Things To Act
Saturday, February 05, 2005
The sight of Iraqi voters celebrating their new freedom a week ago was inspiring and moving. I wonder if we would not do better to follow their example. American voting has followed trends toward absentee balloting, early balloting, easier registration, and generally making it easier and easier to vote, even as fewer eligible voters bother (2004 being an exception to this trend). The reasons for declining turnout are varied, and declining turnout in and of itself is not necessarily bad. However, I suspect our political culture would be strengthened if voting itself held more significance, and I suspect that actually going to the polls provides a more meaningful connection to the process, especially now that we've seen brave citizens of other nations risk their lives to excercise a right we take for granted.

Of course, American voting also faces significant problems with fraud. The Washington gubernatorial election had significant problems (Democrats also claim significant problems in Ohio, though they have considerably less evidence). Reports circulated before the 2004 election of high numbers of voters double-registered in two states, with no mechanism to catch cheaters. Regardless of how rarely election outcomes are actually changed by fraud, if voters see the system as easy to manipulate, confidence will decline.

I have a few suggestions:
*Require the ink. It's a quite simple method of making sure no one can vote more than once. One complaint is that this will make absentee balloting impossible, which brings me to:
*Require a physical appearance at the polls. You could still request an absentee ballot--but on Election Day, you'd have to find a polling place to drop it off at (and get your finger inked). This still enables out-of-state voters like myself to conveniently vote absentee, while ensuring that the person whose ballot it is actually filled it out. This may delay results in close elections, but that already happens anyway. Any voter in the U.S. should have little trouble finding a precinct at which to drop off an absentee ballot, and voters overseas could use embassies or military bases. States should be able to come up with an easy and secure way to ship all of the ballots dropped off to the appropriate states for counting.

Both of these suggestions would eliminate many problems, and not be too difficult to implement. We could even add same-day registration, since it would be impossible to vote twice. Democrats traditionally like same-day, but Republicans mistrust it because of the potential for easy fraud.

Eliminating gerrymandering and lifting limits on political speech would also invigorate the electoral process, but these would be more complicated to implement. Making voting more secure and more meaningful shouldn't be.

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