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Voting Reform

The need for voting reform has become obvious in recent years. Many people recognize the need for reform, but far fewer know which reforms would make the system better. Although it would be difficult to say for certain that particular propositions would rid the system of any problems, there are some specific suggestions that would be worth the time of experimentation. New standardized voting procedures should be enforced to create a uniform national system for elections to national office within the United States, including voter qualifications and registration, the operation of polling places, and the machinery of voting (electronic, paper ballot, etc.).

Voting reform is not an issue that has recently arisen from the 2000 and 2004 presidential races; it is an issue that has existed since Americans gained their freedom and American politics was established. On April 6, 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. Since then, Americans have voted in 54 other presidential elections. The recent elections are not the first to be “close” or disputed. The fourth presidential election in 1800 was the first “close” election. The election was so close between presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson and vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr that the final decision of who was to become president was forwarded to the House of Representatives (“American History and World History” 2003).

More recent events have lead to talk of voting reform specific to the machinery of voting. When the presidential ballots were being tallied in Florida in 2000, the so called “hanging chad” was discovered. The machines were improperly tallying the Floridian votes, and election officials began a massive project to count the Florida votes by a process frequently known as “eying it.” The Florida incident had the rest of the nation watching and waiting because the presidential election was riding on Florida; whoever took Florida, took the presidency (“How we got here: A timeline of the Florida recount” 2000). But, who can say that had the election not come down to this one state, the fiasco would have gone unnoticed, and the call for voting reform would have never been heard? Needless to say, the voting fiasco in Florida led to a rapidly spreading idea that voting reform was imminent.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The act was inspired by the recent 2000 election, and it called for voting reforms within the states. The act provided federal funds to each state to replace punch card voting systems and established the Election Assistance Commission to aid the states in producing a uniform national voting procedure for national elections (“Help America Vote Act of 2002” 2002).

Two more years passed with the much contested election of 2000 still looming in the air. As the presidential election of 2004 scraped the horizon, talk of another election disaster emerged in the United States. Would this election be as close as the one in 2000? And, more importantly, would the election hold for more controversy? Or, would the election run smoothly with no disputed votes? All eyes were on Florida. On the night of November 2, 2004, the answers to these questions were revealed. This election was nearly as close as the one of 2000; this election was controversial and did have disputed votes. This time, however, the votes were not disputed due to voting techniques, but were disputed because of the closeness of the race.

The task of deciding which voting means is really better suited for America, which is safer, and which is more reliable would only be accomplished through means of experimenting and testing certain voting methods and people’s reactions to each. Such experimentation has been done: Asher and Snyder in 1990. This study analyzed the relationship between ballot types and voting. The three specific ballots analyzed were the punch-card, paper ballot, and electronic ballot. The punch-card was found to leave the most room for error and over-voting (voting for more than one item in a particular category); the paper ballot did not prevent over-voting, but did discourage it because checking the ballot is relatively easy; and, lastly, electronic ballots prevented over-voting. In their article about voting reform, Shocker, Heighberger, and Brown conclude, “…there needs to be a concerted effort by both political scientists and election officials to improve what exists and determine if a better procedure can be developed.” (Peter A. Shocket et al 1992, 15). And, most importantly, whatever voting device is found adequate should be implemented in each of the fifty states as a uniform system of voting.

Despite the fact that Americans witnessed a “smooth” election following the “not so smooth” election in 2000, voting reform is still a pertinent issue in America. Since the presidential election in 2000, voting machine reform has become a major issue. Still, voting reform in general is not limited to the machinery used for casting ballots. Voter qualifications and registration are also issues to be addressed when discussing voting reform.

When the Constitution was ratified in 1788, white males were given the sole right to vote. As time progressed, more and more minority groups hungered for that same right. In 1870, the fifteenth amendment provided one minority group, the African-Americans, with the right to vote. Fifty years later, women received that same right, giving all American citizens the right to vote, though the right to vote that was “guaranteed” by the Constitution was often denied. Not until 1971 did the Constitution make the official voting age eighteen (James A. Henretta et al 2002). There has always been someone trying to take from someone else the opportunity to vote. Whether these actions were “secret” or universally known, they have always existed. Even today, the question of who should be allowed to vote floats through the American country.

To guarantee that every citizen who is legally qualified to vote will actually be given that opportunity would be an almost impossible, if not impossible, guarantee. However, some measures can be taken to increase the likelihood of such. Currently, registration is left to each individual state, and this includes not only registration for officials within that state, but also registration for national elections. The federal government, rather than leaving this responsibility to the states, could and should administer registration for national elections. Although this would seem rather redundant (registering once for state and local elections and then once more for national elections), such a system would allow for a more uniformed, and therefore, “safer” system of registration for national elections. Each citizen would complete the same registration form to vote in the same elections.

For each citizen who votes in the same election, the rules and regulations should be the same. This means that for each national election, all states should be required to have the same qualifications and use the same voting machines. The resulting uniformity in national elections would simplify elections and the tallying of votes, thereby decreasing the possibility for fraudulent and disputed elections. The more uniformity that exists in registration requirements will lead to “safer” elections since each citizen will be given the same “fair” (even if the requirements are not considered fair by our standards, they will be fair in the sense that everyone will have the same requirements) opportunity. Similarly, the more uniformity that exists in voting machines will lead to “safer” elections since each state will tally their votes in the same manners. Overall, uniformity in voting techniques will lead to “safer” elections, and the United States should continue to move toward a certain uniformity in national elections.

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