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Final Draft - Reformation of the United States’ System of Elections

Reformation of the United States’ System of Elections

The reformation of the United States voting system has come under attack as of late because of its inconsistencies and major flaws. In November of 2000, the need for reform became obvious due to its failure to accurately and reliably record a citizen’s intended vote. Now that the country as a whole resolved to modify the existing system of elections, one question remained: what measures should be taken to ensure that future elections should not fall into comparison with the 2000 election?

To answer this question, the problems that were raised during the election had to closely examined and analyzed. The 2000 presidential election was characterized by chaos and confusion for over a month. The world’s eye was turned to Florida and its unprecedented situation regarding the recount of all ballots cast in the election. Two of the most notable problems were the punch-card ballots and the standard by which these ballots would be recounted. A significant number of the punch-card ballots had “hanging chads” that prevented the ballots from being easily counted. Several different methods of counting the ballots each treated the chads differently, ergo many unique elections results surfaced. Ironically, a quote by communist leader Joseph Stalin most accurately described this fiasco: “Those who cast votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything” (Soudriette 133). The set of results taken to be the official tally provided the victor to be George W. Bush, but the American people had lost some of its trust in the election system. The United States had embarrassed itself on a national level, and the rest of the world knew it. As Alexei Mitrofanov, a Russian parliamentarian, said, “America has been lecturing us for eight years on democracy. Now it’s our turn to lecture you” (Soudriette). As the system now stands, each state controls its own system of elections. That is, a state regulates its voter qualifications and registration, its voting methods and equipment, and the operation of its polling places. In an effort to make each national election run as smoothly as possible, the United States should create a uniform national system for elections to national office.

The months following November 2000 were characterized by an outcry for an improved voting system. Scholarly journals, editorial pieces, and mainstream magazines were filled to the brim with articles criticizing the inefficient and inaccurate techniques used in the Florida recount, such as this excerpt from the Journal of Democracy: “If the United States has a flawed election system at home, how can it maintain its credibility in promoting democracy abroad? It must lead by example by making the necessary improvements to bring the country's election system into the twenty-first century” (Soudriette). Many of these articles called for federal law that set minimum standards for voter registration and voting machinery. Other critics suggested that there be a roughly uniform national system for elections.

In order to determine what method of voting causes the least error and which is most reliable, a study was conducted and its results published in 1992. The authors of this study (Shocket, Heighberger, and Brown) determined that “in an ideal sense, the ballot… should be as invisible or as transparent as possible. Transparent in three senses: first, it should be unobtrusive so as not to inhibit the complete exercise of the franchise; second, it should be neutral in the sense of not giving one candidate or issue preference over another; and third, it should be simple enough to insure the voter translates his or her political preference correctly” (Shocket et al). With this said, they conducted an exercise which compared three typical voting systems: the punch-card ballot, the paper ballot, and the direct recording electronic ballot. Their findings were not surprising; the electronic ballot was found to be the most accurate voting system because it minimized over-voting, which is the act of voting for more than one candidate, and it was the simplest design.

Frederic Solop published an article in 2001 documenting the participation in the 2000 Arizona Democratic primary, “…the first binding Internet election for public office” (Solop). In his discussion, Solop stated that “Arizona experienced a surge of participation in the 2000 Democratic primary” as a result of online voting being an option. Also, “Internet voting is attractive to both well-educated and younger voters” (Solop), which would encourage the 18-25 age group to overcome its typically low voter turnout.

These two studies imply that current voting machinery is obsolete. Not only do they clearly state that electronic and internet voting is more accurate than current punch-card and paper ballots, they also reveal that they are much simpler and are easier to use. The findings of both studies suggest that the United States must move towards a more modern, reliable, and uniform means of tabulating votes.

In the weeks following the 2000 presidential election, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) issued “a series of broad recommendations for state and local government action. These included: modernizing the voting process where necessary with new equipment and technologies; implementing well-defined and consistent standards for what counts as a vote; adopting uniform statewide standards and procedures for both recounts and contested elections; and conducting aggressive voter-education programs” (Smolka). The states were also asked to professionally train poll workers and to keep accurate voter registration databases. In addition to these measures, Smolka introduces his own ideas of ways the system should be improved, namely an increase in funding for the Federal Election Commission and its Office of Election Administration. According to Smolka, if the FEC had possessed adequate funding at the time of the election, some of the problems in Florida may have been avoided.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 instituted a policy where the states must update their voting equipment to a standard set forth in the Act, and a national voter registration database was established. The HAVA should be a preliminary step toward a uniform system of national elections.

After the HAVA, many states began moving towards computerized voting systems, most notably the touch-screen variety. The computerized voting is perhaps the most efficient and user-friendly method of voting. Results are almost instantaneously tabulated and there is no confusion with how the vote is to be interpreted. Amidst the heralds of electronic voting, the main criticism of the system is security. Most concerns lie in the fact that some hacker could adjust the voting tabulations or could tamper with the electronic memory cards from which the votes are recorded. In response to the criticisms of this new method of tabulating votes, Frank B. Calio, a commissioner of elections in Delaware, emphasizes his confidence in electronic voting in an editorial published in the Delaware Voice in 2003: “In the last election, two House seats in Sussex, [Delaware], were decided by 50 votes or less. The losing candidates did not ask for a recount. They stated, ‘We trust the integrity of the voting machines.’ That's the best testimony I could give about the security of electronic voting machines” (Calio). Voter fraud could also be diminished with the existence of an computerized voter registration database, such as set forth in the HAVA. There are also no tangible records of voters’ response, but this could be satisfied with the production of a receipt upon the submission of the vote. Numerous states have adapted to this system, and others are not far behind. With a uniform voting system, elections will be able to run more smoothly because there will be no confusion as to what the intentions of the voters were. To establish this system, Congress must initiate legislation that enumerates the specifics of any such system, and must also see that a competent and worthy administration, such as the Office of Election Administration of the FEC, regulates the standards set forth in any such legislation.

As for local and state elections systems, these should be left entirely to the discretion of the states. The Office of the Secretary of State of each state is responsible for its own elections office, and thereby the system of voting varies from state to state. Each state must retain the privilege to maintain its own election methods as to serve the needs of its residents.

For any vote tabulation to correctly convey the intentions of voters, it is implicit that the United States institute a uniform system of elections. The implication of such a system would simplify the tabulation process, correctly record a voter’s intended choice, prevent over-voting, and decrease the possibility of voter fraud. In conclusion, through a system based on uniformity and simplicity, the United States’ method of voting will be safer, more secure, and more accurate.

Works Cited
Calio, Frank B. "Voting Machines are Reliable." [webpage] December 26, 2003; [Accessed April 18, 2005]
Peter A. Shocket, Neil R. Heighberger, Clyde Brown. 1992. “The Effect of Voting Technology on Voting Behavior in a Simulated Multi-Candidate City Council Election: A Political Experiment of Ballot Transparency.” The Western Political Quarterly 45.2: 521-537.
Richard G. Smolka. 2001. “Recommendations for Reform.” Journal of Democracy 12.2: 146-151.
Frederic I. Solop. 2001. “Digital Democracy Comes of Age: Internet Voting and the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary Election.” PS: Political Science and Politics 34.2: 289-293.
Richard Soudriette. 2001. “Promoting Democracy at Home.” Journal of Democracy 12.2: 133-138.

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