US Officials: Early voting could improve e-voting

Going to the polls before Election Day helps identify problems early

In what may be a low-tech answer to a high-tech issue, US election officials say early voting across the nation may have led to fewer Election Day e-voting problems in many states this year.

In Lexington, Kentucky, unprecedented long lines of voters at some polling places weren't caused by massive technical problems with e-voting hardware. Instead, the problem was simply a heavy crush of voters coupled with physical limits on just how fast people can vote. The result: delays of as long as three hours to vote, something the state has never seen before, said Les Fugate, a deputy assistant to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

With US Election Day 2008 now over, the experiences of frustrated voters could soon usher in the adoption of early voting, which Fugate said could help reduce the crush of voters on Election Day and help future elections go smoother.

Already used in 31 US states, early voting allows voters to cast ballots up to a month or so before the actual election, taking the one-day pressure off what can be complicated or finicky e-voting systems. Some states allow voters to use mail-in absentee ballots prior to the election; others open one central polling place in each county for voters to cast ballots.

"Yes, we do think that early voting would reduce the lines on Election Day," Fugate said. "We typically don't see those kinds of lines."

Kentucky has recently been looking at joining the list of states that now allow early voting, but so far, elected officials haven't taken the plunge. Two weeks ago, the state held a hearing on the possibility, and last year, the state House approved a bill allowing early voting. That measure stalled in the state Senate.

Election day problems will likely refuel the discussion, he said. "The [long lines of voters] in the presidential election and the fact that more than 30 other states have it now, those factors will continue the interest" in early voting in Kentucky, Fugate said.

And such move would require a state constitutional amendment, making it unlikely to go before voters until the 2012 election, Grayson "would like to see it happen as soon as possible," Fugate said.

About 1.8 million, or 63 percent, of the state's 2.9 million registered voters cast their ballots Tuesday, compared to about 64.7 percent who voted in 2004, according to state figures.

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Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld (US)
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