Monday, September 19, 2005

Voter reform recommendations delivered to the White House

The Commission for Federal Election Reform co-chaired by former President Carter and James Baker has delivered its recommendations for election reform to the White House. According to the story, there's 87 recommendations in the report which you can view in its entirety here. For those who want to cut to the chase, the summary of recommendation can be viewed in a PDF file here.

The recommendations you're likely to hear about on the news are 3 that are apparently dear to the hearts of the MSM, either in a love it or hate it kind of mode. The first one that's being reported is a national (free, of course) voter ID card to be issued to all eligible voters. Sure to start the screaming from elements of both the Left (who consider such an idea akin to a poll tax) and the Right (who view such an ID as merely the method by which Big Brother will come calling), the concept of a voter ID is one I've written about before. I think it's a good idea so long as the ID can be secured well and the issuance thereof controlled reasonably. In short, it better be a lot more difficult for illegal aliens to get one than other documents have proven to be.

The second one is the implementation of a paper trail as a hardcopy backup to electronic voting machines. This is also something I've written on in the past and my attitudes haven't changed at all. I cannot imagine a serious designer not including an audit trail feature in a device unless specifically instructed not to do so. There needs to be some method for an audit trail. Paper seems to be the medium of trusted choice for the time being, so I say go for it. It's no worse than the current situation where the paper vote is being kept in archive anyway.

The other one being mentioned has me scratching my head, frankly. They want to implement regional primaries. For this one, I'm quoting the story:

::::::::Another idea is to shift to a regional primary system of four presidential primaries, although they did not recommend ending the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — historically the first two barometers of political popularity for the party's presidential hopefuls. After the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, the plan calls for four primaries at one-month intervals. The order in which regions voted would rotate every four years.

The commission recommends Congress legislate the change if political parties don't change the system by 2008.

"We believe it's the best approach," Carter said.

The current system picks nominees so quickly that voters in many states don't get to consider the options, the commission said. As a result, Carter said, more than nine in 10 Americans never get a chance to vote.

OK, does anyone think the last campaign season was over too fast? The last thing I want is to give these guys yet more time to stuff spam in my mailbox and predict all manner of catastrophe befalling if we don't vote for them. I see no value whatsoever in this recommendation and I personally think they need to just drop that one in the trash.

One of the more interesting recommendations in the report - more interesting for the fact that the media virtually ignored it - is the suggestion that the voter registration databases be made interoperable between states and that procedures be placed to keep the lists current. The idea is to keep someone from registering to vote in Florida, moving to Ohio and registering again without cancelling the Florida registration. This allows people to vote twice in a national election. The databases would be reconciled so that this hypothetical person would appear in Ohio's list and be purged from Florida's. This is a good idea so long as proper controls are in place to verify the "move" instruction is actually coming from the person themselves and not from some telemarketer who goofed a keyboard entry.

Aside from keeping the voter roles accurate, making the databases interoperable means that a vote could, in theory, be tallied for a given person literally anywhere there's a polling place using electronic voting. Example: I live in Virginia and I'm registered there. Come election day, I happen to be in Kentucky. Rather than file an absentee ballot by mail, I could simply show up at a polling place in Kentucky. When I validate my ID (the national one, remember?) the system recognizes that I'm from Virginia. A quick query to Virginia's elections system would provide the ballot questions which can then be displayed on the voting screen. I make my selections, commit my decisions, and the results get squirted back to Virginia to be counted normally. There is no technical reason why that can't work. We all do the very same thing every time we use an ATM away from home. It really is that simple. (Well, the idea is simple, in any case.)

There's a lot there, so go have a look.