Higher hurdles

When making it harder to vote is a very good thing

Issue: "Mad Dash," Dec. 16, 2000

Here's a totally nonpartisan and upbeat suggestion: Since the next presidential election is now less than 47 months away, let's all get busy right now to slam the door on some of the gremlins that have made Election 2000 so bitter.

Here's a short list of ideas that no one-Republican, Democrat, or third party-should have any trouble with. In fact, it wouldn't hurt to do some of these things arm-in-arm and elbow-to-elbow.

Clean up the voter registration rolls. I paid a visit last week to my own local elections office and asked the folks there to show me exactly how such rolls are kept current. I encourage you to do the same thing in your own community.

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I was especially interested in how the lists handle people who die, people who move away, college students who live in two places at once, and people who become ineligible to vote for other reasons-like, for example, being convicted of a felony. The simple answer is that there's no process at all. Almost everything happens randomly.

My impression is that such randomness is typical across America. WORLD reader Debi Winrich of San Clemente, Calif., wrote me last week to say: "We could have voted 'often' in our little seaside village. My newly come-of-age voter son who is a college freshman had registered in his hometown when he turned 18 and registered in his college town this fall. We were taken aback to find that his name was still on the list at our local polling place. The clincher is: He was in town on election day, left mid-day for college. He could have voted in our county in the morning and in his college county as well. What a great country! We have two chances to get it right.... [And] no ID was required at our polling place."

Modernize the mechanics of voting. If one vocational opportunity is clearly in jeopardy as a result of Election 2000, it's that of salesman for the machines that process punch-card ballots. But across the country, concerned citizens need to get involved and insist that voting methods be established as technically competent, ethically fair, and voter-friendly. And we shouldn't wait until the next election cycle is immediately upon us to seek such goals.

To be sure, the Gore complainers have gone way out of bounds in capitalizing on various weaknesses in the system. But why permit such weaknesses in the first place? Capital costs for up-to-date voting technology might be an issue some years; I doubt if most voters will complain after what they've just experienced.

But even when dependable, modern equipment is in place, it needs to be used with integrity. I listened to a friend last week tell about watching what he called a regular routine in Philadelphia a few years ago where voting officials quietly removed the backs of voting machines shortly before noon to read the numbers. All they needed to do then was to go out and find just enough voters to make up the difference! Tough-minded volunteer observers representing every political party need to be on the job at every single polling place-from now until all vestiges of our greedy sinful human nature have been finally redeemed. Better to register our complaints during the process than to quibble endlessly afterwards.

Let all voting deadlines coincide. Staggered deadlines for closing the nation's various polling places are certainly a convenience. But they may be a convenience we can no longer afford. To worry that you may live a little too far to the west-that certain races have already been concluded even before you have had a chance to vote-such a utility may prove now to have outlived its usefulness.

No, it certainly won't be quite as handy to close all the polls at the same hour nationwide. To provide approximately equal convenience, polling hours might have to be extended for a 24-hour period, opening perhaps at 6 p.m. EST on Monday and continuing straight through until 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday. By closing the polls then simultaneously, from Maine to Hawaii and western Alaska, uppity media projections would be taken out of the game. And anyone who says the whole nation can't focus on a single time period hasn't thought about how the Super Bowl once a year manages quite effectively to accomplish exactly that objective.

Rules should also be changed to require that all absentee ballots be physically in the hands of the vote counters not a minute later than when the polls close.

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