Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

May 4, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: State election system needs improvement

Remember the nightmarish days of the Florida recount following the disputed 2000 presidential election?

Poll workers squinting at marks on punch cards. “Butterfly ballots” that caused people to vote for the wrong candidate.

The entire episode was an embarrassing failure of democracy. At the time, Michigan election officials were pretty smug.

Back then, a spokesman for the secretary of state told me that there had indeed been a number of irregularities far in the past.

But those, I was told, had been cleaned up following a couple of extremely close gubernatorial elections in the 1950s. Detroit had its own disastrous experience with punch cards in 1970.

However, the state was now thought to be clean, modern, and state-of the art efficient when it comes to voting.

Except, as it turns out, it isn’t.

“Most states have modernized registration and/or voting in the last few years,” said Sharon Dolente, director of a reform alliance called the Michigan Election Coalition. “Michigan hasn’t.”

With a brief and effective power point show, Dolente, a Detroit attorney, shows the evidence. Michigan was the sixth-worst state in the country when it comes to how long people have to wait in line to vote in a presidential election: 20 minutes plus, on average.

Calfornia voters’ average wait was no more than five minutes. Michigan voters do not all suffer equally, however. Dolente showed me a picture of the lines in one inner-city precinct.

“There, they had to wait four and a half hours,” she said. Many working people cannot leave their jobs that long. Others may not be able to leave their children or physically endure standing in line.

What’s more, she added, as schools close and Detroit’s population shrinks, it gets harder and harder to find poll workers and suitable, disabled-accessible locations to hold elections.

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