In all the election news today, this bit from the Miami Herald sticks with me:
Even after the networks called the race for President Obama, people in South Florida remained in line.
From Hialeah to Country Walk and Brickell, people waited as long as seven hours to vote. In Broward County, voting at some precincts came to a halt when the ballots ran out. At the South Kendall Community Church, 1,000 people were in line at closing time, and at least 200 remained three hours later.
Voting is not supposed to work like that, and you folks knew it. From the opening moments of early voting this year, you sent us evidence of what you were seeing out there in your polling places, painfully long lines in red states and blue states, in Texas and in Maryland, in Virginia and Florida and Ohio. You were sharp enough to see the story, and then you were patriotic and heroic enough to stay in line. That #stayinline became its own meme testifies to your determination.
If you hadn't decided to stay in line, maybe Michigan's emergency manager law stays in place instead of getting repealed. Maybe Maine doesn't pass marriage equality. Maybe Virginia has a different result. Maybe those deciding votes don't come pouring out of Cleveland, Ohio. Maybe Florida, still undecided now, is a different landscape. Maybe the popular vote goes to Mitt Romney instead.
With voting, you just don't know. Not everyone could make it through those lines. But everyone who did, whomever and whatever they supported, struck a blow for the right to vote in this country. You protected your own vote from the political forces who stood to profit from your giving up. Now the work begins.
I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that.
The president seemed to ad lib that last part there, about the need to fix our elections so we no longer have those lines. The roots of the problem are many and tangled. Republicans cut the time for early voting, guaranteeing a crush at the polls. What's more, elections departments seem stumped by the mechanics of early voting (printing those 12-page Florida ballots voter by voter?). They fail to put enough machines at the polls. They fail to provide enough ballots. They staff the polls with workers who are confused about the basic rules of the job.
By staying in line yesterday, you won the chance for a national conversation on fixing all of that. You might start by reading Rick Hasen, who covers this issue on his Election Law Blog, even when it's not national news. Doug Chapin is asking some pragmatic questions. The Brennan Center offers comprehensive information on the state of voting throughout the nation.
We'll keep covering the story. And you out there, please keep sending us stuff. Your observations made this story happen. Your staying in line kept the debate alive. Your staying involved might make a difference.
(Photo by Sarah Carter of Woodbridge, Virginia, who reports needing three and a half hours to vote, only to then be wrongly told that she needed photo ID to vote. She says an observing attorney from the Obama campaign straightened out the confusion.)