arrowSection 5.1 - Polling Place Rules

This topic is monitored by Moritz Law Professor Terri L. Enns

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Analysis & Commentary: Not Enough Ballots in Milwaukee?

The Washington Post is reporting a dispute between Milwaukee’s mayor, Tom Barrett, and County Executive, Scott Walker, over whether there are enough ballots available for voters in the city.

Barrett, a Democrat, is co-chair of Kerry’s campaign in Wisconsin. Walker, a Republican, holds the same position in Bush’s Wisconsin’s campaign.

Barrett wants more ballots, to make sure there are enough. Walker doesn’t want too many, for fear that extras might lead to fraud.

This dispute represents the classic tug-of-war between the interest in protecting voting rights, on the one hand, and the interest in curtailing opportunities for fraud, on the other. This tug-of-war is playing out in many different ways in this year’s super-charged campaign. The litigation over provisional ballots is one such area, as is the controversy over handling of absentee ballots from overseas.

It would seem imperative, however, that at a minimum there should be enough ballots for all eligible voters, and this year’s election promises to have more voters showing up because of the large increases in registration.

It will be a serious problem if on Election Day, in any swing state, voters are turned away because their precincts have run out of ballots, whether of the regular or provisional varieties. That situation would be sure to invite litigation and confusion, as a basic promise of the new Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is that every American who is entitled to vote should be able to do so.

If qualified voters who show up at the right place are denied the right to vote because of too few ballots, and there are enough of these would-be voters that they could have made a difference in a swing state, the legitimacy of the election will be in doubt.

While the need to protect against voter fraud is real – and important – it is essential that the system do so in a way that no one is denied the right to vote because too few ballots were printed or delivered to the right polling places.

[Posted October 15, 2004]