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Charles D. Ellison Headshot

A Voting System That Keeps it Real

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Why don't we have a mandated, universal, one-size-fits-all voting standard for Presidential, House and Senate races (we'll get into the state and local at some later point)? Dumb question? "Stupid is as stupid does" -- the fact that voting laws differ from state to state is, simply put, a hot steamy mess. It attracts little logic that one state's set of election ordinances are stronger than a neighboring jurisdiction or that one county's voting machines are more secure than a similar county just because the former spent more money to snag a better machine. And, let's save some space to even begin talking about electronic voting machines; we should definitely get used to digital voting, but competing this out to various companies who refuse to open source the technology while building faulty machines is a bit shady and malfeasant. Why do legislators appear to avoid the real issue regarding the institution of ONE voting standard (electronic or not)? Why not create one standard and compel all states to use one universal method?

Well -- let's correctly assume that all voting will go electronic... what's the problem of every state and district using the same technology or the same standard in collecting ballots? And, why are we worried about collecting paper verifications when we don't even have a standard, yet?

The irony in this rib-split election is that Election Day is no longer the event we anxiously anticipate. It's the antiseptic of any patience, merely the deadline we await on the cracking nail-bite of polls, long primaries and early ballots.

Good news is that the latter is a probable savior of a functioning modern democracy possibly gone defunct. As that "Supreme Being" In [Which] We Trust only knows how much we need it. Yet, you wouldn't know that judging from the daily lactose of pop culture interference. Still, as of 2008, more than the usual number of Americans appear eager to -- for a change -- actually exercise their basic constitutional right. On the real, it didn't help global image when your boy with the 23rd letter in the alphabet is "spreading democracy" on an anti-terror rant, yet barely half of us are voting back home. Obviously, that defied any real sense while offending many reasoned sensibilities. We're now finding the enthusiasm a bit infectious this cycle.

With the early voting thing now the flavor of the month, folks who would have found innumerable reasons to stay home, go straight to work or fake a sick day now have little excuse. Once November 4th passes and winners are picked, the big question is whether or not we'll do something with or about this newfound energy. With much discussion, probing and furious legal wrangling over voter fraud and ballot machine insecurity, there is quite a bit of justifiable concern when the actual foundation is found cracking. Call the cynics crazy and the naysayers paranoid all you want: blatant ignorance to fundamental flaws in the voting system is straight political suicide.

At this stage, a week to go before D-Day, Republicans cry nasty foul over their perception of a "stolen election," the hypocrisy of which stinks more than halitosis. Lawsuits are being filed, some stretching legal writ; and there is some very shaky notion that while the financial markets disintegrate, average voters actually care about an grassroots group named after a oak tree nut. Recent Republican victimology is a rather peculiar concept given the party's longstanding relationship with bootstraps and simply "sucking it up." But, we all know how the game gets switched up from time to time, so there is nothing surprising in the final analysis. Still, a stronger point is made amid the shattered hopes of GOP hacks and circular firing squads: our celebrated system is actually quite vulnerable, from hanging chads to imbalanced Supreme Court decisions.

Should we begin looking into compulsory voting? Australia does it -- they might have boring elections compared to the soap-opera drama we dig back here, but at least everybody is participating. They also open-source their voting technology, rather than bid contracts to companies who want to keep it proprietary. Sure: compulsory voting is not democratic, one can easily say. But, there is no guarantee that we'll get back-to-back energetic Presidential elections like this one where the vast majority of eligible voters are fired up and those unregistered feel like teenage groupies who can't get tickets to a Lil Wayne concert. So, how democratic is it when we go back to a minority of eligible voters deciding the fate of everybody? Non-participation is just as un-democratic as being fined for not going to the polls. Again, just keeping it real and simple. If we made it compulsory, we can create exemptions, too, for those who won't vote due to religion or conscientious objection.

And while we complain about kids who don't know the difference between "a House and a Senate" or can't tell us the name of the last President, we're doing little to simply mandate civics education from pre-K to 12th grade. Let's not talk about the virtues of the occasional social studies class -- forget that. Let's discuss and then legislate rigorous standards making civics as necessary as immunizations. Seriously: we need to bring School House Rock back with a passion. Starting as early as elementary school, students shouldn't pass any grade without a basic grasp of how government works. High school seniors should not be able to graduate without a firm grip on such fundamentals as how a bill becomes law and how campaigns work. Colleges shouldn't admit without passing a basic test that is either as standard as the SAT or fully integrated into it. Stop telling kids to "rock the vote" as if all they need to do is fill out a registration form at a local hip-hop concert. Bring it full circle, keep it correct and start teaching future generations about the process and the system beyond the vote. What occurs as bills are moved through Capitol Hill committee hearings is more important than making sure some backpacking college freshman checks off their party affiliation.

True that many intellectuals are already bantering about how to either fix, modify or banish the Electoral College -- that's the first item raised in any coffee house exchange on what's wrong with American voting. But, why talk about the EC when we're having issues with the dumb stuff, like submitting a ballot? Hence, discourse on what's wrong with our voting system and how we fix it is as critical as the post-mortem horse race analysis we'll all pimp endlessly into 2009.

Now, if bets are placed on the assumption of such a national conversation taking place any time soon, don't waste your breath. Politics is now a multi-billion dollar hustle and the players have a vested interest in keeping the wool over our collective eyes. We need to circumvent that action. Vigorously revisiting holes in the foundation might feel stupid and somewhat embarrassing, but what could transpire following that conversation is a healthy thing. In fact, it might actually save our national life.