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Restoring Democracy - Election Reform or Band-Aid Solutions?

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Weekly Voting Rights News Update

This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.

Featured Stories of the Week:

Opinion: Voting by mail gets my full support – Clovis News Journal
Opinion: Voter registration needs work – The Lawrence Journal-World

Among the voter fraud stories, voter ID challenges and implementations, and voting technology stories this week, two opinion pieces on various election reform ideas cropped up, raising the question: what is the answer to ensuring election integrity? As Americans lose faith in the electoral system, voters and advocates are looking for more than a “Band-Aid” solution to restore democracy.

Voting By Mail In New Mexico

Following New Mexico's election this week, Clovis News Journal writer Kevin Wilson observes that voters are fed up with the high cost and unreliability of voting machines since the 2000 presidential election. “Corruption and confusion shouldn't interfere with voting, our most precious democratic process,” he said, while offering a solution already found by the state of Oregon: Voting by mail.

“In the two weeks prior to an election, voters are mailed their ballots. They have that two-week period to either mail ballots in, or just bring them to their polling place,” Wilson wrote. “The early ballot means voters get to see every single choice and take time to research them.”

Wilson counters doubts on the reliability of voting by mail by addressing the system's ballot verification issues, including cost effectiveness and voting coercion.

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“It's about time,” that New Mexico turns to a voting “system that produces greater participation, a more informed electorate and less chance of corrupted or confused technology taking away legitimate elections,” Wilson wrote.

However, the effects of such reform on turnout are minimal at best. While the administrative costs are lowered significantly in all Vote-By-Mail elections, participation barriers are still worrisome, particularly regarding the reliability of the United States Postal Service. Wilson does not address issues with timely delivery, which had a failure rate as high as 10 percent last year, according to this Project Vote report.

Misdelivery is also a significant problem. The Hawaii League of Women Voters expressed these concerns in a recent report, relating the experience in Clark County, Nevada, where 10% of all the ballots were undeliverable in a VBM primary for the Republican Party. Additionally, there are problems associated with misdelivery of mail in large, multi-unit residential buildings, which are often found in urban areas and college campuses.

Concerns about the reliability of the mail service and about the use of VBM elections in an increasingly mobile society must be addressed as part of any careful assessment of the feasibility of using the VBM format in any jurisdiction. Ultimately, the existing evidence does not support arguments for the adoption of such a system based on increasing voter turn-out or expanding political participation. While convenient, it may create more problems than it is intended to resolve. Please read more on Vote By Mail elections in this Project Vote report.

Moving Towards Universal Voter Registration

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High mobility rates are one issue that challenge the effective implementation of voter registration systems, “the pathway to voting for every American,” according to this piece by Michael Caudell-Feagan, project director of the Pew Center on the States' Make Voting Work initiative. Inaccurate voter rolls lead to multiple problems, including wrongful voter disenfranchisement through uneven, state administered vote purges.

“If past trends hold true, an estimated 19 million prospective voters will be left off the rolls in the next election, and the lists will contain millions of ineligible names. This is a serious management problem for local election officials and an opportunity for those seeking to manipulate elections,” he wrote.

Caudell-Feagan lists state initiatives that were enacted to help ensure the integrity of their voter rolls, including Arizona's online voter registration where more than half of new registrants did so via Internet; pre-registration for teens who get their first driver's license in Florida; and automatic change-of-address by way of collaboration between Michigan registration and motor vehicle databases.

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