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Final Draft: "Creating a Uniform National Voting System"

“The same throughout in structure” is one definition of uniform. To say that a nation with 300 million people and thousands of different voting precincts can be exactly the same in structure seems somewhat improbable. Humans can have a wide range of interpretation for the same law and this, along with random human error, can cause true uniformity to be not only improbable but nearly impossible. However, with the given times of universal communications, greater and widespread education, and recent controversies in national elections, many have talked about the possibility of a uniform national voting system. The United States, with all the current technologies and communications, should move towards a uniform national system.

There are currently many debates going on amongst politicians, their constituents, and election monitors over creating a uniform national voting system. There are several keys areas on which they focus, such as the type of voting machine used, how to determine if a ballot is acceptable or not, determining if a person is a legal voter or not, and finding adequate workers and machines for every polling location to prevent long lines and long waits. It seems that a fair majority is seeking some sort of voting reform, but to what extent and what should be included is yet to be determined. The common goal is to prevent the disenfranchisement of any and all legal registered voters.

Many different voting machines are used around the country. The five different kinds of voting technologies currently used are: hand-counted paper ballots, mechanical lever machines, computer punch cards, mark-sense forms, otherwise known as optical scan, and direct recording electronic, or DRE, systems (Fischer, 2001). These voting machine standards for federal elections, along with many other voting standards, are set at the state and local levels. This has been seen as a problem by some in the United States in that there is no uniform representation of the votes cast. Some carry paper trails, hard documents that record a person’s vote, while some, like electronic computer systems, do not. Some leave ambiguity in the system such as with the decision of whether to count a hanging chad or not, as was constantly scrutinized in the presidential election of 2000. Our first problem lies in how votes should be cast and who determines the laws to govern the casting of votes.

The electronic voting system has the disadvantage of not leaving paper trails to accurately review a person’s vote if need be. There is also a distinct possibility of voter fraud, tampering with the machines, and machine malfunction. The advantages of this voting system are that it leaves little room for error in over voting and no human error caused by counting votes (Shocket, et al 1992, 533; Fischer, 7). The mechanical lever machines also do not leave a paper trail. The advantage is that the votes are automatically tallied; therefore, there is no room for human error in counting ballots. This method, however, is dying out because the machines are no longer made (Fischer, 6).
The computer punch cards have been the cause of many problems. The problem lies partially in over voting by changing one’s mind, making more than required votes for candidates, and not knowing to get another ballot when a mistake is made. The other problem lies in hanging chads that are caused when a punch is not completely made. The question that arises is should the hanging chads be counted as a vote or not. The greatest disadvantage comes in over marking or making random marks by accident (Shocket, et al 1992, 523-4; Fischer, 6).

The oldest and most foolproof voting method from the voter’s standpoint is the paper ballot. It is very clear when the marks are made whom the voter is voting for. The error may come when the ballots have to be counted (Fischer, 5). The mark-sense method works around this last error by counting the paper ballots by machine, much the same way a Scantron is used in schools (Fischer, 7).

As you can clearly see there is not a perfect solution to this problem. Every method has a flaw of some sort. However, it seems that the mechanical lever and punch card methods can be done away with, the former because it is no longer made, and the latter because it causes many voters to be disenfranchised. The three remaining methods are where we should place our focus. The best method would leave a paper trail, so that reviews can be made and that error is curved as much as possible. It would also incorporate ways that would avoid error in counting the ballots. The method that fulfils these requirements now is the mark-sense method. If we are to ensure the least disenfranchisement as possible we must work to make the mark-sense method national.

Another problem with the current voting system is the difference between states’ rights to deem a ballot acceptable or not to count. In some states a ballot is kept despite certain discrepancies while in another states it is thrown out for the smallest mistake. This causes some voters to be disenfranchised while others are able to vote. Just as a uniform voting machine should be chosen to be limited in disenfranchising legal voters, so should a ballot type be chosen to cause the least amount of voter disenfranchisement at possible. What should also be reviewed is the prevention of voter fraud and mistake. This ballot should be exactly the same for all federally elected positions and referendums so as to show a universal reflection of the vote of the people.

Right now states have a different view of what constitutes being a legal voter. Some allow reformed felons while others do not. The constitution already provides certain universal guidelines for voting rights, specifically the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments. A universal amendment needs to be made for specific national voting rights for every citizen.
During the 2004 elections some states had places where people waited in line for as long as seven hours while in other states there was little or no wait to get to the polls (CBS News). This could have been caused by oversized polling precincts, a lack in polling precinct workers, lack of voting machines, or a lack in funds to set up adequate polling precincts. These lines could have caused people to not vote because of other priorities and impatience. Congress should provide adequate funding for every voting precinct so that every vote will be counted and everyone will have a chance to vote quickly and succinctly.

The problem with creating a uniform national system is that it causes somewhat of a uniform state and local system. If each state and local government were to follow the national guidelines for federal elections then it would make sense for them to follow the same guidelines for state and local elections. It would cost more money to provide more than one voting system. It would take more time and money to develop a different balloting system. It would take more money to train workers in election procedures for federal, state, and local elections. There are many possible problems created by creating a uniform system, but there are far greater negative consequences if we do not.

The United States Congress should begin drafting legislation to create a uniform national voting system for federal elections. They should draft legislation that creates a single type of voting machine that causes little or no error at the polls by the voters and little or no errors in tallying the vote. They should draft legislation that creates a single ballot for federal elections on a national level. They should ensure that each state’s guidelines regarding the right to vote should be the same. Finally, they should provide adequate funding to precincts to aid in preventing long lines and waits at the polls. The common goal should be to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters and we should continue to strive toward this.

CBS News. “Lines As Long As Ohio Is Close.” [web page] 2 Nov 2004; [Accessed 12 Apr 2005].

Fischer, Eric A., "Voting Technologies in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress." [web page] 21 Mar 2001; [Accessed 24 Jan 2005].

Shocket, Peter A., Neil R. Heighberger, and Clyde Brown. Jun, 1992. "The Effect of Voting Technology on Voting Behavior in a Simulated Multi-Canidate City Council Election: A Political Experiment on Ballot Tranparency." The Western Political Quarterly 45, 2: 521-537.

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