The butterfly ballot flew away with the presidency this year, and it is well nigh time for election procedure to enter the 21st century along with the rest of the country. The signs of the time demand attention: The word "chad" has replaced "confetti" as the popular term for "small piece of paper" and thousands of votes, in counties from Palm Beach in Florida to Cook County in Illinois, were discarded due to appropriately labeled "voting irregularities" and double punching.
The most problematic issue with the way vote certification proceeded in Florida was the total lack of uniform balloting. Because voting procedures differed from county to county, "certification" after the vote required a different response in each county. In some, the situation demanded a simple hand count of mechanically tallied ballots to ensure proper operation of machines. In others, a committee of experts had to be called in to scrutinize "dimples" on index-card-sized sheets of paper, to assess voter intent. In a national election, there simply isn't a reason why procedures should not to be as uniform as possible across the nation or at least within each state.
Many proposed reforms have gained national popularity of late: voting on the weekend, declaring a voting holiday, extending voting hours and instituting simultaneous poll openings and closings between all time zones. But while these policies might have changed the outcome of the current election by bringing more and different people to the polls, none of them would have solved the current problem introduced by archaic and inconsistent voting procedures. Neither would any of them increase the reliability and rapidity of recounts.
Balloting must be standardized. Clearly, this has got out of hand. The Republicans have proposed that people vote by circling their favorite candidate's photograph with a crayon. The Democratic offer the suggestion that whatever votes are cast be recounted until their candidate wins. In honor of the Democratic candidate's inventive public service, I advocate that voting be conducted over the Internet.
All Americans have a Social Security number. That number or some other "voter identification code" would verify voters' identity just as picture identification currently does at most polling places. Voters can then vote online either from the comfort of their own home, or at their regular polling place using publicly provided computers. After a person has voted, a confirmation screen would pop up reading, "You voted for --; Is this correct?" followed by a "No, I want to change my vote" and a "Yes, count my vote" option.
Such an electronic balloting system would provide rapid and nearly, if not entirely foolproof, ballot counting and certification. The system could be set up to keep a list of voters and whom they voted for. Hard-core civil libertarians might contest the possibility that such a system wouldn't maintain voter anonymity. But stipulations could be legislated to prevent disclosure of this information except in the event of a court order based on substantiated allegations of voter fraud.
Election after American election using the current procedures has been fraught with unnumbered acts of voter fraud and ballot stuffing, which such an electronic system would effectively counteract, if not prevent entirely.
This procedure has several marked and readily apparent advantages over the current system: In addition to making vote counting and certification more reliable, online ballots would also make civic responsibility an even easier duty to uphold. Augmented convenience and security would also serve to enfranchise more citizens who might otherwise be inhibited by the difficulty of finding time in their busy day to vote. Furthermore, the demand for precinct voting supervisors would be diminished as well by home and work balloting, which would reduce the number of voters showing up to vote in person at each precinct.
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