Steel City Cowboy

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Simple Voting Procedures

Can someone explain to me why we can't have some very simple voting rules and procedures in this country?

1. A single voting day, with absentee ballots available.
2. Positive photo ID at the polls that matches registration information.
3. Inked finger a la the Iraqis.
4. Verifiable, re-countable voting trail.

First, my opinion on voting. It's important. At the same time, it's not for everybody. Don't know the issues and how the candidates stand on them? Stay home. Only thinking about voting because you like someone's smile or how they dress? Stay home. Please. I completely disagree with the exhortations of popular media outlets that "Everyone should vote!" They want you to go out and vote, regardless of anything else. That's ridiculous. Back to the points.

Having a single voting day cuts down on the ability of groups to game the system. When you have an extended voting period like several states now do, you allow campaigns to test various schemes for trucking people to the polls, inviting on-the-fly discovery and fine tuning of voters fraud methods. The get-out-the-vote efforts of campaigns are physically limited by having one day on which to vote. This means that people who really care will vote. People who only care enough to vote if someone browbeats them into it and agrees to pick them up in a van and run them through the McDonald's drive through on the way to the polls -- probably shouldn't be exercising their right to vote. Voting on a single day limits their influence. When we expand that time to two weeks, as we see now, these borderline illegal get-out-the-vote efforts (buying people prizes to vote is illegal, yet it happens all the time) have a much greater effect.

Do you see what this turns into? I know that you're going to be GOTVing the seniors in my region, taking them to McDonald's, so I call them on the same day and offer a ride to the polls but say we're stopping at the Denny's buffet. That's certainly more attractive. And when you call, they say they're already getting a ride from those nice McCain/Palin people. Maybe they won't vote that way, but that ride is certainly a persuadable moment. So what do you do? Escalate the bribery? The abuse is already happening, and expanding the voting period will only multiply the problem.

Next, positive ID. This is basic. I can't believe it isn't the standard. Arguably our most important individual interaction with the government, and it requires nothing but your say so as to who you are. That's crazy. I realize that a certain percentage of the population does not have ID, but it is really necessary to prevent fraud. The obvious solution is that anyone who does not have, for example, a driver's license or military-issued ID can go through the photo license process for free to obtain a valid (non-driving) identification card. And if a certain political party thinks that their constituency will be harder hit than others, they can focus their GOTV efforts on helping these people obtain ID. Yes, people could get fake ID's and still try to vote illegally, but we're talking a difference in barrier to entry for fraud that on the orders of magnitude scale.

On to inked fingers. Once again, a simple measure to combat vote fraud. There is almost no cost involved, it's pathetically easy to implement and incredibly effective. Want to completely eliminate multiple votes for a single voter? This is how you do it.

Finally, the verifiable, re-countable vote trail. Regardless of whether you use paper votes or electronic, you should be able to go back later (ideally via the Internet for convenience), enter a code (a hash for you techs) and see your actual anonymized vote in order to verify that it was recorded how you cast it. Also, the votes should not just be dumped into a tally pile and destroyed, like some electronic systems that only maintain the running totals. Each and every vote should be examinable after the fact and available for a by-hand recount if necessary.

It's bad enough that we end up voting for candidates who are determined by a primary process that we have little or nothing to do with. To to not even be able to trust the final election process, though, when easy and obvious remedies are at hand, is ridiculous.

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