Voting errors linger five weeks after election
The presidential outcome wasn't contested, but one county's woes symbolize glitches still unfixed.
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C.
Five weeks after the election, North Carolina still doesn't know who its next agriculture commissioner will be. The reason: 4,500 votes in coastal Carteret County were lost in a computer. They simply vanished.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While no one suspects foul play - it seems to be the result of an innocent mistake - the vote count between candidates Steve Troxler and Britt Cobb remains close enough that the state will have to hold another election in the county in January. In other words, North Carolina is still a month or two away from knowing who will oversee its poultry farms and pecan groves.
The mishap here is one of many that occurred across the country on election day, offering a window into the flaws that still exist in American democracy.
While most experts think the election went well overall - especially given the large turnout - lessons are nonetheless being learned about how to improve individual systems. And questions linger in some states about the integrity of a system that underwent massive changes after Florida's debacle in 2000.
"The case in Carteret County exposes the flaws in democracy and elections generally," says Christian Grose, a political scientist at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. "Counting all the votes is not that easy all the time."
Nationally, few of the mishaps seemed to sway races' outcomes: For the most part, say experts, it wasn't so much a roof-tearing hurricane - just a hard blow that shuffled the deck furniture. They blame a confluence of factors, from ballot shortages to electronic glitches, and point to a populace increasingly skeptical of the voting system. With such a politicized process, too, the fact that partisan officials often run the show has only stoked the tension of the aftermath.
"You had record turnout, record numbers of new registrants, voter concern about equipment, whether it was new or old, you had new laws that were in effect, and, finally, you had the provisional ballots, which were the source of enormous confusion," says Sherry Swirsky, a Philadelphia lawyer and author of the Democrats' National Election Law Manual.
From Washington, where residents are looking at a second recount in the governor's race, to North Carolina's bungled vote for a "sod father," several races remain unresolved - and even some now-settled contests have faced plenty of hurdles along the way:
• In Ohio, the state election commission has voted to allow a recount - and the Green and Libertarian parties have promised to fund it.
• In Texas, poll workers had to ship an electronic ballot box to Canada to "unfreeze" a file of votes.
• In Montana, control of the house still hangs in the balance, with a mere 2,000-vote margin now being debated and recounted.
• In Iowa, a poll supervisor had to drive hundreds of miles to find a working counting machine. Worse, the state didn't accept a federal absentee ballot for military personnel, which meant that some Iowans fighting in Iraq were not able to vote.
• And in Florida's Broward County, among other places, some voters said that when they voted for Sen. John Kerry, President Bush appeared on the screen instead. Yet charges that Mr. Bush simply couldn't have won in some areas were dispelled by media research showing that many of those who were expected to vote Democratic actually chose Bush.