Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Let's do away with voter registration

registering to vote.jpg
Monday was the last day to register to vote in California. Workers from the local Department of Elections were out during the commute shouting to passersby: "Ready for the election?" Some people evidently weren't ready and stopped to update their paper work.

The whole rigamarole of voter registration is something our democracy could and should do without. A sensible society would issue each citizen a voting card and, more importantly, an individual ID number when the person reached voting age or completed naturalization. The number would stay the same for life. On election day each person could present themselves to any polling place, provide their ID number (probably punching it in, much as we do at ATMs), declare a current address, and be allowed to vote an (electronic) ballot suitable for the jurisdiction of residence. The technical capacity to run elections this way either exists or is not far away. If we wanted an easy, inclusive, voting system, we could have one.

Reforms can bring us closer. It is now possible to register online in California though the old deadlines remained in force this year. Next election we'll join the more civilized states that practice same day voter registration at the polls. Citizens will be able to walk in, declare their address, and vote. The state that brought the nation Silicon Valley is beginning to catch up to the technical possibilities.

Making voting easy is hard to achieve because of the country's historical attachment to localism. The control of elections by each state under its own rules is written into the Constitution, modified only by successive amendments that gave the vote to Blacks and other people of color, women, and everyone at age 18.

Once upon a time, people thought their privacy was preserved because we didn't have national identity cards. But in a world where all our personal quirks float around for all to see on Facebook and Twitter, it's hard to take personal privacy very seriously. Big Brother knows where we are and what we eat for breakfast; we might as well get the advantages as well as the threats to our autonomy.

A welter of jurisdictions and partisan election officials like the obstacle course we currently have. They live inside it. But just because we've always done it one way does not mean we can't find a better way.

Since the dwindling party of angry old white guys -- once known as the GOP -- doesn't like much of the population, they are working to make it harder for the people they don't like to vote. Alec MacGillis reports on the current campaign to steal the state of Ohio for mendacious Mitt. As long as we can't standardize democratic procedures nationally, we'll have to worry about pockets of politically motivated voter suppression. GOP efforts to ensure a whiter and more affluent electorate must motivate yet another voting rights movement. That's our history, a long struggle toward wider inclusion in the democratic body politic.

Will I live to see voter registration become a quaint memory? I think I might. The foundation is there -- let's end the registration barrier to voting!


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Classof65 said...

We should all be registered to vote when we turn 18 -- I totally agree! And voting machines should be able to allow us to vote wherever we are in the United States, just by entering our address -- after all, voting machines are just "dumb terminals" and could be easily programmed to bring up the appropriate ballot for a particular address anywhere in the U.S. If the election commissions wanted, our thumbprints could be embedded in a chip and read by the voting machine to eliminate fraud. We have the technology to do this, why don't we do it? Or we could use retinal scans. Whatever.

Peter Tibbles said...

Here in Australia we have the Australian Electoral Commission, completely independent of government, to run elections. They oversee the electoral roll, set electoral boundaries, organise polling booths, count the votes (we still use paper and pencil: that seems to work fine. No hanging chads, dubious voting machines, possibly rigged computers and so on).
They are not just there for federal, state and local government elections, they also run things like union elections, some elections for company boards and the like. Indeed, any organization that has an election can call on them to oversee things.
They were set up in 1901, just after we became an independent country.

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