job these days. That immediately caught my attention because we’ve seen more than a few issues at the ballot box of late. I wondered if she had run into incidents of violence with pro and anti-Trump voters clashing in the halls or perhaps was just dealing with an inadequate number of voting machines and long lines of frustrated and angry people. Sadly, there are hints of such things, but Carrie’s biggest complaint is the fact that there’s a new voter ID law in effect and it’s making her job intolerable. One thing she really hates is telling people she knows quite well that they can’t vote.
My polling place is located in a large Madison retirement community. I recognize most who live and vote there, longtime voters who often sign their names in the poll book with a shaky hand. Many are not able to drive, so they let their driver’s licenses expire. If the license expiration date is prior to Nov 4, 2014, it is not approved for voting. What do I tell a voter I know well? I have to tell him it makes no difference that his name is in our poll book, that he lives in this building and he has always voted faithfully.
While complaining about the law, Carrie goes on in the next paragraph to explain the already extant solution to the situation she describes. A provisional ballot is issued and if the voter returns with the proper ID the vote is counted. It may be counted later than the live vote totals we see on television that night, but it’s counted nonetheless. (And if the race is so close that a relative handful of provisional ballots can swing the outcome the election will be in a mandatory recount where the provisional ballots will be counted anyway.)
But even that doesn’t address all the problems with the author’s complaint. I’m sure she does know many of her elderly voters by name simply by looking at them. But does she know all of them? I doubt it. And even for the ones she knows, what if they recently moved in with a relative in another precinct but was brought back there without realizing they were supposed to vote elsewhere? What if they did vote elsewhere but had a “senior moment” and were about to vote twice? Simply relying on each and every poll worker’s ability to remember the faces of every voter is no solution. And if you can’t recognize them all, are you suggesting that you get to be the sole arbiter of who you allow to vote without an ID and who you turn away?
Carrie has other complaints, including the fact that the polls are too crowded and the address verification takes too long.
I’m very uncomfortable with current requirements for recording a voter’s proof of address. I don’t think most Wisconsin banks and businesses realize that voter registrars must write down the last few digits of people’s account numbers when they register them to vote. I know banks and businesses respect their customers’ privacy. I know they would not release information to an official in order to verify a voter’s address without a court order. So why all the busy work? A few minutes collecting useless information on voter registration forms, multiplied by 24,625 Election Day registrations in Madison alone, adds up to needless delays that discourage voting.
To make matters worse, Wisconsin legislators cut early voting hours in half and eliminated early voting on evenings and weekends, creating yet more pressure at the polls on election days.
I agree that the polls can be crowded. And doing the work required to institute a voter ID program and enhance our confidence in the integrity of the voting process takes additional time. No arguments here! But all that does is underscore the need for us to put more effort and resources into the voting process. Polling places need an adequate number of machines and sufficient workers to make sure everyone is registered and moved through the process in a reasonable amount of time. That doesn’t mean getting rid of security in voting. These complaints highlight the need to take voting more seriously and invest the resources required for something this important.