What America needed Tuesday was an uncontroversial presidential election, free of the election fraud accusations that have plagued its last two presidential contests. Thankfully, that’s what it got. But despite the calm, there are still glaring problems with our current system — nationwide and in Michigan specifically. While 2012 may seem like it’s light years away, if we want to avoid a debacle next time around, lawmakers must start thinking about how to solve our most glaring election problems now.
We all remember what happened in 2000. Based on a slew of miscast ballots in Florida, George W. Bush stole the election from Al Gore, with a little help from the U.S. Supreme Court. But what is almost as important in that story is what else came out of that election: Congress’s 2002 Help America Vote Act. Promising to update voting procedure across the country, this law was supposed to remedy America’s most pressing electoral problems. Six years later, it’s time to move beyond HAVA. At the state and federal levels, our next package of election reform should focus on two main goals: boosting Americans’ confidence in our voting system and making the process as easy as possible.
One small place to start is the long lines at polling stations on Election Day. There are many voters who arrive at the polls to discover that they will have to wait in line for hours, causing them to leave. Making Election Day a national holiday may be one way to fix this problem. The better solution would be to expand early voting and mail-in voting options. Another intriguing solution would be an online voting option. While such a method would obviously need to be made safe before it could be put in use, giving voters choices other than voting booths results in less congestion at the polls and more turnout.
And when it comes to the actual voting booths, our government hasn’t fixed the glaring problems with electronic voting machines. Many states don’t back up electronic ballots with paper ones, and as evidenced Tuesday, electronic machines are still unreliable. The companies who make these machines haven’t fixed the many glitches that leave them open to fraud either.
Concerns also plague the pre-Election Day stages. The voter registration process continues to be inconsistent and subject to partisan meddling. With cut-off dates scheduled weeks before the election, some voters miss out because they don’t register in time. A same-day registration option would address this problem and improve voter turnout.
Though these reforms often receive the most attention, Michigan, in particular, has some troublesome voting laws of its own. Chief among these is Rogers’s Law, which requires that the address on a voter’s registration card matches the one on the person’s driver’s license. Many students are stricken from the voter roster and don’t even find out about it until they get to the polls and are turned away. Other convoluted rules like Michigan’s ID requirement, its requirement that first-time voters who want to vote absentee return to their home clerk’s office and its lax restrictions on voter registration purges only further complicate voting in Michigan.
The next national election may be two years away, but that’s no reason to put off fixing America’s voting system. Thousands of Americans were unable to or discouraged from voting because of problems with the current system. Our federal government and state governments owe them a speedy solution. By the time the next election rolls around, no willing American voter should be barred from the polls.