My Plan To Ensure Fair Elections

In less than 12 days, we may finally know who the next President of the United States will be.  The polls all seem to indicate that Barack Obama will whollup John McCain come November 4th, but if the elections of 2000 and 2004 have taught us anything, it’s that we have to expect the unexpected.

With early voting underway in many states, and as we draw closer to Election Day, I’ve started thinking about the 2004 election – specifically the calamity in Ohio.   In looking back on what transpired in Ohio, it is difficult to fathom that such blatant voter fraud and disenfranchisement could have happened right here in America, and that not more could have been done to thwart it.

From electronic machines that switched votes, to the deliberate under staffing of machines in Democratic counties, these are the types of things we expect from rogue nations, not Cayahoga County.   The problem is that it is still far too easy for such fraud to continue.

So, how can we correct all of this and ensure that everybody’s vote really counts?  Here are some of my ideas:

1.  Get rid of the electronic touch screen voting machines.

People shouldn’t have to wonder if the underlying software is going to have bugs, crash, or malevolently   decide to switch your vote.    I’ve done plenty of software development, and I know that my code is not always 100% bug free, even after I test and re-test sometimes.  Furthermore, when you have situations like Ohio 2004, in which the manufacturer (Diebold in this case) is in cahoots  with the Secretary of State, one can only wonder what the company directed its programmers to do.

2.  Along the lines with #1 above, there should be a standard voting system for everyone.

Why do some states vote by paper ballot, and others electronic?  It seems to me that having a variety of voting systems creates fluctuating levels of potential errors in vote tabulation.    Having lived in a number of states, I’ve experienced a different way to vote in each state.   In New Jersey, we had the voting booth where you go behind a curtain and pull the levers.  In California, I had a paper ballot.  And in North Carolina, we have optical scanners.  I think a lot of the confusion would be cleared up if a single type of system was used across the board.  To me, the optical scanner seems like the best choice.  There is some technology involved – when you insert the marked ballot into the reader, but far less room for error than with the touch screen systems.  These systems make vote tabulation easy without the increased risk of a system meltdown.

3.  Provide a receipt to every voter and make their choices available online after election day to validate that their vote was cast properly.

This is probably the most important piece – providing accountability.  Imagine after you vote, if you got a printout of all of your choices that you could verify while still at the polling location.  Along with that receipt would be some sort of PIN code that you could then use to go online after election day and verify that your votes got recorded as you entered them.  If they don’t match up, or if your votes weren’t even recorded, you could file a complaint with your state election board and provide PROOF of your vote.    Election results are not certified the night of the election, so what I would suggest would be a 15 day period starting the day after the election in which voters could check the accuracy of their votes and file complaints if they see a discrepancy.    It’s all about holding the states accountable for a fair election process.

4.  Reform the voter verification process

Within 6 months of an election, states should send a postcard to each citizen with their current voting     registration status and provide a simple way to have corrections made to items such as their legal name, address, etc.    In turn, for giving people ample time to validate their status, the state should require that photo ID be presented at the polling place and that their information match their registration.  This should alleviate concerns over Mickey Mouse getting to vote for President.

5.  Set a national standard ratio of voting machines to people.

Part of the problem with Ohio 2004, was that several counties received far fewer machines than they should have based on the number of eligible voters.   Many of those counties happened to be heavily Democratic, and may have cost John Kerry many votes due to people leaving the polling place because they just couldn’t wait in line anymore.  A national standard should be set that all states adhere to.  This would make it fair for everyone and take the partisan politics out of machine distribution.

Of course, such  a plan would require serious amounts of money, and I doubt that we will see much in the way of reform anytime soon.  Let’s just hope that we don’t see another 2000 or 2004 this year.

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