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Obama and Voter Suppression: U.S. Elections Need Shoot-for-the-Moon Fix

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Even though the presidential election is over, Democrats across the country, including President Obama, are not forgetting that many American voters had to stand on long lines and wait to cast their votes. Thousands gave up voting and left before casting ballots.

A recent MIT analysis of the problem in the 2012 election backs Democratic assertions that long lines at the polls is a voting-rights issue. The study found that black and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long as whites to cast ballots; urban voters stood on line more than twice as long to vote as their rural counterparts; and Democrats and Independents on average were delayed 20 percent longer than Republican to vote.

So now President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing new federal legislation mandating early voting in all 50 states (which coincidentally is the most favored get-out-the-vote tool traditionally employed by Democrats). Resolving the problem, which Democrats often see as a civil-rights issue, has become part of the president's agenda for his second term.

In his inaugural speech, Obama said, "Our (American) journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote."

And the president again will likely direct the country's attention toward the long voting lines issue in his upcoming State of the Union address on Tuesday.

But mandating early voting in all 50 states, and transforming an election day into an election period is not the answer to eliminate long lines at the polls or to make it easier and more efficient for Americans to vote.

The long lines in November 2012 illustrated not a violation of civil rights but how poorly our government delivers important services and enhances voting opportunities.

The fact is the American election process is totally broken and antiquated in all respects and needs reform with technological innovation.

Instead of imposing mandatory early voting periods, the president and congressional leaders should be talking about allowing Americans to vote by computer, development of encrypted technology to identify voters and safeguard their votes from fraud and even a "race to the moon" effort to create easy, new-generation online voting.

President Obama should use his State of the Union address to spearhead the development of a standardized, universal voting platform that can be used in all elections, from school board to presidential elections, one that will take away the lines from the polls and truly make voting easy.

Americans should be able to download a ballot on a smartphone days before the election, review it and send an electronic ballot by email or text to a local election office.

No more scanners, no more lost ballots, no more lines to vote. Most Americans shop, pay their bills and communicate with one another on the Internet. Why can't they vote using their computers too? Seriously, if we are already allowed to vote by snail mail. Why can't we vote by email too?

A good percentage of Americans are already early voting in many states. Of the 129 million votes cast in this presidential election, more than 32 million were cast in states already set up for early voting. And remember, there were significant problems with long lines at many polling places during the early-voting hours, too.

So despite the call for more voting before election day being made by President Obama, early voting will not resolve the true issue about voting in this country

Voting in America is too cumbersome and difficult no matter how many days voters have to get to the polls.

Long wait times at the poll, faulting scanning machines and incompetent election supervisors should not be issues in this day and age. The journey that President Obama states we need to take to boost all Americans' right to vote is simply a technological one, very doable and very overdue.

Published in Florida Voices on February 11, 2013

Steven Kurlander is an attorney and communications strategist. He writes weekly columns in the Sun Sentinel and Florida Voices and blogs in Kurly's Kommentary. He can be emailed at kurly@stevenkurlander.com

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