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My Agenda - In Summary

I am just an ordinary American voter who is unhappy with our existing election process and all the trouble it has caused us lately. I fear that recent events are undermining public confidence in our leaders as well as in the way in which we elect them. I am concerned about what happens to my vote after it has been cast. Will it be counted... or not?

I was particularly shocked to learn that in every election, many thousands of votes are disqualified because the ballots are punched or marked incorrectly. This needs to stop. Not only are we failing to count every vote that is cast in good faith, but also, as we have seen, in close elections this leads to endless manual recounts that are time-consuming, expensive, subjective and of questionable accuracy. Furthermore, I have a philosophical problem with the idea that voter's intentions can be judged by someone other than the voters themselves. This leads to my first and most important suggestion.

1. Modernize and/or replace voting systems, to achieve on-site ballot validation that will eliminate ambiguous and invalid ballots. Precinct readers are available for punch-card and for optical-scan ballots but few localities use them. The idea is that before the voter drops their completed ballot into the ballot box, they will first feed their completed ballot into the reader. If the ballot is invalid, for example if there is a double-vote, it will be rejected and the election official will tear it up, give the voter a new ballot, and send the voter to the beginning of the line for the next available booth. If it is accepted, then the voter leaves with the confidence that their vote will be counted and not discarded. I believe that such a procedure would greatly boost public confidence in the election process. And by virtually eliminating disqualified ballots, recounts should be relatively easy and uncontroversial. (Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is also a proponent of this.) (Click here for details)

2. Establish voting standards and regulations for all federal elections. This may require financial assistance from the federal government to help impoverished counties upgrade their systems to meet the new standards. However it will help ensure that elections are consistently fair and efficient for all Americans. Plus, this will make it possible to implement certain reforms that can only be done on a national level; I will elaborate on this point shortly. (Click here for details)

3. Extend the voting period to two days. That is, make Monday an election day as well. This would serve several purposes. First, this would make it easier for some people to vote. Second, this would spread out the load and shorten lines. Third, this will give election officials additional time to resolve problems, such as voters who were erroneously dropped. For example, the reason why a judge here in St. Louis ordered the polls to stay open late, is because the board of elections was unable to accommodate the long lines of people with registration problems. Also, if this is done at a national level, it will facilitate my next proposal. (Click here for details)

4. All polls across the nation must close at the same time. This is the only sure way I can think of to keep the media from declaring a "winner'' while voting is still in progress - an intolerable practice that cannot help but have a detrimental effect on voting and must be stopped. The only issue is that even if you set the closing time at 10 PM Eastern time, that's only 5 PM Aleutian (Hawaiian) time - but that would be overcome by adopting the three-day voting period proposal, to provide an ample opportunity for all to vote. (Click here for details)

5. All absentee, foreign and mail-in votes must be received by the end of the final election day. If this is done nationally, and if disqualified votes are eliminated as suggested above, then it will no longer be possible for a single state to put the entire nation on hold while it waits for its votes to be delivered and counted and recounted. Nor will ballots be rejected due to fuzzy postmarks! (Click here for details)

6. Each polling location should be equipped with computers connected to the central database for use by the precinct workers. This would make it possible for them to look up information as needed, e.g. if a voter goes to the wrong precinct then they can be quickly directed to the correct precinct. (Click here for details)

7. Have additional workers at each polling location. At my location, all workers were very busy with their assigned tasks; no one was there specifically for the purpose of answering questions and helping out. (Click here for details)

8. Have observers at each location to report possible irregularities. Particularly in precincts with a history of complaints. If any voters are being subjected to discrimination or other unacceptable treatment, these incidents need to be witnessed, documented, reported, and acted upon to help put an end to it. (Click here for details)

9. Vigorously prosecute vote fraud. Even when it does not effect the outcome of an election, it still effects the purity of the process, and our confidence in our democracy. (Click here for details)

10. Voter education. Efforts to educate voters should be implemented or improved. (Click here for details)

11. Use Internet technology to provide better information to voters. For example, so they can verify that they are registered, and find out where to vote, etc. (Click here for details)

By the way, although I do advocate using technology to improve the election process to a certain degree, I am opposed to electronic and on-line voting at this time. I would like to continue using mark-sense or hole-punch ballots for the foreseeable future because they result in a physical vote that can be recounted with ease (provided it is a valid, machine-readable ballot) and archived. Given our recent problems, the first thing we need to do is restore voter confidence, the last thing we need to do is to implement bleeding-edge technology which could be confusing or intimidating to some voters, and which could be potentially be manipulated by hackers and viruses, however remote the possibility might seem to some.

I am neutral on the the question of abolishing the Electoral College. On one hand, it seems more fair to rely strictly on the popular vote. If that were the case, we would have had a clear winner and not had to wait 36 days. On the other hand, the many problems that have since come to light, would still be obscured. There are other legitimate arguments for keeping the Electoral College; but if we do, I think we should at least make all of the electoral votes binding, to eliminate additional uncertainty of "faithless" elector. (Click here for details)

I do believe that no matter what reforms are enacted, and no matter what voting system is used, it will always be each voter's individual responsibility to register to vote, show up to vote, and make their voting intentions clear by following whatever voting procedures are in place. I believe that democracy requires this individual responsibility. But I also agree with James Madison who believed that "the reputation and success of representative government depended on the purity of popular elections." I believe our election process is now in need of purification.

Dave Adams

Last updated 02/10/2001