I Think I'm Dumb, or Maybe Just Happy


The New York Times edit board is suddenly very concerned with the North Carolina ballot, as 1) long ago, Dixiecrats exempted the presidential race from the button that lets you vote straight ticket and 2) Obama is narrowly ahead in the polls there.

This year, North Carolina's flawed ballot could again result in tens of thousands of votes being lost. That is particularly worrisome since polls indicate a very close presidential race in the state. And as we saw in 2000, a presidential election can be decided by a mere 537 votes.

The problem isn't with North Carolina. The problem is democratic. Any majoritarian system is, by its nature, going to rely on the involvement of masses of dumb people who can't read or understand rules very well. Any ballot tweak meant to increase voter choices or simplify one part of the process is going to accidentally disenfranchise people who don't understand the rules. In 2000, this literally cost Al Gore the presidency. Not old people misreading butterly ballots, that is. People who didn't get the rules.

The results of Duval County's vote left Democrats here shaking their heads. More than 26,000 ballots were invalidated, the vast majority because they contained votes for more than one presidential candidate. Nearly 9,000 of the votes were thrown out in the predominantly African-American communities around Jacksonville, where Mr. Gore scored 10-to-1 ratios of victory, according to an analysis of the vote by The New York Times.

… Local election officials attributed the outcome to a ballot that had the name of presidential candidates on two pages, which they said many voters found confusing. Many voters, they said, voted once on each page. The election officials said they would not use such a ballot in the future.

Rodney G. Gregory, a lawyer for the Democrats in Duval County, said the party shared the blame for the confusion. Mr. Gregory said Democratic Party workers instructed voters, many persuaded to go to the polls for the first time, to cast ballots in every race and "be sure to punch a hole on every page."

"The get-out-the vote folks messed it up," Mr. Gregory said ruefully.

They probably did, but there's only so much you can do with voters who think "if I want Bush to lose, I have to vote for Gore AND Monica Moorehead of the Workers Party."  When an election law huckster like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. throws around facts like "black voters' ballots are disqualified at nine times the rate of white voters' ballots," this is the story behind them.

What can states do about it? As simple as you make a ballot (and "vote once for president then hit this button for the rest of the ticket" is not rocket science), you're going to have voters who can't grok it.