The Corner

My Annual Voting Rant

If we really want to increase voter turnout, the best way would be to make the voting experience simpler and less stressful. You should be able to find your polling place easily, walk in, give your name and address, sign the ledger, and vote straightforwardly on a clear, well-designed ballot. In my experience voting in various places around the Northeast, none of those conditions are usually satisfied.

This morning I went to the school where the polling place was supposed to be and spent about 10 minutes trying the doors, all of which were locked. Of course there were no signs telling you where to go. Finally I found an inconspicuous side entrance that miraculously was open, and as soon as I walked through it, a poll worker said, “You aren’t supposed to use that door.” I told her that all the other doors were locked, and she nodded and said, “I know.”

For some reason, they expect you to remember which election district you live in (“We sent you a notification a month ago”). There were three tables, one for each ED, and of course the one with the ledger that had my name was the last one I tried. This process took me only a few minutes because it was early in the morning, but if it had been early evening instead, there would have been a 10-minute wait at each table — or longer, if you draw one of the slower poll workers.

And once I was finally in the booth, it took a couple of minutes to read and figure out the instructions for voting; a less experienced reader would have given up. Not only was it far from obvious how to actually cast a vote, but the propositions were stuck in obscure corners of the ballot, where they were easy to overlook, and then down at the bottom right were a few school-board candidates just sort of floating in space.

Making the physical location of polling easier to navigate, eliminating the need to guess which book you’re supposed to sign, and making the ballot design more user-friendly — in other words, running our elections like an enterprise that actually wants customers — would turn the voting experience into less of an ordeal, and wavering voters would be less inclined to say the hell with it. Petty annoyances like these are much more effective at discouraging voters than any ID requirement would be.

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