Pretend for a moment — and I know this is crazy, but stick with me — but just pretend that we want it to be easy for every eligible person to vote, and for the results of those elections to reflect as accurately as possible the will of the majority of voters.
Make believe we all agree that lines of up to eight hours to get a ballot like we saw in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere last week are unconscionable threats to the right to vote — a veritable poll tax on working people. That it should be hard for an adult citizen not to be registered and almost impossible to vote fraudulently. That it offends the ideals of representative democracy when political parties draw legislative district boundaries for their advantage.
What would we do? What reforms would we institute?
Here are some of the best ideas floating around fantasy election land:
1. Universal registration. "The international norm is an orderly process of automatic registration of every citizen who reaches voting age and of every person who becomes a citizen," notes FairVote, a project of the Washington- based Center for Voting and Democracy.
Our current, local patchwork and often partisan system of registration leaves us with incomplete and otherwise inaccurate voter rolls. But a system that coordinated with tax, postal, driving, property and other databases to maintain an up-to-date roster of all eligible voters would all but eliminate confusion and the threat of fraud.
2. Minimum ratios of voting machines to registered voters. For all elections involving federal offices — including primaries — it ought to be as quick and easy to vote anywhere in America as it was last week in my Chicago precinct, where I was in and out of the polling place in less than 10 minutes.
In his victory speech last week, President Barack Obama thanked voters who "waited in line for a very long time," then added, in an apparent ad-lib, "by the way, we have to fix that."
We do. And if assuring efficiency requires federal cash assistance to provide voting machines, trained poll workers and other election resources to areas that are particularly cash-strapped, so be it.
3. Standardized early voting periods. Recent attempts by Republican officials in Ohio and Florida to reduce early-voting opportunities in their states were brazenly partisan and, as it turned out, so outrageous that evidence suggests they ended up increasing the minority turnout they were designed to suppress.
Enough of these infamous games. Enough of early-voting periods ranging from more than 30 days in some states to zero days in other states; of early voting that ends the day before the election in eight states all the way up seven days before the election in Louisiana.
4. Standardized rules for absentee voting. In some states you need an excuse to vote absentee, in others you can vote absentee, no questions asked. As with early voting, fair elections require equal degrees of enfranchisement for all voters, and that would, of course, include ex-felons.
5. Nonpartisan administration of elections. It's clearly an invitation to mischief to allow elected officials to set the rules for elections and to oversee disputes that arise pertaining to the vote, such as how to deal with provisional ballots. Reform advocates point to Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board as a model for the nation.
6. Criminalize voter deception. Not in campaign commercials — those will always be deceptive — but in robocalls, mailings and signs that give the wrong day for voting. The Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, which died in the last Congress, made such deceit a federal crime.
7. Establish reliability standards for all voting equipment. We don't need to have identical voting methods in every city and hamlet in America, but we need identically reliable voting equipment. Research can identify best practices and save us from chads, hanging and otherwise.
8. Rethink this Tuesday thing. If we must do voting on only one day, let it be Saturday, with generous allowances made for those whose faith would keep from the polls.
9. Outlaw gerrymandering. I have the feeling that even former President Jimmy Carter, who has monitored elections in 92 countries in democracies supposedly more primitive than ours, cringes when he sees the tortured shapes of the legislative districts drawn by opportunistic Democrats and Republicans. Such lines should be drawn by objective computer programs that do not take previous election results or party identification in mind.
Hey, a man can dream, can't he?
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