In his State of the Union address in February, President Barack Obama introduced Desiline Victor, who, at 102 years old, had waited in line three hours to vote in North Miami, Fla. The president lauded Ms. Victor’s commitment to democracy, but he left out a key fact about her hardship: Compared to some voters, she hadn’t stood in line all that long. In 2008, for example, students at Ohio’s Kenyon College waited as long as 10 hours to vote, with some casting ballots at 4 a.m. The 2000 election meltdown in Florida pulled the curtain back on our dysfunctional system of voting, offering a primer on just about everything wrong with American elections, from burdensome voter registration to faulty vote tabulation. The crisis inspired repeated efforts at reform. A few, such as the Help America Vote Act of 2002 — which, among other things, provided funds for better voting machines — even made a modest difference. Yet three presidential elections after the 2000 fiasco, the basic mechanics of our democracy remain deeply flawed. One reason so little has changed, clearly, is that plenty of powerful people prefer a system that makes it hard to vote. But there have been some real reforms in the states, many won with bipartisan support, and there is room for well-crafted compromises. Improving elections may not be easy, but it is possible.
… In many states, including presidential battleground states such as Pennsylvania, voters use electronic voting machines that don’t produce a paper record of votes cast. Without paper confirmation, it’s impossible to know for sure that the results reported electronically accurately reflect voters’ choices. There is always the possibility of a digital glitch or that an election official or hacker has tampered with the machine.
A few years back, a team of Princeton University researchers showed how anyone with access to a particular electronic voting machine could steal an election in less than one minute. In addition, far too little attention is given to ballot design, despite Palm Beach County’s infamous “butterfly ballot,” which in the 2000 election exemplified how a poorly devised ballot can confuse voters and even change the outcome of an election.