Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching the election online

I've spent most of this election day watching for election stories and problems on various web sites. Fortunately, so far things seem to be going pretty smoothly in California. The biggest problem being reported has been long lines earlier this morning, due largely to the fact that a record turnout approaching 14 million voters is expected for this election.

According to the vote-by-mail chart compiled by the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (available on this page), 7.2 million VBM ballots were issued to California voters, and as of yesterday, at least 4.5 million had been returned to county election offices. In 2004, 8.5 million voters cast ballots at the polls in the Presidential election; this time, it may be more like nine or ten million polling place voters (including many vote-by-mail voters who return their ballots to the polls). Given the high level of turnout, voters may find themselves waiting in long lines this evening to vote.

But long lines because of huge enthusiasm for an election is not the worst kind of problem to have. The worst kind of problem is long lines because voting equipment is malfunctioning or because too many voters are assigned to a polling place, or because the supply of ballots has run out. Fortunately, California has drastically reduced the use of electronic voting machines, state law requires no more than 1,000 registered voters per precinct, and California counties appear to have done a good job estimating the number of ballots needed on hand (and are required to have a contingency plan in place if supplies run short). But in other states, voting equipment malfunctions are causing delays for many voters, along with insufficient polling place staffing or too many voters assigned to one polling place, or a failure to have a contingency plan if equipment fails.

One of the sites I've been visiting today to track problems is CNN's Voter Hotline map, which shows the calls coming in to CNN and the kinds of problems voters are having across the country. Over 94,000 voters have called CNN's Hotline, 800-GOCNN-08. According to the data posted on the CNN site as of 4:30 p.m. Pacific this afternoon, registration problems account for 29 percent of the calls received, followed by mechanical problems which have been reported by 14 percent of callers. 13 percent report problems accessing the polling place, primarily due to long lines.

Another great online resource for tracking election problems around the country is the Our Vote Live Blog and Map. This information is provided by the Election Protection Coalition, which has 10,000 volunteers answering calls made to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. So far over 40,000 calls have been received on Election Day. According to recent blog postings, voters in some areas of Virginia are waiting as long as seven hours to vote, and voters in some areas of Florida are reportedly waiting five hours.

Once the polls close in California, I will start watching the returns on the Secretary of State's web site, which I expect will be posted here . CVF will also provide links on our home page to all of the county returns. While the presidential election is not expected to be close in California, there are several hotly contested statewide ballot propositions, as well as legislative and congressional contests that will be decided.

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