Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Carnival of Solutions: Restoring Confidence

posted by Jazz at 11/03/2004 04:02:00 PM


The second Carnival of Solutions is up, and this week it is at Miniluv. The topic this week concerns the problem of restoring voter confidence in the electoral process. Since I love a good carnival, and the topic is near and dear to my heart, I'll take a shot at it.

This is a problem. We need to have faith in the democratic process for it to work. When people believe that the vote is a scam, it will not work. We need to trust the vote counting procedure because without that trust, we risk sliding into violence or worse.

This year could be worse that 2000 and the consequences could be worse as well. How do we solve that? How do we restore faith and confidence in the voting process? How do we make sure that there is little to no dispute in each and every election? How do we make sure that every vote is counted accurately and fairly?

This is a broad challenge. There is no silver bullet to solve this problem because it is so broad. But there are solutions out there and many ways to tackle this problem. Let?s hear some.

It's important to examine exactly why it is that people have, in some cases lost faith in the system. From a very high level, there are a few reasons.

First, I believe that many people feel that their vote, even if counted correctly, doesn't mean very much. They can feel marginalized, particularly if they are in a "safe state" which will go to one candidate or the other no matter which way they vote. Second, and on a related topic, voters may feel that they are simply taken for granted by the candidates. Third, and most seriously, is a suspicion among voters that the system may not be purely honest, and that tampering may occur, rendering their vote meaningless and producing flawed results.

I agree that there is no "silver bullet" for this situation, but I think there are some courses of action to look into which could help. The first two problems I mentioned are both caused by the same culprit - the Electoral College. This antiquated system, which I have cursed here before, is set up in such a way that 17% of the population could, in theory, elect a president over the objections of the other 83%. While that specific scenario is unlikely to ever play out, the mere fact that it could should be a warning sign. We have already had two presidents elected who were favored by less people than the opponent.

People seem frightened of direct elections for a variety of reasons, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some middle ground. Two states use systems of apportioned awarding of their electoral vote. This means that it is not always going to be "winner take all" for their EC votes. This year, another state tried to implement a similar system, but a massive press campaign got it voted down at the end. We should allow states to apportion their EC votes based either on a percentage of the popular vote in the state, or another system, like Maine's, where it is broken up by their representative districts. Such systems would force candidates to work for votes and serve the interest of everyone in order to win, not just a handful of people in the few states that are "in play" this season. This year, President Bush was elected, in effect, by six states.

The problem of potential voter corruption has deep roots and is very hard to deal with. The chief problem is that the people who are in charge of administering and running the voting system are people - regular Americans who also vote and have a vested interest in the outcome of the election. We're letting the foxes guard the chicken coop. Obviously not every election official is going to act in a corrupt fashion, but the few who do taint the image of the entire system. Perhaps it's time to take all of this out of the hands of party members in state government, administered by the ubiquitous "blue haired old ladies" and make these important positions paid jobs. They could even be elected positions, pertaining only to voting, which would be subject to performance monitoring and corrective action in the case of fraud.

Also the machines that we use are subject to tampering and the registration process is rife with errors. We're already spending tens of millions of dollars all across the country to upgrade voting machines. Congress need to finalize a standard set of requirements that would apply to voting in all states. Machines should be easy to use, but also have to provide a paper trail for the purpose of recounts. Information on how to use the machines needs to be very widely disseminated to the public, along with explanations of their security features and what measures are in place to avoid tampering.

There are constant cries of voter fraud because the voter registration rolls are filled with people who are dead, no longer living in the area, or simply imaginary. These rolls need to be purged every year. We already have to renew our drivers licenses every so often - what would be the harm in just wiping the voter rolls every year or two and having people reregister? A host of ills could be cured that way, and the increase in voter confidence would be well worth the cost.

There... some random thoughts on how to make a bad situation better. Stop by miniluv and put in your own.