US elections: long lines highlight multiple obstacles to voting | United States and Canada

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Early voting began in more than 20 states ahead of the November 3 presidential election in the United States and already turnout has far exceeded past contests, leading some experts to project a record turnout this year. .More than 25 million ballots were cast through early in-person and postal ballots on Saturday, the United States Election Project said, which is more than 18% of all votes counted in of the 2016 presidential race.

But this early voter engagement, in part fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, has also led to new challenges, as long lines and hours of waiting were reported at voting sites in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Ohio, among other states.

First voters line up to vote at the Southern Regional Library polling station in Durham, North Carolina [Gerry Broome/AP]

The tedious process has been attributed to enthusiasm in a busy political climate, a desire to avoid the ballot boxes on election day due to the novel coronavirus and, in some cases, problems with the voting infrastructure.

But it’s also evidence of obstacles that many American voters face, according to voting rights advocates, who have said these obstacles, which can make voting a one-day affair, often affect disproportionately minority communities.

Critics have also said that certain voting systems, which are overseen by each respective U.S. state and differ among themselves, even in national elections, are inherently designed to help one party rather than the other.

“Long queues don’t happen by accident but by intention,” said the National Election Defense Coalition, a group of election monitoring organizations, tweeted October 15. “Voters must stand up to defend our system of government.”

Fewer polling stations

In Georgia, where polls opened on Monday, some voters waited more than eight hours to vote, local media reported.

The first day of voting in the state saw 128,000 residents go to the polls, breaking the turnout of 91,000 on the first day of 2016, the Associated Press news agency reported.

State officials said the turnout was “extreme and huge” and therefore lines were to be expected. “There is a lot of enthusiasm around this election, and you’re going to see a high turnout. Because of this, we’re going to see lines, ”Assistant Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The delays were in part fueled by problems with voter registration computers at polling stations in the Atlanta area, according to local media.

But an analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica, released Saturday in coordination with National Public Radio, pointed to a more insidious problem: a shrinking number of polling stations in the state.

The media reported that while the downsizing of polling stations took place “across racial lines,” it had a disproportionate effect on non-white communities which experienced spikes in voter registration and where residents are more. likely to vote in person.

This is particularly noteworthy, as Georgia is one of many places in the United States with a history of electoral discrimination. Under the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, the state was required to obtain federal preclearance before making changes to its voting systems and infrastructure.

However, a 2013 Supreme Court ruling eliminated this requirement, allowing state officials and lawmakers to change the way voting is conducted without federal government oversight. Individuals and groups can still challenge state electoral practices in the courts.

Since then, the number of registered voters in Georgia has increased by nearly two million people, while the number of polling stations has been reduced by 10% statewide, according to analysis by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica.

More than 25 million ballots were cast through early in-person and postal ballots on Saturday, the United States Election Project said. [File: LM Otero/AP]

Nine counties in the city of Atlanta were particularly hard hit, accounting for half of the state’s voters, but only 38% of its polling stations, according to the report, although some have sought to add more recent voting sites. minute before the election.

He also said the average number of voters per polling station had increased by 40 percent in those counties from 2012 to October 9. Across Georgia, about 90 percent of constituencies do not comply with a state law that caps the number of voters allowed to vote. in a single polling station which has already experienced delays of voters to 2,000 people.

The high number of voters using a single voting site extends beyond Georgia, revealed a June vote analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute at New York University Law School.

The average number of voters assigned to polling stations has also increased over the past five years in Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, all states that previously required preclearance under the Voting Rights Act.

Unequal resources

Other US states, including those that did not have special requirements under the voting rights law, have also been accused of using long waits on voting sites to suppress voters.

In Ohio, where early voting began on Oct.6, the number of people who voted in person in the first week of early voting nearly tripled from 2016, with 193021 voters going to the polls versus 64,312 Four years ago.

More than 193,000 people voted in person in the first week of early voting this month in Ohio, nearly triple the number of early voters during the same period in 2016 [File: Aaron Doster/AP]

This increase resulted in hours of waiting at polling stations, including a line of voters in the city of Columbus that stretched about 0.4 kilometers (0.25 miles) on the first day of opening. polling stations, the AP reported.

Ohio state officials blamed the long lines on the first day of early voting on high “enthusiasm” among the electorate.

But a 2006 state law that limits the first in-person voting sites to one per county also contributed to long queues, former President Barack Obama’s speechwriter David Litt noted this week. in The Guardian newspaper.

Litt said the establishment means residents of Vinton County, a Republican stronghold of 13,500, have access to the same number of early voting sites as the 1.3 million residents of Franklin County, which encompasses Columbus, the state capital.

“Blaming voters for the long lines they endure ignores the massive and intentional disparity in resources between the most and least populated parts of the state,” Litt wrote. “The politicians in Ohio have made voting a lot easier for Republicans and a lot harder for Democrats.”



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