Why are elections so broken this year?

Arizona voting lines, courtesy of the AP

New York brought another wave of disenfranchised voter stories, election chaos and more, adding on to what we’ve already heard from Arizona, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Why is this happening now, and why is it so widespread? Here’s my thoughts, based on being an election worker for close to two decades and a political operative around the country.

  1. A lot more people vote in Presidential election years. More people in the system, means more problems are likely to occur. When you have a 100-year storm, many more places will naturally flood. More here. Also many of these voters are not regular voters, which means they may take longer and have more problems with the process.
  2. From the Great Recession and its aftermath, state budgets have been drastically cut in almost every state. Where does the money come from to run elections? From the state government. Elections budgets have been cut, and it shows — in less polling places, less booths, less staffers, less municipal planning and training ahead of time. More here.
  3. The Tea Party takeover of gubernatorial offices & state legislatures across the country (and the influence of shady actors like ALEC with model voter suppression laws) has led to deliberate choices to restrict the vote. More here and here.
  4. Speaking of that Tea Party takeover, there has been a shift in leadership in many states since 2010. This often means new people in charge of running elections. It takes time to develop expertise in running smooth elections, and it helps if you value elections and voting in the first place. More here. But even if there hasn’t been a shift in election leadership, many election officials are not well prepared for the surge in voting of a Presidential year — especially in places where a Presidential primary has never mattered before.
  5. The rise of social media means that voter stories are getting a wider audience than ever before. Election problems have always existed, the news just didn’t spread as easily as before.

I think it’s a combination of all these things — which is why you see problems in states that are governed by Republicans that do not value the right to vote, but also in big Democratic cities in Democratic states too. Given the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, there’s limited legal avenues to fix these problems — and in the case of lack of money, there’s a lack of will to properly fund elections in the first place. Also we need a counterpart to ALEC, working on laws on a state-by-state basis to make it easier not harder to vote.

The most important thing we can do is to vote for a Presidential candidate that will appoint a next Supreme Court justice that values the right to vote. Also to vote for Governors and state legislatures that value the right to vote as well. Some states are on the forefront of making it easier to register to vote and vote — like California passing automatic voter registration last year. We need much more of that too, in the states where there is a working majority that values voter rights. Same day registration, early voting, no-reason absentee, automatic voter registration, pre-registration of 17 year olds, vote by mail — there are many options that should be available to all, but it will take holding the Presidency and taking back the House and Senate to pass election reform on the federal level.