In order to vote on Tuesday, I stood in line for nearly 2 1/2 hours, mostly because the folks in charge of elections in Richland County, South Carolina cannot seem to figure out 1) how to allocate machines to precincts appropriately/according to the law and 2) how to fix the machines when they (inevitably) fail.  If Cheryl Goodwin, Richland County’s Election Systems Coordinator, is correct, there were the same number of voting machines at work Tuesday as there were in 2008.  Yet somehow my precinct went from five machines in 2008 to three in 2012.  There were, according to news accounts, 18 technicians in the field working on Tuesday.  Yet they could not address the breakdown of machines across the county, nor the breakdown of machines in my precinct.  Precinct workers told me they called for help around 8am as one of the machines broke down.  By the time I left, around 11:15, no technicians had shown up.  The debacle actually continues…it seems they still cannot get all of the absentee ballots counted, and several local/state races and ballot initiatives are still in play.

As I tweeted yesterday, there are two kinds of problems: there are the unforeseeable/very low probability problems. If a meteor hits a polling station, I’m willing to give people a pass on that one.  Then there are the problems related to being poorly prepared or just unprepared.  You know, like the problems caused by misallocating voting machines and then failing to respond to calls for help from precinct workers for over 3 hours.  THESE ARE NOT THE SAME. The first type of problem is understandable and excusable.  The second demands that someone be held to account.  Not that anyone is going to stand up and take the blame here, though…

OK, so Richland County was a debacle.  But it’s not like people were still voting at 11pm.  Oh, wait…

But the thing that infuriates me the most is the way in which so many in the media excused this debacle – several times I heard folks on TV say things like “person X had their voting card torn up in the 50s, so standing in line for a while is really a small sacrifice.”  This is complete garbage.  All of those people who sacrificed to ensure that women/minorities/non-white-male-property-owners could vote did not struggle just so that those who came later could be subjected to voting conditions that would be embarrassing in many precincts in GHANA.  The whole point of that struggle was to enable those who followed them to vote easily and freely.  The simple fact is that a five hour line…or a three hour line…or a two hour line can effectively disenfranchise someone who cannot afford to take half a day or more off from work, or who does not have childcare at home that enables them to stand in line until after 11pm to vote.

So media, let’s be clear: nobody suffered or struggled in the past so that you could give Richland County Election Commission a pass on this shambles of an election.  The ghosts of those people are shaking their fists in rage at your invocation of them to excuse the effective disenfranchisement of many in the electorate.  Someone had best be held to account for this debacle.  The cause of the problems has to be explained and resolved. Only then will we be honoring those whose struggles brought us the diverse electorate we have today.