Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008

Unequal Distribution of Resources

This summer, a local democratic county clerk in Indiana noted a surprising increase in new registrations from the area around Ball State University. He suggested that a new early-voting location be set up on campus. But the county's Republican chairwoman, Kaye Whitehead, opposed the plan, calling it a "political ploy" that would encourage students to vote in exchange for freebies like hot dogs. "This is a serious election," she told the local newspaper, before the lone Republican on the election board blocked the site. "You need voters who are informed."

Partisan squabbles about access occur regularly across the country, often with major effects on Election Day. In 2004 lines in Ohio's Franklin County led some Democrats to complain that Republicans were using resources to affect the outcome of the vote. While suburban precincts had enough machines so voters didn't have to wait, largely Democratic precincts in Columbus had lines with four-hour waits — often in the rain. Bipartisan estimates suggested that between 5,000 and 15,000 voters gave up on waiting and never voted. But even the question of which precincts get election machines is a maze: in Wisconsin, one voting machine is required for every 200 voters registered in a precinct. In Virginia, by contrast, the law calls for one machine for every 500 to 750 voters, depending on the size of the precinct. In Colorado, which saw six-hour waits for ballots in 2006, the law simply calls for a "sufficient" number of voting booths.