News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2005


Sensible ideas address when, where, how to vote

"Don't blame me — I think I voted for Gore."

That bumper sticker, reportedly seen in Florida during the chaotic aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, was a testament to Americans' ability to laugh at their own screw-ups.

That election, though, was a disaster. We will never know whether Al Gore or George W. Bush received more votes, or whether some people who intended to vote for one candidate actually had their votes counted for somebody else.

Florida's punch-card voting machines were error-prone, and too many chads dangled, or got dimpled or pregnant. The system was vulnerable to human errors in counting and handling ballots. Ultimately Mr. Bush became president on legal technicalities.

Despite the resulting outcry for reform, the nation's election system has not changed a lot since 2000. But last week a Houston-based organization called the Election Center issued a report that offers common-sense ideas.

A task force of officials and former officials from 15 states recommended:

  • Universal vote centers, replacing neighborhood precincts. Anyone in a county could vote at any center. These centers would have the best equipment and best-qualified election workers, as well as plenty of parking. They would be accessible to the handicapped. Lines would probably be shorter.
  • "No excuse" voting, an expansion of absentee voting that would be available to everyone. At least 30 states already have some version of it. In some cases, residents can also vote in person as early as a month before Election Day. ("No excuse" can mean two things: You don't need an excuse such as illness in order to vote absentee, and you have no excuse for not exercising your civic responsibility to vote.)
  • An "independently verifiable" record of each voter's ballot from ATM-style touchscreen voting machines. The record might be paper, electronic or on video. (The Tennessee Valley's electronic voting machines have such a record in the form of paper ballots. We don't need to lose this advantage when upgrading technology.)

    Alabamians today must vote close to home even though they may work far away during the short time that the polls are open. Alabama, among other states, could find solutions to these and other problems in the task force's recommendations.

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