A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

A Comedy of Errors: Voting Hurdles in the Race for the White House

On the evening of March 22, the residents of Maricopa County, Arizona, left their homes to vote in the Grand Canyon States’ primaries. Little were they aware that excruciatingly long voter lines would obstruct their path as residents scattered the pavements that wended from the bloated polling stations. The evenings polling swiftly descended into farce, leaving many locals without a vote, and seething at the poorly handled event. But, what went wrong, and who was to blame?

Maricopa County Recorder, Helen Purcell, fell on her sword, proclaiming that she “screwed up”. Purcell was responsible for planning polling locations ahead of elections, which were reduced by a whopping 70 percent this year in contrast to the 2012 primaries, from 200 locations to a paltry 60. This was a ludicrous decision – the agency of hindsight is not required. Maricopa County is the most populous statewide, and includes its largest city, Phoenix, which just happens to have a non-white majority and is predominantly a Democratic Elysium situated within a Republican Nirvana.

To put things in perspective, four years ago 300,000 citizens voted compared to the 800,000 that were trying to cast their ballots last month. Looking at it from another angle: there was one polling facility for every 21,000 voters, compared with one facility for every 2,500 voters throughout the rest of the state. This is a serious oversight particularly with the knowledge that this years primaries have been acerbically divisive, resulting in huge voter turnout nationwide, it is simply deplorable that this was allowed to happen.

Purcell nonchalantly claimed afterward that the number of polling stations reflected the early voting lists and that one third of the people registered in the county could not officially mark a ballot, as they were Independents. The latter is an unfortunate, obstructive by-product of Arizona’s closed primary system in which one must be registered to vote for a designated party.

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Maricopa County residents faced lengthy queues while trying to vote in Arizona’s primaries last month. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Much to the chagrin of many Independent voters (who have the option to change, or choose a party at the time of voting), many were left disillusioned as they were turned away upon reaching the top of the lengthy queues. Some were given provisional ballots, or simply told that their votes would not be counted, fueling the frustration.

In the aftermath of the fiasco and bearing in mind that many Independents would have voted for Bernie Sanders if they had been given the opportunity, a whitehouse.gov petition emerged that charged voter fraud and voter suppression in Arizona. As of April 8, there have been 213,306 signatures meaning that the White House is required to provide an official response (the threshold being 100,000 signatures).

What transpired at the polling stations across Maricopa County is hardly a new phenomenon, yet it serves as a useful, and worrying precedent. The Mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, illuminated the saliency of the issue and disparaged the lack of organisation. He expounded that the allocation of stations was more favourable in predominately Anglo communities and that there were fewer voting locations in parts of the county with greater minority populations.

Furthermore, Stanton highlighted the plight of poorer voters, “if you’re a single mother with two kids, you’re not going to wait for hours, you’re going to leave that line,” he added that “tens of thousands of people were deprived of the right to vote.” This iniquity is nestled in the bosom of voting bulwarks that have been mainly constructed by the GOP across the United States in recent years.

Leading the way with such studies is the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Michael Waldman, president of the center, argues that Republicans have been positioning to pass laws around the U.S. with the end goal of making it more difficult and convoluted for people to cast their vote. According to the Brennan Centre, in 2016 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. These new laws vary, from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions.

Some of the more punitive and heterogeneous cases feature an amendment in Texas that stipulates residents must show a state or federal issued form of ID to vote, or that the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open 8:15am to 4:00pm on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only 4 fifth Wednesdays this year).

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Voter ID is an increasingly pressing issue facing the Presidential election (AP Photo/Matt York)

The presentation of relevant identification at polling stations was the cause of puzzlement during the Wisconsin primaries last Tuesday evening. Wisconsin has been thrust centre stage over the last few weeks as it became apparent that Governor Scott Walker (formerly of the presidential hopeful parish) signed a bill into law that would make it harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The new legislation will allow Wisconsinites to register to vote online.

While this sounds like a positive step in the right direction, many community organisers, such as the the League of Women Voters, et al, have argued that it will disenfranchise the poor or marginalised as these groups are more likely to register through voter registration drives. There are other obstacles that face these groups too, such as the lack of a driver’s license.

