Saturday, September 11, 2004


Why do people make voting such a huge pain in the ass issue? I was watching CSPAN this morning and a representative of the Free Congress Foundation (conservative political think tank) was the guest. The topic was the upcoming election and how it will be conducted. Apparently this organization has a study coming out that gives grades to counties and states as to how conduct the election (paper versus electronic ballots, for instance, as well as the consistency of each method throughout the state).

Viewers of CSPAN called in to mostly object to electronic machine voting. I heard a conspiracy theorist from Massachussetts call in complaining that all of the companies that make the machines are owned by Republicans and therefore the elections will be rigged. A couple of different elderly citizens called complaining that they didn't trust electronic voting (one said that he hadn't ever used an ATM and was proud of it). A smaller number of people called in suggesting that they liked the idea, but didn't trust the veracity of the method, given that it can be hacked and/or fail. Internet voting was discussed and apparently the Pentagon has tested a method of that for it's troops, but it isn't satisfied with the security of the method (which made me wonder about the security of it's other communications, but I digress). The majority of the callers were definitely skittish about electronic voting and they were all passionate about their views (good for them!).

This got me to thinking about voting a little bit. Why does it have to be so painful? Politicians lament every year about the number of voters, but they do little to make it easier to vote. One great thing for me is absentee voting. Shawn and I enjoy it because we can sit at home, discuss the issues, and then mark our ballots while sipping bloody mary's on a Sunday morning. Some people voice concerns that absentee balloting in some states allow voters to cast their votes weeks in advance which means any last minute shenanigans that might influence the election will not be taken into account by the voter. This doesn't bother me for a couple of reasons. First, I don't tend to cast my absentee ballot until the weekend before an election. Secondly, people who do vote very early are not likely to change their minds about their votes unless something really drastic happens. Absentee ballots work for me, but not everyone is in favor of it. So what other ways can we make voting easier on people?

How about, and this is not an original or a particularly new idea, voting on a weekend? Why not require every employer to give an employee at least a half day to a day off on either a Saturday or a Sunday so that everyone has an opportunity to cast the vote? Of course, network television might not like that much because they cannot announce the votes until the polls close, but so what? They'll probably have a more accurate count to report and can avoid the egg in the face they got in 2000. Some people will take the time to do something more important in their lives, but so what? Those people may not have voted one way or the other. It will still provide more opportunity for more people to vote.

Thinking about voting methods: Why not have multiple methods for voting? In Washington, for instance, we've already got absentee and showing up to vote. When I go to the airport and fly Alaska Airlines, I have 3 choices of how to check in for my flight. I can do it online and print out a boarding pass that I present when I get on board. I can go to their kiosk and have it print my boarding pass. Or, I can go to the counter and have a person check me in. Why can't this be done for voting? The argument is that internet voting isn't safe in part because there's no way of verifying the person's identity who voted. Well, there's really no way to verify my absentee ballot either (not to mention that it's rather easy to forge driver's licenses and other IDs, if anyone wanted to go to the trouble). Why not have kiosks as well as regular old paper ballots at the polling locations? When I go to the supermarket, I can use a regular check out line or I can check out my own groceries. When I go to the bank, I can use a teller or I can use the bank machine. Why can't we do the same for our polling places?

One rap against the electronic voting machines that I heard a lot of on CSPAN was the grumbling about the machines being rigged. Hey, when I use a machine at a bank, a supermarket, or the gas station, I get a receipt for my records. Why not have the voting kiosk print out a receipt that shows your complete voting record. The voter can double check the receipt and then deposit it in a box on the way out of the door. These receipts can then be tallied to audit the voting machine records. That way, even if the machine were rigged to give the votes to one candidate or another, the paper log would still exist as a backup or safety measure.

In fact, when I shop online, I get a receipt for my purchase either in email or a page to print out or both. For online voting, the voter could receive such a receipt via email and print out. The print out would then be signed and mailed into a voting office. This is the equivalent of what I do with my absentee ballot. It doesn't add any work to the absentee system since those votes have to be tabulated anyhow.

Any other ideas as to how we can improve this? Politicians, like much of the public, tends to vacillate between loving technology in some areas (the Pentagon, for instance, as well as Fatherland Security) while distrusting it completely in other areas. Yet many private ventures (banks, retailers, etc.) rely on some of these common technologies and they have at least as much at stake as the government does in maintaining security. We should be thinking outside the box a great deal more to address these issues and making elections more accessible to everyone. Maybe then voter turnout would increase. On the other paw, maybe the political parties don't really want that to happen. Talk about your conspiracy theories!

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