The 2008 elections saw the largest voter turnout since 1960. More than 60% of those eligible turned out to cast their ballots. It is a testament to the democratic system that has existed for more than 225 years. Nevertheless, before we start patting ourselves on the back, there are several problems that remain. How is it, one may ask, that in Minnesota we still do not have an officially declared winner? In the New York 20th off year election, state election officials have yet to declare a winner. And, not to be forgotten, the 2000 presidential elections that dragged on forever without a true count of all the ballots. The real question here is: "Why have federal officials not addressed these problems in voting methods?" And what is a solution that makes sense.
The main reasons for problems in tabulation are the outdated processes used by the states. Despite the fact that Congress passed a law that would enable the states to update their methods, the very states where the voting irregularities existed in 2000 still remain in 2009. Although, there have been glimmers of improvement, there are still pockets in the various states that remain. As Minnesota in 2008, Ohio in 2004, and Florida in 2000 illustrate, this is not just a problem in the South. Why have things not improved, the answer is simple: No Money. The federal program that supplements the changes in voter tabulation methods is a matching program. This means that in many instances, the states have to match a certain percentage of the cost to update voting technology and the federal government will provide the rest. In a day and age of rising state deficits, state governments have little room for funding these programs. And some states refuse for various ideological reasons to take the federal funds.
Despite the efforts to address the voting technology problems, another problem still remains. The problem consists of more than 51 (including DC) different sets of election laws. This comes as a surprise to my American National Government classes. One would have thought that since that long election nightmare of 2000 the national government would have addressed the problem. Well, since those in power benefitted from the result, one can see where that issue went, in the trash along with 93 proposed bills in 2001 to modify or eliminate the Electoral College. While I am all for its elimination, under current election law, I am weary of such a reform. What is needed at this point is a very boring modification of national election laws. The new laws enacted in 2001 were a step in the right direction. The states now have to provide a provisional ballot when a voter is challenged at the precinct level on his/her eligibility to vote. Instead of in the old days of denying them the vote, they vote on a provisional ballot and their eligibility is determined later. However, the problem that needs to be addressed is the need for National Uniform Election laws for federal officials with a federally mandated, and funded, program to implement one standard voter tabulation method. With such a program, the integrity of the federal ballot could be sustained even with mandatory recounts. I would also advocate the optical scan ballot that has the lowest error rate of all methods, a rate of .03%. There are other methods available, but they do not have this level of accuracy. Even the touch screen method or paper ballots have more than a 1% error rate. Personally, I want a paper trail. The optical scan provides this. In addition, with federal standards, the endless recounts would be considerably decreased. Part of the problem in the Minnesota Senate race was that many areas are still using paper ballots. That and the instructions can be about as clear as rush hour traffic in New York City.
The institution of a Federal Uniform Election law will not eliminate recounts or close races. However, a uniform method of voter tabulation, with a paper trail, will at least show that an attempt to uphold the integrity of the ballot was made. Any reform of the Electoral College cannot succeed if there remain 51 different sets of election laws and voter tabulation methods. Some states even still have punch cards. It would go a long way to preserving the legitimacy of our democratic system if such laws were enacted. This would also help in addressing problems associated with close races, for example the Minnesota Senate Race of 2008, and the New York 20th Congressional seat of 2009. When candidates are within 1% of each other, the problems inherent in the system are magnified.
One comforting fact is that in Minnesota in 2008 and Ohio in 2004, the courts made a genuine effort to ensure that state election law was followed and voter integrity was sustained. I am sure many will question that. At least Minnesota made the effort to ensure that all ballots were counted. We will never know who actually won the 2000 vote in Florida, despite official returns. That incident should have been the rallying cry for election law change. Instead, it has become an issue whose time appears to have passed. The only solution to Congressional inaction would be a Constitutional Amendment proposed by 2/3 of the states (US Constitution, Article V). This has never occurred, but the various state legislatures could pass a simple bill that would call for a Constitutional Convention to address the problem. Unlikely as it is, as it has never been done this way, the prospect would at least make the Congress take notice. Until a national set of election laws are enacted for federal elections, the elimination of the Electoral College will not solve the problem of close presidential elections. Until another massive debacle on the scale of Florida in 2000 occurs, the US appears doomed to having 51 state elections held on the same day with continued irregularity in voter tabulation.