Cape Gazette
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Politics

Director says technology helped ease Election Day hassles

By Don Flood | Nov 20, 2012

When Ken McDowell, director of the Sussex County Department of Elections, counts his blessings this Thanksgiving he may well include those wonders of technology - smartphones.

“If anything saved the day, they saved the day,” said McDowell, referring to how smartphones helped make for an easier Election Day.

The first elections after redistricting are always the most difficult. Voters get confused because their polling places have changed.

The registration cards people receive in the mail may have the correct polling address, but, as McDowell says, you can’t make people read them.

(Truth-in-column-writing notice: I did this once myself. I went to the same polling place I had always gone to, only to be told I had to vote elsewhere. Yup, my polling card was correct.)

But poll workers armed with smartphones quickly untangled those problems. All they had to do was go to the Department of Elections website, type in the voter’s name and up popped the correct polling place.

This is McDowell’s third post-redistricting election and he said it was the easiest. A relatively easy Election Day, both locally and nationally? That’s something we can all be thankful for.

Confusion remains about ID requirements

Shortly after arriving at Cape Henlopen High School on Election Day, I heard about a problem concerning voter ID.

“Uh-oh,” I thought. “Here we go. It’s going to be a long day.”

A poll worker had told a voter that a photo ID was required. An onsite supervisor agreed.

That was incorrect. In Delaware, no photo ID is required. In fact, no ID or polling card of any kind is required, though poll workers will ask for an ID. If the voter doesn’t have one, he can still vote. He just has to sign an affidavit.

Fortunately, it got straightened out.

Tim Willard, the Georgetown attorney on call Election Day for the Democrats, said he heard about few problems, “maybe two or three” that were quickly resolved by the Department of Elections.

“When you look relative to other parts of the world, even other parts of this country, I’m pretty proud how Sussex County handles things,” Willard said.

Gambling: What side is the state on?

A story in Friday’s Cape Gazette highlighted the state’s odd and sometimes contradictory positions on gambling.

The state police recently began cracking down on slot machines in veterans' halls. Some have been turned off, some removed, including those in Lewes and Long Neck. Organizations that don’t comply with the newly energized enforcement face the loss of their liquor license.

The illegal machines had been ignored for years, but police had good reason for finally taking action: They were receiving complaints from the spouses of veterans.

The officials quoted didn’t say why the spouses had complained, but the answer is obvious: Veterans were gambling away money they couldn’t afford to lose.

The trouble is, these organizations depend upon this revenue stream to support programs for veterans.

So here’s the situation: Spouses demand the state shut down slot machines because they’re harming veterans. The organizations want to keep the slot machines so they can help veterans.

Meanwhile, the state is on one hand discouraging gambling - because it’s harming families - and on the other hand doing everything possible to encourage more gambling. This summer Delaware passed a law to allow online gambling, which, if anything, will be more of a temptation than the veterans' hall slot machines.

I was working at the Dover Post when the casino opened. Shortly afterward, we began hearing anecdotal evidence that local stores and restaurants were seeing a drop in businesses.

It’s only logical. If people are losing money in casinos - and that’s the only way casinos can make money - they have less to spend elsewhere.

But I don’t think the state looks hard enough at that side of the issue.

We hear a lot about jobs and economic development and money for education. With these slot machines, we hear a lot about how the money supports programs for vets.

We don’t hear as much about spouses begging the state police to do something about the slot machines. I doubt it was because their husbands lost a few bucks. I’m guessing those complaints reflect real financial hardship.

I’m enough of a realist to know Delaware will never get out of the gambling business. And it’s likely veterans organizations will be able to continue with their slot machines.

But the state has a responsibility to find out how much gambling is hurting Delaware’s families.

Here’s a bet I’m willing to make: Those spouses who called the state police represent the tip of the iceberg.

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