Voting may take awhile

Voting is a right and a privilege. It shouldn't be an ordeal.

Today is election day nationwide, and millions of Americans will do their democratic duty and line up to vote. But in what may be the largest turnout in decades, many voters today will have to wait in line for hours to cast a ballot.

By all accounts, York County election officials have done a good job in preparing for election day. Nonetheless, absentee voters encountered long lines at the elections office in York.

While some states allow "early" voting, in which voters can simply show up at designated polling places and cast a ballot early for any reason, South Carolina has only absentee voting. South Carolina voters must sign a sworn statement that they have a legitimate reason for not voting on Election Day.

For all intents, though, absentee voting functions largely the same as early voting, and thousands of South Carolinians took advantage of it. But if they were hoping to avoid long lines by doing so, they probably were disappointed.

The State newspaper reported that more than 3,000 people stood in line for more than five hours Saturday in Richland County, waiting to cast a ballot. Much the same thing happened in Lexington County, where long lines encircled the county voting office. Absentee voters in Spartanburg stood in line for four hours.

In South Carolina, absentee voters nearly doubled turnout from 2004 levels. As of Monday morning, 302,000 people had already voted in the state. The same thing happened at early voting sites across the nation. People voted early in record numbers, and the lines reflected that.

The levels of early voting could portend a record turnout today. Some experts predict that turnout could eclipse the turnout in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election or another big election, the 1968 race between Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.

That, of course, should be good news. Every election cycle, critics wring their hands and bemoan the low turnout among U.S. voters. We often are shamed by turnout in European nations. In France, last year, 84 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential elections.

But while Americans are egged on to vote, it seems we are woefully unprepared when a large turnout does occur. It's like an unexpected tsunami.

Even so, voters shouldn't have to wait four or five hours in a line to cast a ballot.

Many working people cannot take the time away from their jobs today to vote if it means standing in line for hours. The only option is to try to vote after work before polls close. Polling places often allow all voters who arrive before 7 p.m. to cast a ballot, but, in some cases, they may have to wait until midnight to do so.

Often, all that's needed to alleviate the long waits is extra voting machines. That is a relatively simple solution.

While some waiting is to be expected, failing to provide a way for voters to cast a ballot in a timely way has the effect of suppressing the vote. It will be hard to gauge how many voters will not have the time to stand in a long line today or who simply give up on voting rather than waiting.

The United States is one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. Yet, when it comes to creating a smoothly operating system to perform the essential task of voting, we fall short.

This election should be the last in which voters have to spend hours trying to do their democratic duty.


We urge all residents to take the time to vote today, but the lines may be long.