Deltaphobia: Change is Hard, Especially in Elections


[Image courtesy of ecinc]

Yesterday, Wisconsin held its first primary election under the state’s new voter ID law. Based on the news roundup by my colleague Mindy Moretti over at, the day seems to have gone well overall (it was, by all accounts, a low-turnout affair) but there were some issues that may bear watching as more high-profile contests on the calendar approach:

  • + There was some confusion at the polls about whether the address on the required ID needed to be current – it doesn’t, but the occasional voter got caught in the crossfire; and
  • + There were lots of new pollworkers, given that many experienced pollworkers had declined to return in the wake of the new ID law – and sometimes the new pollworkers’ lack of experience resulted in other problems – in one case, a voter whose ballot wouldn’t feed into the voting machine was asked to sign it.

There is no indication that these issues were widespread, but they are nonetheless useful as a way of understanding the disruptive power of change in any endeavor – but especially in the world of elections. Elections are complex and require some degree of routinization – and any change to the routine can have consequences. I call this phenomenon deltaphobia (which a quick Google search indicates I am not the first to use) – a resistance to change that manifests itself in the polling place on Election Day.

Indeed, when I look at which states or localities are at the greatest risk of experiencing election problems, I look at those communities where voters, pollworkers and election officials are experiencing something new.

Please note that these effects aren’t limited to communities adopting voter ID – they occur whenever any change to the process – new machines, new deadlines, new polling location, etc. – is in play. In fact, I would suggest that change-related problems are far more likely – and thus predictable – than turnout or other effects at the polls.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for opportunities to improve the electoral process – but everyone involved (and especially the policymakers and advocates lobbying for changes) need to keep in mind that change is hard – and plan for the time (and trouble) it takes for change to occur.

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