Many Americans now know that our methods of casting ballots are antiquated, inaccurate, and subject to fraud.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Paper ballots that need to be punched have been known to be prepunched by someone in the voting bureau. Because of faulty equipment or voter error, the chads, those now notorious bits of paper that get punched out, too often just get partially expunged. The ballot is left with a partially punched chad, or just an indentation, or dimple.
Voters have now come to the awful realization that after all their effort to study the issues and take the trouble to vote, their vote may not be counted at all. Whole stacks of ballots might be "missing." Or their vote may be tossed out on a technicality beyond their control, such as the ballots from the military abroad, where the military postal service fails to apply a postmark.
So long as America practices mass democracy, we could at least apply modern technology to the job, along with better security. Reform should start with voter registration. To its credit, the United States of America is still free enough so that we do not have mandatory national identification cards. So typically a voter may register without showing any ID.
A voter should have to prove that he is a USA citizen before being registered to vote. He could provide a passport number, or license and birth certificate or some other documentation of citizenship. All forms of ID are subject to deception, but at least the requirement to demonstrate citizenship would cut down on fraud.
Then let's stop this nonsense of mail-in ballots. The thousands of ballots coming in days after the election, subject to problems such as missing postmarks, delay the official count, and in a close race, make it impossible to know who won until days or weeks later.
Instead, let's use modern technology to speed up the voting and make it more accurate. We can have machines now similar to ATM terminals with electronic ballots, where the voter keys in his votes, and his vote is instantly and accurately recorded. They can be made available a week before the election day, so that voters may cast a ballot when convenient for them.
But it is not enough just to have electronic voting. There also needs to be a check on possible counting fraud. As with voting machines, electronic voting requires a computer program to tally the votes, and the program can easily be fiddled with to adjust the count. The machines need to also print out a paper ballot, just like ATM machines print out paper receipts.
The paper ballot would be machine readable and would have a unique ID number. These would be placed in a box, and after the computers have added up all the votes, the paper ballots would be processed and counted as a check. If these differ from the electronic count, the paper total would prevail.
No system is foolproof, but with both electronic voting and printed paper ballots, there would be several checks on fraud. First, the voter could look over the ballot to make sure it is accurate. If he wanted to, he could ask for a second ballot and void his first one, which would be deleted from the computer data base.
The political parties and any interested citizen would be able to witness the ballot process. The computer program used to count the ballots would be published on the internet. A political party could test the process before or after the election.
The West Coast should close their voting at 7 PM rather than 8 PM, Alaska and Hawaii closing earlier, and the East Coast should stay open until 10 PM, so that the country all votes at the same time. We can't and should not stop reporters from conducting exit polls, but the radio and television broadcasters should be prohibited from announcing any results until the voting is finished. Then within minutes, the results would be published on the internet.
The mess of fraud, litigation, and political conflict in Florida will spur calls for changes in our voting methods. Reform should go in the direction both of using better technology and getting better security. Electronic voting with paper backups seems the sensible way to conduct elections for a democracy. No less than the sovereignty of the individual citizen is at stake.
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.