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My Final Paper

The highly contested presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 have proven that the electoral system in the United States is in need of reform. Caution must be used when taking on such a large task because there are several equally important factors that have to be taken into consideration. Another equally large task is determining what should become the national standard for ballots in national elections. Internet voting and electronic voting hold a lot of promise for future elections, but they have their pitfalls. Risks associated with ballot secrecy, voter fraud, and fixing of elections must be eliminated before either should be considered for use in a national election much less, dominate the polls. The Electoral College has been used in the presidential election since the drafting of the Constitution. The question of its necessity was brought up after the highly contested 2000 election where Gore won the popular vote, but Bush won the electoral vote. Due to such political situations, many Americans now believe that the use of the Electoral College has become archaic and should be abandoned.

Polling place and remote site internet voting was first implemented in the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary election due to a unique political situation, which forced the Democrats to hold a private Primary. The primaries were successful and had a 579% increase in voters as compared to the 1996 primaries. Arizona had the highest increase in voters in a primary election from the 1996-2000 elections. (Solop 2001, 290-291) Internet voting can be split into two subtypes: remote internet voting and polling place internet voting. (Loncke and Dumortier 2004, 61) Polling place internet voting has fewer security issues that need to be resolved before it could be considered for application on a national level. Polling place internet voting would not require digital authentication of the voter because the verification can be done physically by election officials. Remote internet voting poses too many risks to be a viable option. The main problem is that every voter would have to be authenticated, and yet have his or her association removed from the vote to keep the votes fair and anonymous. The biggest threat with remote internet voting is the vulnerability of the system. It would be much easier to commit voter fraud via the internet because there would be no one to confirm the voter’s identity. The internet voting system would also be vulnerable to hackers, who may or may not be from the United States. The danger there would be from computer savvy enemies of the United States could manipulate the elections; or even a harmless computer whiz could compromise the system because he or she just wanted to see if they could hack into it. It has to be decided whether or not internet voting is worth the security risk. When remote internet voting can be guaranteed secure, it would have great potential, especially for the elderly, disabled, students attending schools out of state, and possibly even citizens overseas for military duty. It could completely outmode the absentee ballot in those situations. Until the remote internet voting system is completely secure, polling place internet voting is much more likely to be implemented before its remote counterpart.

Electronic voting machines have their setbacks as well. Diebold Inc., the leading manufacturer of voting machines in the US, has given 99.4% of its campaign contributions to the Republican candidates in the most recent elections. (Hitchins 2005, 410) Statistics such as that should raise an eyebrow or two considering their machines are tabulating the public’s votes. Another interesting fact concerning Diebold, Inc. is that its CEO, Walden W. O’Dell promised that he would “…deliver the state [Ohio] to the incumbent [Bush].” Electronic voting machines are relatively new to the poll scene. This becomes quite obvious when one reads about glitches in the machines such as: miscounted votes, allegedly pre-loaded votes, a miscast vote due to mechanical error, an easily “hackable” security system on the machines and machine malfunctions causing loss of votes. These pitfalls were mostly investigated in Ohio, coincidentally the location of Diebold Inc.’s headquarters, due to the extremely close numbers in the state that determined the election for the presidency in 2004. (Levy 2004, 55) Many small towns in Ohio only had two or three voting machines for their 2-3 thousand voters. Several towns had incidents where one or more of the machines broke down completely, while others had mysterious ‘malfunctions;’ these included deletion of votes cast for the presidency. A significant number of ballots had votes cast for members of congress, sheriffs, and county positions; but those same ballots were noticeably blank when it came to the presidential vote. These machines were just not ready for use on such a wide scale during the 2004 election. (Hitchins 2005, 410) We have the technology; it’s the people behind the machines that need to sort out their priorities. It’s possible that in the future, when unbiased companies can produce more accurate and unbiased machines that electronic voting may become the most viable, reliable, and easily counted option for the polls.

To create a national standard for voting ballots, one must take several things into consideration. Whether the ballot is electronic or on paper, checked boxes or filled in boxes, what order the candidates are listed, what font should be used, etc.; all of these are valid considerations for a national standard. For the time being the most logical solution would be to select the most successful ballots, which would be the ballots with the fewest controversies surrounding them or the easiest to use, and compile several sample ballots using the selected ballots as models. The states could then choose which ballot they want to use from the samples. If there were a few different choices it would allow the states to feel less pigeonholed into a certain type of ballot and would help them to accept the national standards more readily.
The Electoral College was created by the founding fathers over 300 years ago to protect the masses from their ignorance. When our country was founded the average American couldn’t read or write well, if at all, nor was schooling top priority for the working classes. They believed that the majority of the middle and lower classes were not well educated enough to know what they needed to look for in a leader, when in all actuality the founding fathers themselves were unsure themselves. Now the literacy rate is much higher, but increased literacy doesn’t mean that Americans are any more knowledgeable about politics than in the past. It has been known that some people cast their vote depending on how attractive a certain candidate is, or based on one particular portion of their platform instead of analyzing everything the candidate stands for before casting their vote. Some say that the Electoral College keeps America from being too democratic. (Rackove 2004, 22) In cases such as the 2000 election, where the popular vote leaned toward Al Gore, the candidate with fewer electoral votes; many people felt that the electoral votes in the disputed states should be split between the two candidates. Unfortunately, that would undermine the whole electoral system. The question here is whether or not the system is obsolete. Judging from the political knowledge of the average American, the electoral system isn’t as outmoded as some believe. Even though it may not make sense at times, it still helps prevent the system from being too orderly and less complicated: the two things the founding fathers wanted to avoid at all costs. A disorderly government prevents it from gaining too much power, the electoral system helps keep it in check. Revamping the electoral system is not out of the question, but eliminating it would not be a wise idea, would take considerable deliberation, and many years would go by before any major changes could be implemented.

Looking into the reformation of the electoral system is necessary as demonstrated by the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The system should not be done away with, but revamping it would do the country some good. The founders of this country did not want an entirely democratic system, and the Electoral College helps keep our government from becoming too orderly and efficient. The voting system is also in need of repair as shown in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. New voting options such as electronic voting and polling place internet voting are our most viable options for future elections, but are not ready for widespread use as of now.


Endnotes


Hitchens, Christopher. March 2005. "Ohio's odd Numbers." Vanity Fair. Vol. 78. p.410.

Levy, Steve. 2004. “The Trouble With E-Ballots.” Newsweek. Vol. 143 Iss. 26: p. 55.

Loncke, Mieke and Dumortier, Jos. 2004. "Online Voting: A Legal Perspective." International Review of Law, Computers, & Technology Vol. 18 Iss. 1: 59-79.

Rakove, Jack N. 2004. "Presidential Selection: Electoral Fallacies." Political Science Quarterly Vol. 119 Iss. 1: p. 21-38.

Solop, Frederick. 2001. “Digital Democracy Comes of Age: Internet Voting and the 2000 Arizona Democratic Primary Election,” PS: Political Science and Politics Vol. 34 Iss.. 2: pp. 289-293.



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