By Dubuque Telegraph Herald
“I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.”
– Barack Obama, Nov. 7, 2012
More than 121 million Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election, and nearly all of their ballots were counted and reported within a couple of hours Tuesday (or early Wednesday morning). That’s remarkable.
However, while those reports satiated Americans’ proclivity for instant feedback, and might reflect well on the election process, the fact is that far too many of those 121 million Americans had far too many problems in casting their ballots.
There were equipment failures. There were long and confusing ballots. There were polling places that ran out of ballots. But, most of all, there were long lines. Extremely long lines.
Citizens in several states, including Wisconsin, found themselves standing in line at polling places for hours. Waits were ridiculously long in many locations in Florida, Virginia and Maryland. At several Florida locations, voters stood in line for six hours, just to exercise their privilege.
For something as important as its elected leadership (from the courthouse to the White House), Americans should be prepared to be patient. But how patient? One hour? Two hours? Six hours? It is a credit to those who would (and could) wait in line that long. And who can blame the citizens who approached their polling place, saw the amazingly long lines and left?
Curiously, all this happened despite early voting and despite the fact that fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008, when more than 128 million cast ballots. (By the way, few attribute the delays to requiring voters to show identification.)
As President Obama said in his victory speech early Wednesday, those problems need to be fixed.
Indeed. But whose problem is it to fix?
Americans — indeed, the entire world — are interested in who wins the U.S. presidency every four years. But as anyone old enough to remember Election 2000 knows well, the presidency is determined not by a single national referendum but on state-by-state decisions. Each state’s election determines who will cast votes in the Electoral College, which officially elects the president.
Thus, the presidential election is a series of state elections. Who represents us in the U.S. Senate is decided in a state election. Our congressional representatives, governors, state senators, state representatives and various county and local officials? They are all elected at the state level or a subdivision of the state.
So, the president’s comments notwithstanding, reforming the election process should be the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. But as officials embark on the effort, may we observe the ground rule that ideas and suggestions receive a fair hearing — without being shot down immediately amid charges of inviting fraud or suppressing the vote? A better system will need an opportunity to give various ideas reasoned consideration.
Americans who waited in line for hours just to exercise their right to vote deserve praise (and some sympathy). But now it’s time for states to get to work so this doesn’t happen again in 2016.