Record numbers of new voters will push the system to its limits this fall, a panel of election administrators told Congress on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to provide more money for new voting machines and training of poll workers.
Comment on this article in The Forum.Members of the House Judiciary and Administration committees, in a rare joint hearing, worried there may be more irregularities in voting with a surge in turnout. Election officials said they are more prepared than ever with paper ballots in case of long lines, machine failure or power outages.
But with memories of contested votes and allegations of fraud in the 2000 and 2004 elections, the House members set the stage for very bad outcomes if the system is not up to handling the electorate in 2008.
"The elections four years ago and eight years ago left a very bad taste in the mouths of Americans," said House Administration Elections Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "If that happens again, if half of America thinks that people who had the right to vote were denied the right to vote, we are going to be in a real pickle in this country."
Lofgren said long lines, in which some potential voters have waited hours in previous elections, constitute disenfranchisement, as people get discouraged and go away without voting.
David Farrell, deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Director of Elections in Ohio, told Lofgren his state is prepared with backup paper ballots to be used if "you are overwhelmed by sheer numbers." He and other witnesses, most of whom were from battleground states, said the paper ballots would not just be used in cases where machines failed. If the lines for the machines got too long, paper ballots could be substituted.
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes said there are two aspects to smooth elections -- informed voters and well-trained poll workers.
Also under questioning from Lofgren, Rokey Suleman II, General Registrar of Fairfax County, Va., said that misinformation plays a role in voting difficulties. He said some college students in Virginia, particularly at Virginia Tech, had erroneously been told that if they registered to vote in their college town, they would lose student aid.
"You are allowed to register from your dorm," said Suleman.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers said there are 3.5 million new voters since the last presidential election. "We need to be ready for these voters," he said, noting that voting machines still malfunction, and voter harassment and intimidation still continues.
The witnesses praised the $650 million Help American Vote Act, passed in 2002, for giving money and assistance to the states to upgrade voting machines and polling places. "Our No. 1 challenge is money," Farrell said.