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Our election system is broken.  We all know it.  But let's face it.  "Election reform" is boring.  You say the words, and people's eyelids start to droop (hey, is that a snore I hear already in the back of the room?).  Reform is something  we need as Democrats, and it is something the American people need.   So how do we call attention to it?  Especially now that the Republicans control Congress?  

Well, by getting back to being the party of Big Ideas.  Thinking outside the box.  Thinking boldly.

Let's not reform our election system.  Let's revolutionize it.

The American voter should feel excited--not  afraid--to cast her vote.  Let's imagine a society where a voter can go to the polls, free from intimidation, where she can cast her vote knowing her voice will be heard.  Let's envision an election system that will once again make other nations envious of our democratic process.  

A Right To Vote Amendment is a fabulous Big Idea, but we know it will take years to draft, approve, and be ratified. So let's focus on short-term solutions, solutions for 2008. Markos has some excellent suggestions for change in his post yesterday.  Let's use those as a springboard for setting out a plan to revolutionize our democratic process.

1.  It shall be illegal for a public official, especially in the office of Secretary of State or Attorney General, to serve on the political campaign of any candidate.  In our new system, we need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

2.  Election day shall be extended.  Some have suggested a week.  I think that is too long.  A week of voting is a week's worth of access to ballot machines, registration rolls, poll books, etc. and I think that is too dangerous at this point.  Besides, the size of our electorate doesn't require so many days.  Two days of voting should be more than enough time to cast ballots in an expeditious fashion which still considering the integrity of voting materials.

3.  There shall be 1 voting machine per 100 voters.  Allocating machines based on "active voters" is stupid when you're facing new registration rates upwards of 25%.  Urban areas, rural areas, rich and poor - every voter has a right to cast his ballot without waiting in line for more than 15 minutes.   And if a State receives a request for an extra machine on election day, has extra machines, and refuses to release them, the State shall be fined.  Each machine withheld prevents what, 150 people from voting?  Then $150,000 per machine.  Make the disincentive huge.

4.  There shall be paper trails and source code examination.  Pass HR 2239, which requires both of these things.  We should not be afraid to embrace modern technology in our voting process.  But we should only do so with the caveat that it is the voter's interests that are always paramount.  Every machine (touch screen, optical scan, even tabulation is possible) should print out two receipts listing the candidates selected.  One for the voter to take home, the other to be places in a big ol' lock box at the polling station.   Just in case the machine has a "glitch" and loses votes or something.

5.  A National Election Code.  Like the Uniform Commercial Code, this would be a set of model laws which should be adopted by every state.  We need uniform standards across the board, from registration to voting to counting to recounting.  What should be some of the standards?  Provisional ballots shall be counted even if they are cast at the wrong precinct.  Absentee ballots shall be mailed out earlier, and accepted later.  Prices for a recount should be adjusted.  Easier ballot access for third party candidates.  

Good ideas? Sure.  But we said Big Ideas.  Let's shoot for the moon:

5.  Registration verification.  When a person signs up with a group to vote, they should know if their registration was processed or not.  An they should know before the election.  Voter registration forms distributed to registration groups like ACT or ACORN should come with a detachable slip at the bottom the new voter can keep, listing who registered her, date of registration, etc.  It should remind the voter to call up X weeks later to check if his registration has been processed, and have the proper number listed to call.  A little forward thinking never hurt anyone.

6.  Increase polling places at University campuses. We want America's youth engaged in the political process, and having a University filled with an election atmosphere is sure to get more of them interested.  Also, practically speaking, University campuses are much larger and can accommodate more voters in a community than say, a church or a small building.  The less people wait outside, the better.

7.  A complaint box  in every polling place.  How come it's easier to call 1-800-How-Am-I-Driving and report a crappy driver than to call your local Board of Elections and report a problem with the poll workers? We need to start holding poll workers accountable, and if they are not properly trained, then the Secretary of State should be responsible.  While a phone number to report problems is great, let's face it. Most people would rather fill out a form, right there, right when it happens, rather than go home and look up a number to complain.  

In our new system, we want to provide the most efficient way for voters to report their grievances or problems.  At the polling place, have a big display, labeled something like "Comments?  Problems?  Report them here." That way, every voter who is told he's not registered, or every voter who thinks a poll worker is not qualified, every voter who had a bad voting experience because of intimidation by challengers can fill out a form, drop it in the box, and viola!  The voter feels better because his grievance is aired, and the system is healthier because you can use those complaints to improve the system.  

8.  Public Announcements.  Time for the media to step up and start -- gasp! -- informing people.  With the adoption of a NEC, we could even do a National Voter Education Campaign.  At the very least, local media should do a notification that Election day--for ALL parties--in on such and such date.  Remind voters they don't need an ID to vote (unless they're new, some laws are different).  

Big Ideas.  Our voters deserve them.

What are your big ideas to revolutionize our election system?

Originally posted to Georgia Logothetis on Tue Jan 04, 2005 at 07:24 AM PST.

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