Opinion: Fix the flawed voting process

February 22, 2013


After the State of the Union, the big question remains: Can congressional Democrats and Republicans put aside partisan politics to seriously address the major issues facing our country? With the debt crisis ever looming, and judicial and executive nominees languishing, there is plenty of opportunity for partisan rancor.

But there is one area where politics should be — and, surprisingly, may be able to be — tossed aside: voting.

In 2011 and 2012, we saw a wave of states pass restrictive laws that would have made it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. Citizens and voting advocates mounted a massive effort to push back and ensure everyone could have their say at the ballot box. In state after state, courtroom after courtroom, the most serious efforts to restrict the vote were rolled back and voters won.

Now, there are signs of a sea change: Politicians are pulling back from efforts to rig the system before they even get signed into law.

In the wake of the last election, where we saw long lines, voting machine shortages, voter registration failures, overwhelmed poll workers, and voters turned away, it is clearer than ever that we need to upgrade our elections to ensure our democracy remains free, fair and accessible. As the president said, “We have to fix that.”

Today we can make sure every eligible voter who wants to be registered is registered, everyone who wants to vote can, and no one is turned away because of long lines. All we need is national leadership to prod three steps to modernize our elections.

The first step is modernizing voter registration. Most of the country still relies on a 19th-century paper-based system that is inefficient and rife with errors. The Pew Center on the States found that one if four eligible citizens is not on the rolls, and one in eight registration records has serious errors. When poll workers have to rummage through reams of paper to find names that have been misspelled or included at the wrong address, long lines are exacerbated. In 2008, up to 3 million citizens tried to vote but could not vote due to registration problems. Up to one-third of unregistered citizens were registered at one point and fell off the rolls when they moved.

We have the technology to add 50 million eligible citizens to the rolls while improving accuracy and security. Voters could register online or paperlessly with public agencies. Their registrations would go with them when they move. And failsafe protections would guard against abuse and ensure no eligible voter is left out. States that have implemented these reforms see fewer errors, higher registration rates, and, ultimately, a lower price — modernizing saves millions. We have no excuse not to do it.

To address long lines, we also need to modernize when and how Americans vote. Expanding early voting will offer voters more convenience and choice. Minimum national standards for polling place access — strongly supported by voters — can ensure nobody has to wait more than an hour to vote. It is inexcusable that some voters waited for eight hours because there were not enough resources at the polling place for an election to run smoothly.

Long lines cannot become the lasting symbol of the American election system. We need to invest in our democracy so this does not happen in another election cycle. The president was right — our journey is not complete until we make sure every eligible American who wants to vote is able to cast a ballot that counts. Americans want solutions to our problems, not partisanship. These are American ideas to fix what’s wrong. We can be an example to the world, rather than a cautionary tale — and demonstrate that on Election Day, all Americans are truly all equal.

— Wendy Weiser is the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

Very sensible and reasonable recommendations. Problem is, the further the Republican Party sinks into its agenda of unbridled class warfare, the more it will rely on vote suppression measures of all kinds, and none of these recommendations will be welcomed.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, and also we should make sure that all voting systems are reliable, and all votes are counted accurately.

rwwilly 5 years, 4 months ago

I am not saying there are no flaws in the system and some of these points are valid but I think the situation is overblown somewhat. I have lived in several states in the last twenty years and have never found registering to vote all that cumbersome. Many times you can accomplish this via the internet once residency is established. I haven't been to a polling place in years! I vote early via a mail-in ballot at home. Very easy. Voting is the most sacred constitutional right we have as well as the most important. We don't seem to mind standing in line for hours during the Christmas rush or to purchase or attend you sporting event. We tolerate the stampede of mankind on a daily basis for lesser activities, why is it so important to reduce the "burden" of voter registration to that of answering a cellphone call? Just sayin'.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

The more apt questions are why either registering to vote or casting a ballot should be any sort of burden at all, and why has it become a major agenda for the Republican Party that everything about voting should be a major burden?

verity 5 years, 4 months ago

I do mind standing in line and being around crowds of people, particularly while shopping. But that is both a false equivalency and not the point.

Nobody should have to stand in line to vote for eight hours, nobody, and certainly not a 100+ person. But that's not all. Getting the now required documents will be impossible for some people and can cost more than some can afford.

We're not talking about the last twenty years, we are talking about laws passed recently.

This is about voter suppression, not voter fraud. Some behind these laws have even admitted it, they are so shameless.

When people are denied their rght to vote or their vote is miscounted, our response, rather than being overblown, is way to small. We should all be outraged.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 4 months ago

--- Computers are inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering. If we are to ensure fair and honest elections, and retain voter confidence in our democratic process, we need to ensure that there are no such questions. Therefore, it is crucial that any computerized voting system provide a voter-verifiable paper audit trail and that random audits of electronic votes be conducted on Election Day.

--- Paperless electronic voting machines make it impossible to safeguard the integrity of our vote - thereby threatening the very foundation of our democracy.

--- Moreover, the seller of the machines, the Diebold Corporation, is a supplier of money to one the republican party. The CEO and top officers of Diebold are major contributors to republican campaigns. A corporation with vested political interests should not have control over the votes of the populace.

--- Voters using any computerized voting machines should immediately report any suspected malfunctions or deficiencies at voting precincts to their Board of Elections. Voters should also urge their legislators to require a voter verified paper ballot trail for random audits and independent recounts.

Count every vote! YES!

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

Want to fix the "flawed" voting process? Give every person that votes a $500 tax credit.

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