To the Editor:
It’s the morning after Election Day, and my NPR station is dutifully telling me about the results — who won, who lost, in the “major” races — and what it will mean to have both houses of Congress under the control of the Republicans. There are also infrequent stories about the trouble voters faced in some places when they went to vote or the amount of money — a record sum — that was spent this year. Much the same was being said on CNN and MSNBC last night — the local TV stations did not change their schedule for the sake of their customers’ “democracy in action” gesture. I can’t say if any customer lodged a complaint about that neglect with the FTC.
There are, however, a few things that I did not hear mentioned either last night or this morning.
I voted early. It was an easy walk to the voting station in Jackson Park near where I live. A gentleman greeted me, told me to fill a short form, and then directed me to one of the chairs lined along the corridor. I sat down to wait, with about 10 people ahead of me. After 10 minutes or so the couple just ahead of me got up and left. The rest of us continued to wait. When I finally reached the final chair in the corridor I discovered that there was still another waiting area but with only four chairs. Not too bad. Soon I was asked to enter the room with the voting machines. Here another gentleman checked my ID, entered information into the computer with which he did not appear to be very familiar, and finally told me to stand behind six other voters, four of them seated on chairs and two standing. So there we were, six working voting machines, each with a voting citizen peering at it anxiously, two extra voting machines for any emergency, six — but soon eight — persons waiting to use the next free machine, two “officials” sitting at computers, one “official” watching the whole scene and herding people around, on table loaded with sugar-heavy “refreshments” for the staff and a stack of still folded voting machines for the big day. All in a quite small room.
After another round of shuffling from one chair to another it was finally my turn to get behind one of the machines. I did my stuff in about 10 or 12 minutes. However, when I finally left the room there were at least three persons who had started way ahead of me still dutifully peering and clicking. I checked my watch as I walked out of the station; it had taken me exactly one hour to fulfill my duty as a conscientious citizen. But then I live in retirement and can well afford the time.
The reports last night and this morning mentioned long lines and problems in registration rolls and such. They did not mention one big cause of delays on the day I voted: the size of the ballot. What is totally forgotten in all the talks about the elections is the fact that they are not just about the big pooh-bahs — the governors, the senators and so forth. The ballot I had to deal with was 17 pages long. That is why it took me 12 minutes but demanded much more time from my more conscientious and better-informed fellow citizens of Chicago, Ill. And I wouldn’t be wrong if I claimed that 95 percent of the people and issues I voted for or against did not find any mention in the reports I heard on CNN, MSNBC and NPR.
No doubt big money has totally corrupted our national politics, and something should urgently be done to curb its influence. But can we also do something about the ballot and the voting system itself? Did anyone make an estimate of the time needed for an ordinary voter to cast his vote on all the matters listed on the ballot? Should we double the number of voting stations and voting machines if the size of the ballot is twice that of the ballot in the previous election? Should we not increase the number of workers at the voting stations simultaneously?
My ballot was so long because it asked me to vote for judges and other state officials. Was I to any extent informed about them? Hardly. It was mostly a party-line vote that I cast, with some exceptions just for the heck of it. Ignoble as my behavior was I am sure I was not alone, either that day or yesterday.
It is about time some truly serious attention is paid to change the nitty-gritty of our elections. If I can be reasonably certain of security when purchasing something on the Internet, should it not be possible for me to somehow vote in a more leisurely — and much more informed — manner at home using my computer? While more and more money is being spent on election campaigns, and all the cleverness in the world is being invested in finding ways to seduce a voter, every year only a shameful number of people actually cast — or are able to cast — their votes. The media reports mention the winning and losing numbers but hardly ever mention the percentage of registered voters who actually cast their votes. The fact is that Americans spend more money and time on election campaigns than any people in the world, but get (or choose) to vote in far less numbers.
C. M. Naim