After Florida's hanging chad fiasco in the 2000 Presidential Election, you think we would have gotten it right by now. Think again. Although "The Help America Vote Act of 2002" was passed to correct voting problems and help the disabled vote, it took New York State until 2010 to switch from manual levers to electronic voting machines. Albany was even sued by the Justice Department in 2006 for lack of compliance with the new law. New York's first electronic voting run, during the Sept. 14 primary, was far from perfect. Voters were put off by something that had never seen before. They complained ballots were confusing or tough to read; they saw broken down machines or none at all.
A review by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says there were problems in all five New York City boroughs, with more than 700 sites experiencing voting machine malfunctions, numerous reports of poll sites opening late, and improperly trained poll workers. "That was a royal screw up," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the primary. The New York Board of Elections is now re-training 36-thousand poll workers to better serve voters on November 2nd, says BOE Commissioner J.C. Polansco. It's also offering voters a pre-election day demonstration. Keep in mind - other states are electronically-challenged too. In Illinois, Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney's name was spelled "Rich Whitey" on some machines - and poll workers are working feverishly to correct the mistake before November 2nd.
Ohio, Florida and California have had persistent problems, too, with things like improperly filled out ballots and machine malfunctions. Lawrence Norden, from the NYU Brennan Center, who studies elections, says New York may have avoided some problems if it had conducted a trial run with the new machines. Norden claims many voting problems could be avoided if states actually shared information. "There's no central place where voting problems are reported and somebody can screen them and then report to election officials, 'here's a common problem with your machine, be aware of it.' "
Christine O'Donnell wasn't the first to say “I Am You” – but you could argue she was the first to say it in a way that grabbed America's attention in way few politicians have. The "I Am You” political strategy is ubiquitous - it seems to be in every politician's playbook, no matter how ridiculous it might sound. Perhaps you're wondering why?
“They do it because it’s been done,” says Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman. “That was a message that resonated years ago, but the electorate is a much more sophisticated electorate,” he adds. To win votes, politicians bowl, drink whisky, hunt and ride horses. But President Ronald Reagan’s horse was more subtle than, say, Bill Clinton grabbing burgers at McDonald’s, with his jogging shorts, and marriage problems. Bill Clinton was a baby-boomer's "I Am You" dream. He connected with them - and won. Analysts say the I'm-like-you strategy really exploded in 2008.
On the campaign trail, Sarah Palin gave shout outs to “everyday American people, like the hockey mom and Joe Six-Pack. And although some political strategists might say it's a tired tactic - the idea of you running the country resonated with many voters. “Because they’re angry, they don’t trust anybody,” says Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia. “Who are they most likely to trust? Themselves.” But, is that what voters really want? Do they want a peanut farmer, like Jimmy Carter? A cowboy like George W. Bush? A Good Ole’ Boy like Clinton? Or a hockey mom like Plain – to run the country? In the end, says Zimmerman, “this election is not about whether a politician is like the electorate, its about what the politician is going to do for the electorate. That's what the electorate is demanding today and that's really what resonates.”
We'd like to know what you think...do you want a politician to be like you?
By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke, CNN
Chuck Newell runs the National Gypsum Plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. His company makes drywall: in fact, National Gypsum's drywall could be in your home right now. National Gypsum is proudly "green." All of the drywall manufactured there is made of synthetic gypsum - a substance recycled from material taken directly from First Energy Corporation's nearby Bruce Mansfield power plant after it burns coal to make electricity.
In a good year, Newell says, the plant will operate 24/7, using an excess of 800,000 tons of material. But after the housing crisis forced him to cut his plant's operations to just three days a week, Newell is worried things might get even worse.
His "green company" may go bust because the EPA is considering whether to label all waste from coal burning plants - like coal ash and synthetic gypsum - hazardous."Our biggest concern is that if we are qualified in with the rest of the material that comes from the power plant, as hazardous, or even if we're given an offset category that our product may be tainted," Newell says. The stigma, he fears, will stick.
Here is one reason why: Little Blue Run, FirstEnergy's 976-acre retention pond, where tons of coal ash ends up. Coal ash contains arsenic,cadmium and lead - substances that can cause cancer.
Neighbors fear the stuff is seeping into the ground water and into their underground wells. Both the Pennyslvania Department of Environmental Protection and FirstEnergy say Little Blue has not contaminated any residential drinking well.
National Gypsum doesn't get any of its raw material from Little Blue. The synthetic gypsum comes from taking waste from smokestack gases, and passing it through limestone slurry, to create gypsum. Combining gypsum with recycled paper creates the plant's drywall.
Newell is sympathetic to those who want tougher restrictions on coal ash, but says not all waste from the burning of coal is hazardous. According to the EPA, synthetic gypsum poses no health risks. "There's nothing hazardous about it, it's the equivalent of natural gypsum that you mine in a quarry," Newell says. It is so ubiquitous, Newell adds, it is even found in the offices of the EPA in Washington. The EPA should make a final decision on whether to label coal waste hazardous next year. It estimates the cost of adopting the proposal that changes coal ash to "hazardous" waste to be about $1.5 billion dollars - but says the costs will be offset by health and other benefits. Most of the initial costs would likely be passed on to consumers, both the EPA and power industry officials say.
By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke, CNN
(CNN) – Marcy Hughes has lived in western Pennsylvania her whole life. Her home in Beaver County is like a picture postcard: Rolling hills. Lush farmland. Great schools. Back in the 1970s, Hughes says, she listened enthusiastically as representatives for Pennsylvania Power proposed building "Little Blue Run." Sure, its purpose was a place to dispose of coal ash - the waste left over from burning coal for electricity - but, that coal ash would serve as a foundation for a man-made lake.
"They said that they were going to have it where you could swim, you could picnic - they even showed a sailboat."
Today, Little Blue Run is a 1300-acre facility, with an impoundment measuring nearly 1000 acres, and 400 feet deep in some places. FirstEnergy Corporation, the utility company that now owns Little Blue, pumps tons of coal ash and other waste into it every year.
But, you won't find any sailboats. The EPA says that coal ash contains toxic agents like arsenic, cadmium and lead, some of which are known to cause cancer. And, Little Blue is about to get bigger. FirstEnergy produces so much waste to make electricity, it wants to build an adjacent facility to store it.
Little Blue Run is one of about 600 surface impoundments in the country that contain coal ash from coal-fired power plants like FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. In addition, there are about 300 landfills containing dry waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency is now holding hearings across the country on coal ash waste. After the disastrous coal ash spill in Tennessee two years ago, the agency is considering whether to toughen regulations and classify coal-ash as "hazardous" waste. Right now it's considered ordinary garbage. The proposed changes could have an enormous financial impact on the hundreds of coal-fired power plants that produce half the nation's electricity.