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Call to Action
Improve nations balloting but leave control to locals
Author Unknown
SUMMARY: A Call to Action is an article from the Houston Chronicle on Thursday, February 20, 2001 informing the nation on the controversial issue of the nations ballots system. The article begins with the announcement of next month’s Census Bureaurelease of the population’s data. This means that all the voting boundaries are going to be redrawn and reconfigured. It continues to talk about the amazingly close and controversial presidential election on November 7th. Difficulties erupted all over the state of Florida and throughout the United States in which the reliability and accuracy of the balloting system is questioned. Fortunately, because of the controversial ballots and ballot systems there have been numerous groups and committees organized to study and improve our out of date voting system. It says that several people in Congress are working on multiple bills being created to establish nation wide standards for ballot-counting systems. The article states, “One U.S. House lawmaker, Beaumont Democrat Nick Lampson, wants national standards for voting machines and poll closing times.” The author agrees with Lampson in that the voting machines have multiple flaws, one being the problematic punch card ballots. But he also thinks that the press would throw a fit if there was a national closing time at the polls just for the sake of avoiding early winning announcements. The National Association of Secretaries of State’s task force on election standards suggests leaving the enforcement issue to locals but have the government pay for voting machines. They also recommend “…more voter education, improved training for poll workers and maintaining up-to-date voter rolls…”. In the end the author feels that the communities should take on the responsibilities for reformation instead of an all-in-one government plan. He closes by reminding the reader that the nation’s President is elected through the Electoral College and the communities should supervise the voting procedure.
OPINION: I agree with the author’s view on improving the voting system. I believe something needs to be done at least by the next election. In the election of 2000, Florida happened to be the center of the maelstrom. I find it hard to believe that any state that has had problems in the past with voting irregularities would continue to use the same flawed ballot system. Florida continues using a system year after year that allows people to vote twice on one ballot for the same political office, or that makes the results questionable because the paper might not be punched through enough for the machines to compute the votes? The implementation of one standardized, foolproof voting system for the entire country would prevent the need for recounts, would make vote counting a science, and take away the possibility of foul play. Voting booths throughout the US should all have the exact same standardized technology, which should be specified by the federal government.
Nick Lampson talks about a national polling place closing time in which the author feels is a bad idea. The news seems to hastily call a winner in the election that can potentially affect the outcome before the voting ends. An example would be the east coast versus the west coast. The time difference is about three hours. If someone on the west coast sees the news announce a winner or leader before they are about to vote, they might give up. I disagree with the author’s position on this subject. I believe a possible reason for his belief is that he is a part of the press and feels that his rights might be infringed on.
I agree with the National Association of Secretaries of State’s task force in that the local authorities should enforce the laws better. They should get more involved and help with voter awareness. I think that if we get better technology, we may be able to reduce the statistical error associated with vote counting, but it seems unlikely that we will be able to eliminate it entirely unless we are able to develop an entirely electronic system (even for absentee ballots) that we have complete confidence in and which everyone agrees has zero error associated with it. According to the University of Iowa’s, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Douglas W. Jones, it is “recommended that punched card voting should be abandoned immediately. The problems that plague the (current) ballot are not news! These problems have been widely known for decades, and I have little sympathy for counties that had no plans in place a decade ago for migration to a better voting technology.” The only problem is that buying and implementing electronic machines would cost a fortune. Not to mention, the educational awareness on the machines would be costly and time consuming.
I believe the states should proceed cautiously in adopting new voting technologies; first establishing detailed requirements and certification criteria, and rigorously evaluating each potential technology to see whether it meets the “national” criteria. The Federal government should assist in establishing requirements, but ultimately technology selection decisions are still probably best done at the state and county level, where most election-related decisions are made in the US. Technological systems must have the ability to provide trails that will be able to demonstrate that votes have not been lost or miscounted. The entire process should be made available for the scrutiny of experts (under a non-disclosure agreement). Testing for usability using actual ballot questions prior to every election would be a good idea as well. And while we are investing in new voting equipment, we should also make sure the new equipment is adjustable and flexible so that we can provide secret balloting for the visually impaired and other disabled individuals (perhaps by providing special devices for use by those people). We should not rush to embrace new technology, such as Internet voting systems, until we have evaluated it sufficiently and determined that it meets governmental requirements. The technology development and evaluation necessary to satisfy all of these goals will be expensive. But by spending the money up front, we are more likely to avoid costly law suits and recounts, as well as to continue public confidence in the electoral process, something that is very difficult to put a price on.