Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Letís end voting debacles

Despite the crucial nature of U.S. presidential elections, episodes of irrationality and incompetence are becoming dependably prevalent.

Florida’s election officials seem to have the remarkable ability, election after election, to make a mess of their processes. Florida gave us hanging chads and U.S. Supreme Court interference in the electoral process. Uncertain polling hours and 14-page ballots are the defining characteristics of this year’s Florida fiasco.  

This year, Florida has taken some extra crazy-making steps to make it difficult for voters. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that he had not approved additional early voting hours and tried to shut down the process with hundreds already in line. Problems worsened when tow trucks began to haul away the cars of those waiting in line to vote! 

Sadly, election officials across the country seem to have taken a page from Florida’s book. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted created questionable voting rules during the run-up to the election in his state, including reducing voting hours and changing voter identification procedures. Having lost in court over earlier actions, he and Ohio’s voting remain at the center of legal disputes as final voting begins. 

Unlike in the years following the 2000 election debacle in Florida, this election should prompt concerted efforts to create consistent and fair voting rules and procedures that can be applied nationwide, efforts that go well beyond feel-good platitudes encouraging people to vote. 

It’s not amusing that the most basic concept of citizenship in a democracy seems to elude election officials. Voting is not a privilege. It is a right. It is the job of election officials to make that right available to all citizens, not block it.

Officials in New York and New Jersey are providing a good starting point. In the face of the chaos created by Hurricane Sandy, election officials are setting up generators to power voting machines. That’s fine, but not enough. So they are also allowing voters to use any polling place in the state that they can get to rather than restricting people to pre-assigned polls, the usual practice in elections. New Jersey ballots can be submitted by e-mail, a unique experiment in convenient early voting. 

These approaches are based on the assumption that threats to the opportunity to vote are far worse than the possibility of fraudulent votes. That assumption should be the starting point in every American election. It is time to replace the antiquated crazy quilt of rules and oversight that too often make a mockery of American elections. The vote is too precious to be left to politics.

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