Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 4

Vignettes of 2016 Voting in Central NC, Part 4   —by Jinny Batterson

Election Day is now over. After a couple of days in which many of us got little sleep, regardless of our political preferences, it’s time to pick up the pieces and begin the transition to the administrations that will come next for our county, state, and nation. From my limited vantage point, local election officials where I live did their best to insure a free and fair election. 

However, I have some reservations about whether our current processes accurately reflect our evolving society. First are the sometimes intermingled issues of immigrant rights and voter education. Some of the citizens who voted at polling places where I worked had limited English. Others had minimal knowledge of local electoral practices. One slightly humorous example was the dignified older lady in a sari who inquired whether her half filled oval on the ballot choice for a half cent tax increase for mass transit was correct—after all, it said “half.”    

Next is the issue of those who move frequently—more often the young, the economically stressed, and the elderly.  One evening during early voting, officials tried in vain to establish a “votable address” for a man who’d been living in his car for several months.  On election day, our poll books were peppered with “address verification” notifications, mostly for younger, minority voters.

There’s also a problem with getting the workforce at the polls to reflect a valid cross-section of likely voters.  One of the preconditions of my temporary employment this election season was “reliable transportation.”  In the spread-out suburbs where I live, this requirement nearly always translates to a private car and/or comfortable financial means—public transportation is spotty at best, with multi-hour commutes required to reach outer communities of the county. 

Limiting access to the ballot via variations of “photo ID” requirements for in-person voting are making voting more difficult for some already struggling with exclusion. Those favoring photo ID often argue that such additional identification will stave off voter fraud, that other forms of transactions—cashing a check, boarding an airplane, overseas travel—already require such ID, and that legal safeguards have been built in to enable everyone to obtain the needed ID at no cost. These arguments have several flaws: 1) no photo ID is required for mail-in ballots, where fraud is most likely to occur; 2) for some folks outside the comfortable middle class, existing photo IDs are rare, along with bank accounts, air travel, or overseas jaunts; 3) the same transportation issues mentioned above for working the polls apply to reaching the government offices where photo IDs are available. Younger voters, especially, suggest that the same arguments advanced for photo IDs should also support online voter registration and balloting—“If I can bank online, why can’t I register and vote online?” 

Finally, there’s a deepening disconnect between our technological capacities and our ability to maintain civil human contact.  Early on election day, someone told me that a campaign scam was targeting young voters, saying they could cast their ballots via text message—no need to show up at the polls. It seemed plausible. Younger, more “wired” generations are accustomed to conducting most of their affairs online—standing shoulder to shoulder with others in a voting line may represent their most extensive direct interpersonal contact in a good while. 

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