Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Early Voting, Get out the Vote, and "Super" precincts

Today's story in the Charlotte Observer is just the first of many we'll see in the coming years, as early voting extends across the United States.

Traditionally, it was relatively straightforward, if labor and cost intensive, to mobilize voters. You could blanket a geographic location with advertisements, pamphlets, phone calls, and face to face contacts. While the lack of clean overlap between various political, institutional, and commercial boundaries (e.g. census blocks and tracts, state and federal legislative districts, zip codes, and television markets) could complicate the situation, the task of getting voters to the polls has not changed in a fundamental way for decades.

This will all change if many states follow the NC example and create "super precincts." These are instituted as a way to make voting more convenient for early voters, by allowing them to cast their ballot in locations other than their precinct. Presumably these 'super precincts' are contiguous geographically with a number of smaller precincts, although technically that is not necessary. Under HAVA requirements for statewide registration rolls, there is no reason that a voter in, say, Durham NC could not cast a ballot while on vacation in Charlotte, NC, and have it counted correctly. All that would have to happen is that the (presumably computerized) vote counting system has to match up the individual's voter ID with the proper ballot, provide this ballot to the individual, and count the vote.

In this story, Republicans charge that "super precincts" benefit Democrats, although there is little evidence to back this up. It is probably true that the majority of voting errors occur in urban areas, but this has as much to do with density, the complexity of drawing lines, and lack of funding in urban areas (that tend to vote Democratic) than it does with any organized pro-Democratic bias in the system.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to monitor how super precincts change GOTV efforts and campaigning in the future. Along with other voting reforms, these changes may break the traditional American linkage between geographic location and voting.

Charlotte Observer | 07/25/2005 | Imagine voting at local mall, uptown hotel


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