It’s ludicrous that there’s no national standard in how we cast our votes, with policies often at the whim of partisan officials trying to game the election the same way they gerrymander congressional districts. We end up with some states that only allow you to vote in person on election day, other that only allow you to vote by mail, and others that allow early voting. In some places, a photo ID is required, in some places it isn’t, and in some places it may or may not be required based on the latest ruling from a judge after one side or the other has made a federal case out of it.
The lines for early voting in Florida and Ohio stretched for blocks this weekend, with people in line for six hours or more. That’s a lot of people who wanted to cast their vote, who shouldn’t have had to forego a day of work or family time in order to exercise their constitutional right to participate in representative democracy. Shame on the municipal authorities who have made it more frustrating than it needs to be.
I wrote a piece about simplifying elections after the 2000 presidential election debacle. Unfortunately, no one heeded my suggestions. With some modifications a dozen years later, here’s what still needs to be done:
First, we shouldn’t have to gather everyone in the community at the same polling place community to cast our votes. You should be able to vote online or at any public election kiosk anywhere in the country for a full week before election day. That way you don’t have to rush home from work or a kid’s soccer game or a business trip to try to beat the closing time (cuts down on absentee ballots, too!).
Online voting would involve registering ahead of time to get a secure login and password — just like you use to purchase items from Amazon or any retailer in the cloud — then the system would know who you are and what your electoral options are. You’d fill out the ballot digitally on your laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone, submit it, and get right back to the more important things in your life, like posting photos of your pet eating a shoe on Facebook.
How will the kiosk know where you live and what district your vote counts in? In many states (e.g. Missouri), the driver’s license has a metallic strip or digital code on the back — just like on credit cards. Under my plan, you swipe your license in the kiosk reader, and it instantly knows where you live and what you should vote on.
With the online-or-kiosk concept, you can vote anywhere, anytime, and it all gets applied to the proper precinct, with no results ever released until the last ballot is cast on election day. This has the wonderful side effect of completely screwing up the exit polls (although they seem to do that themselves very nicely).
Using modern voting methods would cut down significantly on waiting time at the polling places and make the voting process faster, too. No one should have to spend a half-hour in line just to vote. We have better things to do with our time, like camping outside an Apple store waiting for the iPad Mini to go on sale!
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about my revolutionary electoral scheme:
Q: We can’t trust computers. What if some teenage hacker changes the software and Jimmy Kimmel becomes President?
A: We now live in a world where you can go to Sri Lanka and access your US bank account at an ATM over a secure line and withdraw money in an instant! I think we can develop a secure system for your vote. Incidentally, those machines that now count the punch cards ARE computers.
Q: What if the results are so close someone demands a recount?
A: Each kiosk or online voting app retains its own statistics internally as well as feeding them down the secure network, backing itself up after each ballot is completed. It also eliminates the worst “American Idol” contestants in the background.
Q: How do we pay for all this technology?
A: In the long run, digital elections would be cheaper than maintaining, storing, and buying all the old voting machines, which are only used 2-3 times a year. If we still need funding to subsidize the costs, we can turn to the same corporations who pay huge fees for the naming rights to every stadium and arena in the country, who would gladly pick up the costs if their logo could appear on the ballot screen.
Q: Come on, Paul. Elections are supposed to be about the people’s choice, not some cheap sponsorship opportunity for some company.
A: Good one, Mr. Citizens United! We certainly don’t want corporations involved in our electoral process, because all that money might have a negative impact, and I’m glad that can never happen under our current system.
Q: If people are having trouble with punch cards, how the hell are they going to figure out your touch-screen kiosks or internet voting deal?
A: I’m not suggesting you have to do something complex like program your VCR in order to vote. All you have to do is apply pressure with your finger to a screen. Besides, we’ll always have a certain percentage of the population — let’s say it’s 10% — who can’t figure out how to vote correctly, no matter what method we use. So why not upgrade it for the other 90% of us? For the one out of ten who have trouble with both punch cards and touch screens, let them go to a simple voice vote. At noon on election day, they open their windows and scream their candidate’s name. Loudest response wins.