Here’s something I learned this week. When someone goes to vote in the USA, there may be people at the polling station who can question your right to vote, voting challengers. Anybody can do this. It’s not an official position. Imagine. You’re on the electoral roll, you’ve lined up to get your ballot paper and just as you’re about to collect it, someone comes up and says to an official, “No, this person can’t vote because…”
This law allowing challengers to get in someone’s face and stop them voting differs in each state. In Ohio, for instance, a challenge may be made on the basis of citizenship, residence or age (ie. too young to vote). It’s then up to the official in charge of the polling station whether you can vote on an ordinary ballot or a provisional ballot which is then sent off elsewhere to have your legal status checked and confirmed.
The official presiding at the polls can throw a challenger out if they interfere with the voting process by issuing too many challenges or slowing down the process. But, remember everything is politicized in the USA, so whoever’s running the polling station may have a vested interest in allowing partisan challenges. It’s all up to that official in charge at the polling station.
In some states, this whole challenge thing can be an effective form of intimidation and harrassment, enough to put people off going to the polls in the first place. Think about who’s in charge of the polling stations in some of the southern states where black voters are predominantly Democrat… Of course, that doesn’t mean the Democrats won’t try it too, if they can, and Secretary of State Colin Powell has already invited international observers to monitor this presidential election.
Meanwhile, the Kerry campaign is providing teams of observers and lawyers of its own to ensure laws are upheld on November 2nd. You can’t help thinking that these sorts of ideas–electoral challengers–may have all been a good and practical idea once upon a time but now we’re living in the 21st century. It’s the information age. Computer technology. The internet? Facts like citizenship, residence and age should all be easily checkable at the time of registering to vote, let alone at the polling station.
Claim, counterclaim. Checks, balances. Passions and opinions. This is the US Presidential election. It’s like being stuck in traffic for weeks and discovering the reason is everyone’s stopped to gawp at an incredibly pointless and preventable car wreck.