I have heard many horror stories about voting in the past few months. Many of them center on states either partially or fully controlled by very conservative Republicans.
Massachusetts is overwhelmingly Democratic in its legislature, with a liberal Republican governor. Why don’t we try and codify some reforms while we have the chance?
The foremost problem is ensuring faith in our election results, and with all the articles I have read about voting machine hacking, this seems like the obvious place to start. I would suggest that we guarantee a few things: first, all cities and towns must use a voting system that leaves a paper trail – this may already be a requirement. However, given that votes are tabulated electronically, we have no guarantees that the paper ballots match the totals, do we? How about a law that requires a randomly sampled hand-count in each community to ensure that the totals match, and if not, trigger a full hand-recount?
I have been reading stories about people who have been arrested for casting a ballot while ineligible, mostly people who have prison records. In Massachusetts, your may vote if you are not currently incarcerated, which is relatively reasonable – however I would still ask the question, do we really want to couple the right to vote with being imprisoned? Maybe prisoners should be able to vote too? At the very least, I think the state should affirmatively make people aware that a criminal conviction neither makes you ineligible to vote, nor is there any risk whatsoever of “improperly voting” if you have a criminal record.
I don’t know our current procedure for updating voter rolls when someone moves, but I hope that this process is as easy as it can be. Many renters move around, some do this a lot, so it should be super-easy to just update your address and vote if the address change does not trigger a precinct-level change, and update your address and go to the new precinct if it does.
I have asked people why they aren’t registered to vote, and many tell me that they don’t register to avoid jury duty. Massachusetts goes beyond this, and uses municipal census results to compile its jury list, but I bet that 75% of the populace believes that the list is compiled from voter registrations, so again, I think the state should affirmatively make people aware that voting has nothing at all to do with jury duty.
Although I think that the incidence of voter fraud is nonexistent, maybe we need to throw a bone to our Republican governor and put in a plan that makes voter ID unnecessary – by requiring the city or town to keep the identification of the voter as part of the registration. That means when you register, they take your photo, and when you check in to vote, they bring up your photo. I would hope that this would put to bed, once and for all, the idea that people are being “bused in to vote” or that there is rampant fraud.
Gerrymandering is another big national issue. Perhaps it is time that we take our state’s redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and put it into the hands of nonpartisan bureaucrats, both for our US House districts and our state districts.
What about student voting? I honestly don’t remember voting for my very first election because I was away at college. I am fairly sure I did not go through the process to get an absentee ballot because, face it, it is a process – though it is a lot easier now, since you can get the form online. But are there any other ways to do this, to make student voting easier?
I know that Oregon has mail-in voting. I’m not yet comfortable going down that path (or internet voting) because I do see this as being more corruptible. I’m reminded of local Republican Jack Villamaino’s scheme to submit absentee ballots from registered Democrat voters in his Republican primary (made possible by his girlfriend changing their status to unenrolled, and his town position of handling the mailing of such ballots). I also know that we now have expanded pre-election voting hours.
Still, I think we need to analyze why so many of our residents simply do not vote. My guess is that they have been convinced that they should only vote if they are 100% informed of both the issues and the candidate, and while that sounds reasonable on its face, it is not reasonable that they would be represented by legislators that only 20% of the populace selected. Such a disconnect between representative and their constituents does not make a healthy political system.
The de-emphasis of political parties is likely part of the issue – so maybe we should adopt a Michigan-like approach of straight-party ballot voting? This would reduce the information a person felt they needed to cast a ballot, and would put more emphasis on the parties to screen their candidates. If a person is generally liberal, and generally likes the platform issues of the Democratic Party, then isn’t it better for him to cast his vote to that effect rather than sitting out the election because he has no personal knowledge of the candidate?
Now that our elections have been called into question, it is clear to me that tyranny is really only possible when the vote is corrupted or when the population is not adequately represented. Anything else is simple democracy, with the rights of the minority backed up with a constitution that ensures equality.