Haunted Hanging Chads: A Spooky Reminder to Vote Early

What are your Halloween plans? Will you wear a mask or costume? Will you accompany trick or treaters or greet […]

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What are your Halloween plans? Will you wear a mask or costume? Will you accompany trick or treaters or greet them at the door?

One plan you might make is to give democracy and your civil rights a treat. If your home community is having an election this November, early voting is open and available throughout Minnesota. I plan to cast my votes on or before Halloween, rather than waiting for election day.

Early voting may not give us the excitement of fulling a lever and closing and opening a curtain at the polling place. (But hey, many of those old-time voting machines were retired years ago.)

Those of us with disabilities often find that if we can vote early in person, we encounter fewer people and can get ready assistance. To me, early voting feels more private and less crowded. I sometimes react badly to scent and don’t have to go to a precinct where a helpful judge had bathed in perfume or cologne.

I was a longtime election judge and before that covered elections as a journalist for many years. I can appreciate that voting for those of us with disabilities has become so much easier.

In the 1980s, I worked in a Twin Cities suburban county where several forms of ballots were used. The county, which was in charge of elections, was converting all of the cities and rural townships to punch card balloting.

Voters would use a stylus and poke holes in the ballot. Easy, right?

Helpful county staff members attended summer and fall festivals to help the public learn how to do punch card voting. I had to chuckle at the notion of, here’s our parade, take the children to the carnival, fill a bag with candy and free stuff, watch or play a softball game . . . and hey, don’t forget to try out the fun new punch card voting system! All of the “cool kids” are doing it.

It did help that the county staff handed out candy.

One immediate problem with using a stylus is that anyone with disabilities affecting their hands had to seek assistance in voting. That was an immediate challenge that in the pre-Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) days was merely shrugged at.

Worse, the voters sometimes didn’t get a punch to be fully punched, and that resulted in hanging chads. We’ve all heard of hanging chads in elections and forced recounts. Who remembers the 1984 election, which was a big presidential year?

That was the year of said county’s shiny new punch card voting system. And it was a mess. The tiny hanging chads repeatedly jammed the ballot counting equipment. Election judges and news media waited around, finding places to nap or read while the county staff struggled. We took turns using the county’s phones – no cell phones in those days.

Our weekly paper, which went to press first thing every Wednesday, could not include county election results that week. (Those were the days of calling stories and dictating to someone typing on the other end of the line.)

So, readers, take advantage of early voting and accommodations. And if someone dressed as a hanging chad shows up at your door on Halloween, give that chad some candy.

Learn about early voting at https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/

And thanks to Ramsey County for supporting our pre-elections coverage.

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