More long lines, controversy at polling places

Published 11:45 pm Thursday, April 14, 2016

Requiring people to present identification at the polls before voting is designed to prevent voter fraud — which history shows happens about as often as Gus Malzahn yells “Roll Tide.”

Still, on the rationale that one instance is too many, we’ve supported voter ID laws, in Alabama and elsewhere, with a couple of caveats. Obtaining proper identification should be made as simple and easy as possible, and people should face no other impediments at the polls. However, two recent situations have revived controversies over voting rights and poll access that really never have stopped simmering.

The turnout for last week’s Wisconsin presidential primaries was the largest in two generations. It was the state’s first presidential vote since it adopted a voter ID law, and confusion over its requirements caused huge lines and waits of up to two hours.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

We’ll head off the next question: “Why was there confusion? Didn’t people know about the law? It’s on them if they didn’t come to the polls prepared.”

The problem is, there were no organized efforts to “make things simple and easy” or inform voters about the law’s specific requirements (as Alabama has done through the admirable efforts of Secretary of State John Merrill and county registrars), because the Wisconsin Legislature didn’t authorize any funds to pay for them.

It wasn’t as big a nightmare as the March 22 Arizona presidential primary, now the subject of a Department of Justice investigation. Some voters in Maricopa County (Phoenix is the county seat) had to wait as long as five hours to cast their ballots, after officials there reduced the number of polling places from 200 in 2012 to 60 — one for every 21,000 voters.

They could make that change because of a 2013 Supreme Court decision in an Alabama case that removed a requirement that nine states (including Arizona) preclear any changes in election law with the Department of Justice, because of past instances of racial discrimination. We’re sure some folks will see a racial angle here, but we’ll take the Maricopa crew at its word that this whopper of a bad call was made for a different reason — albeit one that also merits a good spanking. This apparently was all about pinching pennies. Maricopa officials weren’t expecting a big turnout (they must have been cave dwellers or abstained from television and the internet since last summer) and thought those who did vote would primarily cast their ballots by mail. They decided to save a few bucks on one of the most important functions of any government — and wound up with an embarrassing fiasco that has provoked bipartisan anger.

One can only imagine what things will be like in November when 120 million or so fired-up people go to the polls. Such controversies aren’t going away as long as the electorate is so polarized, there’s an insistence on sticking with an election model that is increasingly incompatible with 21st century life and there are partisan advantages to be gained by either maximizing or minimizing the respective impact of some voters. (A Republican legislator from Wisconsin forgot that eyes and ears are open everywhere these days and got caught on camera saying the state’s voter ID law would help his side.) It sullies something that should be nonpartisan and (call us old-fashioned) practically sacred — the people’s voice in how their government operates.

Online –