Election work still in need of improvement

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, August 7, 2011

From merely sad to downright unacceptable,a wide range of unflattering words has been used to describeTuesday’s party primary election gaffes.

    All the adjectives are appropriate as Lincoln County electionoverseers missed the mark of a properly conducted and orderlyelection. Of course, no election is completely hassle-free, butTuesday’s ranked high on the snafu scale.

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    Election-related difficulties began prior to the early morningprecinct openings when voter access cards necessary for ballotcasting were left out of supply bags. Once aware of the omission,election officials mobilized to get the cards to precincts beforeopening, but a number of the polling places did not receive thecards in time.

    Paper ballots were then introduced into the election day votingprocess until the access cards could arrive. Once machines wereoperable, the process proceeded without great incident – but aproblem was lurking for later in the day.

    The “domino effect” of using paper ballots – in addition to theones already cast by absentee voters – was that they had to be fedone by one into the vote-counting machine after the pollsclosed.

    With approximately 3,500 paper ballots – in the neighborhood ofone-third of the more than 11,000 votes cast Tuesday – countingthem wound up being a slow task. And when the vote tabulationmachine would not accept and combine them with machine-cast votes,difficulties multiplied.

    All told, final election results were not complete until lateWednesday morning – more than 15 hours after the polls closedTuesday evening. So much for technology, some might say.

    Still, the problems of paper appear to be one of the mainchallenges to overcome in electioneering.

    Voters’ inability to properly mark ballots or their writing incandidates like “Mickey Mouse” or “Donald Duck” only slow thecounting process because those ballots have to be inspected andvoters’ intentions determined before the ballot can be counted.Absentee ballots with these issues present enough of a challenge,but adding in more paper ballots – as was the situation Tuesday -only exacerbates the problem.

    So what is the solution?

    Unlike other states, Mississippi has been slow to embrace theconcept of early voting, in which machines could be set up inadvance in the circuit clerk’s office for use by voters who may beout of town on election day or who may just want to get voting overwith sooner. The partisan politics of early voting, including whenit was part of a failed voter ID legislative effort a few yearsago, have played a role in preventing it from becoming areality.

    Early voting would minimize the need for paper ballots andtherefore should hopefully speed up the election process.

    Technology, however, can only be good as the people operating it.In that regard, better training of poll workers and others involvedshould be pursued. That might have prevented the missing cardsissue.

    And with that said, county Democratic and Republican party leaders- who were responsible for conducting Tuesday’s primary, not countyelection commissioners – would welcome those who would like to jointhe other volunteers who handle primaries. Having more peoplewilling to serve as poll workers – who are paid a small sum forwhat can be a grueling, 12 hour-plus day – would be a goodthing.

    From the misery loves company department, Lincoln County can takeheart in that it was not alone with election day foul-ups. Votingmachine problems were reported in a number of counties, andprecincts in several areas failed to open on time across thestate.

    Lincoln County election officials obviously have no control overother counties’ activities.

    What they can control is the local handling of election issues. Andjudging from Tuesday’s events, there is room for improvement.