In the exhilaration of his victorious moment, newly re-crowned President Obama cheered not only those who voted for the first time, but also those “who waited in lines for a very long time.” And to loud cheers he added: “By the way, we have to fix that.”
I hope the president indeed will correct this system of long lines that rolled on for miles and hours, because the voting infrastructure is a national disgrace that can rob thousands, especially the elderly, of the right to vote.
To some, long voting lines extol the hallmark of effusive democracy; after all, we vote rather than flood the streets with tanks. No argument there, but voters still deserve better. Too many voters are paying a “wait tax,” where voters – often disproportionately black or Latino – are forced to wait in lines so long it is difficult not to give up and not vote.
All too often, those long lines are not flaws but intentionally created infrastructure. For example, the number of voting machines in Democratic-leaning districts in key Ohio counties was reduced between 2000 and 2004, despite a sharp rise in registered voters.
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In Franklin County, which includes my home town of Columbus, Ohio, 65 of its 146 Democratic-leaning wards had fewer voting machines, while 45 of the GOP-leaning wards had more, according to the Huffington Post. This occurred within the county’s Democratic wards despite a 25 percent increase in registered voters there.
In 2008, the flawed system plagued my father. He lived in a heavily Democratic-leaning section of Columbus and was ecstatic about voting for a black man, his party nominee. It was a cold, wintery voting day, and my father, fresh from a knee replacement, arrived early to vote but could not brave the four-hour wait at the polling place.
The decision really hurt him, especially when he heard reports that voting was swift and uncomplicated in the white, suburbanite areas.
My father died in July 2010 and of course did not realize his desire to vote for Obama. As I stood in line at a Prince George’s County, Md., polling place Tuesday, I felt the pain of the hour-long wait almost unbearable.
Nevertheless, I was joyful as I saw the hundreds of African Americans – many coming directly from work, others carrying babies – who were determined that nothing, not even long lines, would deter them from voting.
Nevertheless, I will be 74 in 2016. Can I stand for hours to vote? Should I have to?
On Tuesday, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said: “When you look at the lines that formed in Ohio, they are longer than the lines in Baghdad and Kabul.”
One often-mentioned fix is to jump-start the Election Assistance Commission, which was created after the embarrassing 2000 election but has been allowed to remain dormant. All four commission positions are vacant.
Too many activists have fought and died for the right to the ballot, a victory that is a vital contributor to Obama being elected president.
The president’s promise to fix the system is the right step to ensure that the constitutional right continues.
Reynolds is a frequent contributor to TheRootDC.