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Time to sharpen up the polling station

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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With the primary June 5 and the general election creeping up on us, it's time to look at how we can improve the system of voting from the ballot box on up.

Voting, the one action that makes America a democracy, and the one way in which the voices and demands of citizens can be heard and counted, sometimes is just too much of a hassle. It is the one staple of any democracy, but man, is it easy to forget or ignore an election, and even if you do actually get the gumption to go to your polling place and live up to your civic duties, you may get turned away because you went to the wrong place.

All citizens have the right to vote, with some restrictions. You can't vote if you're under 18 at the time of the election, you can't vote if you have been convicted of a felony, and you can't vote anywhere but in the precinct that represents your current residential address.

The first two restrictions, being too young or being a felon, generally aren't an issue for UI students, but that third one, having an up-to-date residential address, can really be an issue.

If you're a student, as I am, then you haven't had the same address for two-consecutive years since you graduated from high school, and even then you may have moved more often than once a year.

It's easy to show up at the wrong polling place and have to update your address in the system so that the poll workers can tell you where you are actually supposed to go. After you go there, update your address before you can vote. It took just over 45 minutes to process all of this information, and you may be the only person trying to vote at both precincts — don't worry, we know personally, exactly how you feel.

In fact, at the Main Library, a polling place, there were only eight people who voted by 6 p.m.

According to estimates by the Johnson County Auditor's Office, only 9 percent of the county's registered voters showed up to vote in the primaries, and that was better than most of the state.

That's right — despite the state losing one of its seats in the House of Representatives and the whole state undergoing redistricting, meaning the seats were certainly contested — there was hardly any turnout. It was just a primary.

The problem, however, is that the election in November is not just a primary and will likely bring significantly higher turnout. In fact, if we compare the numbers for Johnson County in 2008, around 10 percent of registered voters turned out for the primaries, but 79 percent went to the polls for the presidential election in November.

What this means is that if your address isn't up to date, you won't be waiting around for a mere 45 minutes, and the hassles will be devastatingly exacerbated.

The good news is that the Johnson County Auditor's Office is setting up a lot of alternatives and systems to make the whole process much more simple. For example, anyone registered to vote in Johnson County can vote for the presidential election as early as Sept. 25 just by going down to the Auditor's Office. No lines, no address changes, no hassle. The county has also equipped every voting precinct with trained poll workers who now get to use computers with relatively simple software and brand-new scanners.

The message is pretty simple: Voting is extremely important and really not so difficult if you know what you are doing. I was once again frustrated in my efforts to blame someone else for my troubles, but I was the one who didn't check that my registration was updated. There are many simple ways to find out where to vote, for example gottavote.org will tell you, pretty accurately, where to go. And, once you get there, the county is prepared to make things as smoothly as possible.

With so much at stake in the coming election, students especially cannot forfeit their right to choose and keep this democracy because of something as small as correct precinct.


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