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Fit to Print: The New York Times on Long Lines at the Polls

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[Image courtesy of bloomberg]

The issue of long voting lines may already be old news in the election community, but for many Americans the issue is likely not on their radar except to the extent that they themselves had to wait in line on Election Day. That may soon change, given that the New York Times has devoted space on its front page today for an article entitled "Waiting Times at Ballot Boxes Draw Scrutiny:"

With studies suggesting that long lines at the polls cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes in November, party leaders are beginning a push to make voting and voter registration easier, setting up a likely new conflict with Republicans over a deeply polarizing issue.

To its credit, the piece features the research of MIT's Charles Stewart - including an infographic that lays out the data from the 2012 Survey of the the Perormance of American Elections. There are also citations to the study of wait times in Florida by Ohio State professor Theodore Allen.

Unfortunately, though, the piece portrays the coming debate in Washington over what to do about lines as a partisan battle that will reprise recent voter fraud fights as well as debates about the proper role of the federal government in election administration:

Republicans in several states across the country have passed or promoted measures they say are meant to reduce voter fraud, like stricter identification requirements. Some have also cited costs; Florida, for instance, had eight days of early voting in November, down from 14, after the Republican-led Legislature changed the law.

By highlighting long waits and cumbersome voter registration as issues, Democrats hope they have found a counterattack. Democrats have already tried to block the Republican efforts, noting that nonpartisan analyses have generally found voter fraud to be extremely rare ...

But getting anything passed without Republican support will be impossible, Democrats acknowledge. And so far, conservatives have complained that Democrats are politicizing an issue that should be handled by the states, not the federal government.

"It's ridiculous to stand in line a couple of hours to vote," said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "But I think it's also ridiculous to make a political issue out of it when it's very easily handled."

As someone who cares deeply about election administration, I know I should be grateful that a publication as prominent as the Times is focusing on this issue. But knowing how the Times shapes media coverage - the front page usually guarantees dozens of interview requests (meaning I know what Charles Stewart is doing today) - it's disheartening to see the debate already cast in a light which virtually ensures the continued combination of gridlock and animus in the Nation's Capital.

The article also misses the latest developments in Florida, where the Secretary of State is backing expanded early voting after the lessons learned in 2012. While I won't get into the federalism argument, it does seem to me that we ignore state and local approaches and solutions to elections policy at our peril.

As always, I'll cling to the hope that Congress will be able to transcend the partisan narrative and get some real work done on election policy; but the treatment of the issue by the Times - focusing on partisanship - leaves me thinking that hope is slim, indeed.

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