Historically, a larger voter turnout for presidential elections has favoured the Democratic nominee, a philosophy that the Sanders’ campaign has firmly grasped. That being said, high turnouts this primary season for Donald Trump have helped catapult him to the top of the withering GOP tree. Yet, it is apparent that the GOP establishment is holding out hope for a contested RNC. The abjectly handled primaries in Arizona, and Wisconsin on Tuesday evening are telltale signs of an ominous portend for the general election in November. Voter suppression is a cog in a larger machine that asphyxiates the very fabric of American ideals, a moralistic tapestry that continues to fray with much contrition.

Matthew O’Brien 

Should You Vote?

Should You Vote?

In Ireland, 2008, when the infamous Bertie Aherne stood down, only a year after re-election, we were given our proverbial white knight, Brian Cowen. A man of superior intellect, yet lacking experience and know how, his fate was already sealed as he assumed the highest office in this land. While dealing in hypothetcials is often trite, it’s fascinating to cogitate on the following: what if the Fianna Gael/Labour coalition had won that day in 2007? Let’s face it, that election was a poisoned chalice that could just as easily have had Enda’s lips pressed against the rim. If that was the case, what would have happened in 2011? Would the Irish people have re-elected the current government in a back to the future style election? We honestly don’t think so. There was something rotten in the state of Ireland and this was met with a prevailing current of mistrust towards government officials. But let’s not get bogged down in hypothetical situations because they can be as unrealistic as the person who posits them wants them to be such as, what if Donald Trump became POTUS? Shudder!

Still, all around the world, the question remains: Does voting make a difference? Are we actually participating in a democratic system? They all look the same! Indeed, one might nod along just to give the impression of comprehension but with the US election in full swing and an Irish one right around the corner, it’s important to actually take some time to consider this question. Done? The answer is yes – it makes a difference. You might not change the colour of the sky, you may have to wait a little while for a bill to pass but that doesn’t mean you should just give up, shake your head and turn on The Big Bang Theory. Allow us to explain…

Without voting, democracy would crumble and fail. Without it, the margin between public interest and political rhetoric simply widens; oligarchies develop, corruption thrives, and the people lose. Yes, we may feel this if often the case when taxes are raised and any worthwhile bills get frozen in deadlock. What we need to understand and ultimately appreciate however is that any worthwhile change requires this time and care. It’s frustrating but necessary if we mean to be part of a reasoned society and believe me, every last vote can count.

Take for example the U.S. Presidential Election of 1960, the closest race for the White House in history. Kennedy eeked out a .1% victory over Ticky Dicky, and became the youngest ever American president. Fueling the embers of the much anticipated election were the inaugural televised presidential debates, which presented a new platform that the American population embraced, well, those who owned a television set. So, it simply doesn’t matter if the margin of victory is .1% or 60%. What does matter, however, is that the vessel of democracy is kept afloat through its virtuous axiom, and that as members of the electorate we recognise the importance of the responsibility and indeed power that we wield.

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Our responsibility extends further than merely casting a vote for the sake of a vote, however. By that we mean that people should know what they’re talking about. In his seminal body of work, Democracy in America, the French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville commented that any true democracy requires the ‘enlightenment’ of its people. In short, people who vote need to be smart about it. On the radio a couple of weeks an average Joe called in to rant against the ‘waffling’ of People Before Profit, whilst claiming he would support Michael Martin because he seems like a ‘nice’ guy. Well, that’s all very good if you’re choosing someone to go drinking with but is that what elections are really about? This should be obvious, but elections should be treated more like job interviews. So don’t be an idiot and vote for someone only because you like them. Don’t vote for someone you know, your friends recommend or who has an amiable poster face. Vote for the person who actually knows what they’re talking about and has the nation’s interest at heart.

This brings us to a crucial point; personal bias. So you might know someone who seems fairly tuned in to the whole political process but who also puts their own interests forward as the most important. We all have a point to make about how our own class or family or club has been affected by government cuts, e.g. a middle class earner may gripe about having to pay higher taxes, while lower earners may feel just as hard done by paying what they pay. Yet sometimes, you need to put the country before yourself; vote for what you think is right rather than what is beneficial for you.

When the campaign trails start, make an effort to absorb all the information you can. Ask the important questions. Challenge your own pre-conceived notions and make a smart decision because when smart decisions are made, the game is raised. When you test these politicians, it follows that they naturally have to become a bit smarter, themselves; a bit more accountable even. Then you get the changes you want. When you sit at home and don’t make the effort but spout out vague nonsense about revolutions, well, you might get a few Facebook likes but you won’t be taken seriously. Remember, a government is only as good as its people. Don’t be so naïve as to think all politicians are naturally bad.

Andrew Carolan & Matthew O’Brien