Opinion Columns & Blogs

November 20, 2012

Mary Sanchez: Let’s make sure every vote matters

Oh, how quickly the electorate forgets.

Oh, how quickly the electorate forgets.

The long lines at the polls, the glut of millionaire money that poured into candidates’ coffers, the efforts to undercut voters’ rights under the guise of preventing “voter fraud.”

It’s on to the holidays and pre-Christmas sales. Stuff that turkey, hang the mistletoe, and whip out that credit card.

Before this chance for postelection reflection completely vanishes, though, let’s talk election reform – and begin to push for it.

Congress needs to act to clean up the mishmash of rules, modernize the process and address the real problems, not the overpoliticized and underproved claims of voter fraud. We also need to get the glut of money from a few tamped down to size, restoring balance and empowering smaller donors. And that’s the short list.

The country dodged a bullet on Nov. 6. Thank you, Mitt Romney. Virtually imploding in many battleground states, the election was not nearly as close as many had assumed it would be. Thank you, Nate Silver, for reading real data, not tea leaves.

We could still be counting chads.

States operate under a hodgepodge of laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: “In Florida, a recount must be completed within 12 days, but in Ohio it could take more than a month. Automatic recounts are triggered in Ohio if the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent, and in Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania if it’s less than 0.5 percent.”

This doesn’t mean there is postelection peace and tranquillity in the land.

A week after the election, Arizona officials had managed to make it through only half of the state’s more than 600,000 uncounted ballots.

The longer the tabulating goes on, the more chance the public will begin to question the fairness of the process – as they should. Many of the uncounted ballots were cast provisionally. That occurs when there are discrepancies in a voter’s registration. Why that occurred in such high numbers is now the glaring question.

This is a nation that has computer programs capable of tracking every online purchase, deciphering what link you may click next, and a range of other digital wonders once considered Orwellian concepts.

And yet, many voters still cast their vote by filling in little dots with a stubby pencil, like grade-schoolers taking a multiple-choice exam. Some people must scrounge for the birth certificate that mom squirreled away to prove where they were born.

It’s quaint, but not in a pleasing retro way. Developing democracies need to show the purple-ink-stained fingerprint of the just-voted. The United States can do better.

Much could be accomplished by simply using available technology. Some states electronically transfer data from their motor vehicle offices to election officials. That negates the chances for human error in data entry and aids in keeping a voter’s current address in the system.

Online voter registration is another measure shown to ease data foul-ups and increase voter registrations.

Presumably, one would think Republicans might go for this, too, although the party led many of the efforts that became more about voter suppression, rather than voter empowerment. Put confusing initiatives for provisional and absentee ballots in that box, along with redundant processes to prove eligibility.

“Voter fraud” became such a rallying cry that any effort to attack it, however poorly thought out, drew support. As the Brennan Center has consistently pointed out, much of what is labeled vote fraud simply isn’t. Inconsistencies in records, inaccurately entered data, multiple similar names in a database and a range of solvable problems are the real culprits.

Wrongly categorizing the problem means remedies often miss their mark. Instead, they cause new complications. Among the worst offenses is the disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

Same ballot, my fellow Americans. We need to get on the same ballot here.

Along the way, we could also re-energize enthusiasm for the civic duty of voting.

Part of the reason people don’t vote is the often-repeated line that “my vote doesn’t matter.” Congress can change that allegation.

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