Let's have a rational discussion about vote reform

Dozens of early voters line up at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Oct. 22, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Dozens of early voters line up at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Oct. 22, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Let’s put aside the argument that Democrats stole the election and examine the obvious problems with the flawed process. And fix those problems, whether we do it now or later.

Some of the problems highlighted by this year’s election:

  • Chain of custody. At no time should the ballots be out of the hands of election officials who have sworn to follow the law. When the ballots are handled by partisans or third parties, the opportunities for fraud abound. For example, it allows a partisan to toss the ballots of opposite party candidates. Chain of custody in elections is as important as it is in criminal prosecutions.
  • Eligible voter verification. Why is this even an issue? Ensuring that every vote was cast by someone who is qualified to vote is not suppression. It is rational and reasonable. Cleansing the voter rolls of people who died or moved out of the jurisdiction is so reasonable that opposing it is stupefying. The requirement for in-person ID is already been implemented in Wisconsin and for early voting in Illinois. Getting yourself to a secretary of state’s office for a driver’s licenses is not considered to be driver suppression (at least not yet). Even the liberal Brookings Institution called the registration roles a mess. While that was 20 years ago, there’s no reason to think they have gotten any better.
  • Mail-in voting. Ballots should only be sent to voters who request them and whose qualification to vote can be verified. Shotgun distribution of ballots puts them in too many hands of unqualified voters.

Speaking earlier of the Brooking Institution, here is what it had to say in the same study about those forms of remote voting:

There are costs associated with these newer forms of mail and early voting: the loss of a shared community experience; the irrelevance of late-breaking campaign events; the threat to privacy provided by secret ballots at polling places; the risks of vote buying and selling; and complications for the timely counting of ballots. Remote Internet voting from home or work incurs these costs and many additional ones. As summarized by the recent Internet Policy Institute report of a workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation, “Remote Internet voting systems pose significant risk to the integrity of the voting process, and should not be fielded for use in public elections until substantial technical and social science issues are resolved.”

If we can leave the partisan claims out of it, it should be apparent from this election 20 years after this warning that those technical and social science issues haven’t been resolved.

Millions of Americans no longer trust the system and that should not be casually brushed aside as if it were just a Republican effort to suppress votes. It’s too late to fix this system in this election cycle, but if we can set aside flaming rhetoric for a time, maybe we can get it done.


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  • Agree with all above, but investigate and certify these voting machines such as Dominion. At the hearings down in GA, some hacker described how easy it was to hack in just by WiFi. If some run of the mill hacker in the US can get in, what about Russia and China having whole departments trying to breach our computer systems?

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    It seems to me that any attempt to make voting fairer should begin with abolishing the archaic electoral college, which legalizes a system in which some people's votes--and not randomly, but biassed towards rural, conservative voters--count more than others. Two Presidents have been elected with a minority of the popular vote in the past two decades. and it almost happened a third time.

    That isn't the will of the people, and that isn't the only problem. A few swing states get most of the attention. The needs of a few thousand workers in Pennsylvania's fracking industry are prioritized far more than those of people in other states.

    Beyond that, I notice that all your proposed reforms involve restricting voting. Surely expanding it is at least as important. In most elections, barely half the eligible voters exercise that right, though the percentage was quite a bit higher in this past election. Mail in ballots are one of the best ways to do that. I've voted this way for the years, and one of the reasons I prefer it is because it gives me plenty of time to research choices. I don't go into a polling station trying to remember the choices, or with a list of them. It's like the difference between an exam at school that must be completed within a fixed time, and a take home exam. There are places where maybe the former is needed, but surely not in our voting system. The more time people have to think about the choices, discuss them with others, the more intelligent their decisions will be.

    I also find the fears of fraud in mail in voting ironic, given all the allegations of problems with voting machines. So which is it, are voting machines not to be trusted, or is mailing in your ballot the problem? Because each method avoids the problems of the other.

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