Election Day Dispatches

Why Election Day Controversies Are the New Normal
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 6 2012 4:07 PM

Election Day Dispatches

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Black Panthers, Navy Seals, and mysterious voting machines.

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People line up to vote at a polling station in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2012.

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.

Another Election Day with problems. It is the new normal, and on Election Day it is hard to assess how accurate the stories are. Already I’ve heard stories of voters in Ohio improperly being asked for ID, of votes flipping on electronic voting machines from Obama to Romney or vice versa, of Navy SEALs going to meet the Black Panthers at Philadelphia polling places, and of very long lines in parts of Miami and elsewhere. It will be a while before we can track down the truth of all of these rumors.

We do know that a judge in Pennsylvania ordered an Obama mural in a polling place to be covered up, and another judge said that GOP election monitors could not be blocked from Philadelphia polling stations. And officials in Pinellas County, Fla.,  mistakenly sent out robocalls saying that voting will continue through tomorrow night. There’s Florida, doing all it can to keep its crown as the worst place in the country when it comes to voting.

Will any of these Election Day issues matter to the outcome of the race for the White House? Unless the presidential election is razor-thin in one of these states, the answer is no.

Certainly it is hard to see an Obama mural causing someone to change his or her vote or be too intimidated to cast a ballot. And even bigger problems won’t be decisive. Unless we have a very close election, the fact that hundreds of people may have been so discouraged by the long lines that they gave up to vote won’t matter for the final result.

So if Florida goes comfortably for Romney and Pennsylvania for Obama, the media will quickly lose interest in the story of what’s wrong with our elections. That’s true even if these problems may affect the outcome of other races on the ballot today.

And that’s too bad. The country has a short attention span, and when the media and public don’t demand that we fix the election system in the offseason, it can never get done in time to avoid the next potential meltdown.

Richard L. Hasen is a professor of law and political science at the UC–Irvine School of Law and is writing a book on campaign finance and political equality. Follow him on Twitter.

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