Election boosts trust in US voting systems
Exit polls suggest that 88 percent of Americans felt confident in their voting device Tuesday.
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Intense scrutiny of the process has helped poll workers stay on their toes, say experts.Skip to next paragraph
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This year, a new initiative called "Video the Vote" enlisted amateurs to film poll irregularities. The idea: to bring attention to voting problems even in elections where the winning margin was large enough that they would normally receive little attention.
"There's so much focus on calling the winners and losers ... that we lose sight of whether the voter was a winner or loser," says Ian Inaba, one of the leaders of the project that has posted hundreds of interviews at videothevote.org. "You look at those lines in Denver and Missouri or listen to some of those voters in Maryland or even New Jersey – things were not OK [Tuesday]. There were a lot of frustrated people."
Mr. Inaba and political bloggers are using more democratic media models to widen engagement in politics. They may be among many reasons that more people are checking back into politics.
Overall turnout surged to more than 40 percent this year, its highest level in a midterm election since 1982, according to a preliminary analysis by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
Several states saw gains over 2002, including Ohio, Montana, and Missouri, according to the Associated Press.
Hotly contested races in those states might have fueled the increases.
"Polarization tends to be a mobilizing factor in getting out the vote," says Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE, a voter-research institute at the University of Maryland.
The turnout of young people in this election was especially strong.
Voters aged 18 to 29 cast an estimated 10 million votes, or 13 percent of all ballots, up from 11 percent in 2002.
In one crucial election, the Senate race in Montana, young people made up 17 percent of the vote. The winning campaign of Democrat Jon Tester said it made "fairly aggressive" efforts to reach that demographic.
"There's a new generation of voters that will turn out ... if candidates target their vote. Young voters have left their mark on the 2006 election. It shows that they are a force," says Heather Smith of Young Voter Strategies, a nonpartisan organization in Washington aimed at increasing youth turnout.
Young people voted for Democrats by a wide margin: 22 percentage points, according to CNN's exit poll data. Many sought change on issues like Iraq, jobs, and education, says Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster.
"The turnout shows that young people have confidence in the voting system," says Mr. Levine. In general, the millennial generation has more positive attitudes toward government institutions than people might expect, he adds.
Ultimately, perceptions of progress in election reform may rest on the orderly resolution of the Senate race in Virginia.
News agencies have declared Democrat James Webb the winner, but at press time election workers had yet to finish canvassing votes and the incumbent, Sen. George Allen (R), had not conceded.
Any recount would not scrutinize individual ballots but merely recheck tabulations. This is partly due to the state's switch to paperless electronic machines, a system widely criticized for the lack of transparency in just such an event.