Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It's Time for Election Reform

The 2004 presidential election is mostly over now and, by all counts, George W. Bush has won re-election. I am truly grateful. Abortion and terrorism are two of the biggest issues facing us today and Bush holds what I believe to be the correct position on these issues.

We now need to work on election reform. From the 2000 debacle in Florida to what was almost a similar issue this year in Ohio, the need for election reform is clear. Different states have different rules, different times, and different equipment, and this makes it difficult to come up with any cohesive standard. SinceI have neither the power nor the responsibility for making any such changes, that puts me in the perfect position to voice my opinion on the topic.

First and foremost, we need to have a unified method for identifying voters. I hate to say it because I generally oppose this idea, but this is a big argument in favor of a national ID card containing the photograph, name, and address of the voter, along with an encoded unique ID number (NOT the much-abused social security number). Were the issue confined to individual states, this wouldn’t be as much of a problem. However, several voters are registered in both Ohio and Florida and there is nothing stopping these people from voting twice in national elections.

A national ID card and secure database system that tracks voter activity would go a long way towards solving problems that span states. Only a single vote per person could be counted in a single election, national or local, whether sent in via ballot box, absentee, or provisional. Address changes would be virtually immediate and would close several loopholes allowing multiple votes from the same person. Proper training of polling place workers would not be as critical to preventing fraud. This would also allow people to vote at virtually any location and still allow their vote to count only once, and only for the proper locale. Finally, this ID would be required to vote. No ID, no vote.

The next change would be to require cross-checking voter information with local census information. This would help in situations like Franklin County, Ohio, where there are more registered voters than residents. It would also allow dead people’s names to be properly removed from the voter registration lists.

I would also implement a static range of polling hours. 6:00am to 8:00pm seems to offer most people the opportunity to get to the polls. Along these lines, I just found out that a law in New Hampshire allows the polls to close once all registered voters have used the ballot box. I would include this as an exception to the static polling hours range.

All voting machines would be required to produce paper copies of registered votes, with copies made available upon request to the people placing the votes. This would greatly help in any recounts and would provide extra verification that all equipment is functional.

“Incorrect votes” (i.e.: incomplete ballots or ballots with multiple selections) would governed by national regulations. Incomplete ballots would be allowed and, on computerized touch-screens, an “Are you sure?” prompt would be displayed. Ballots with multiple selections would be discarded, again with an appropriate warning on touch-screen voting machines.

One of the most common criminal acts today is identity theft. We would need to formulate a cohesive set of regulations and procedures to be followed in case of voter identity theft where a thief manages to place a vote in lieu of the real owner of the ID card. Also, digital cameras should be made available in order to take pictures of would-be voters whose ID picture differs significantly from their actual appearance.

Finally, provisions for emergency situations (bad weather, terrorism, natural disaster, faulty equipment, etc.) would have to be implemented. We may have to allow for a certain number of people to be disenfranchised under certain circumstances. One example would be if a relatively small percentage of voters were unable to cast their ballots because of flooding, but their votes would not have affected the outcome of the election.

I realize these are not easy changes to implement and may not even be economically feasible for a number of locales. However, it is important to our nation as a whole that confidence be restored in our election procedures by drastically reducing the potential for both fraud and disenfranchisement.

I invite any readers to comment with changes to this post. It may just be that we have the beginnings of a much needed national change within our collective head.


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