On Deck: Election Reform in America

During President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address he announced “a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting Obama2013StateOfTheUnionSpeech640_0experience in America.” He didn’t fully explain what the problems are with the “voting experience,” but one can surmise some of the features of our electoral process deserve attention:

  • Low Voter Turnout. Approximately 52-62 percent of eligible voters have participated in recent presidential elections, and participation in Congressional elections is typically lower.
  • Voter Demographics Not Reflective of the Electorate. The majority of voters in recent elections have been married, white people. While the U.S. made notable strides in reaching a representative voter turnout in 2012, the demographics are not yet representative of the eligible electorate.
  • A Negative, Costly Campaign Enterprise: The Federal Election Commission revealed that the 2012 presidential campaign cost the country $7 billion; and only one of more than 300 registered candidates requested public campaign funds. We need to evaluate what this significant shift means for voters, particularly in light of voters’ feeling that the 2012 campaign was more negative than usual.
  • Antiquated Voting Process. You can open a bank account and transfer funds online, submit your taxes online, and renew your

    vehicle registration online, but you can’t vote online. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out of your day to do your civic duty, but 37 percent of voters participated in the 2012 election before Election Day. Voter fraud will always be a risk no matter what system we employ, but are you going to tell me that American ingenuity can produce 3-D printers and cloud computing, but not secure online voting?

  • Miscalculation of Votes. No one wants to relive Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000); enough said.

The President was right to not spend precious airtime dwelling on these challenges and others. That will be left to the Commission.

We certainly can’t, and wouldn’t want to, force people to vote, but we also haven’t made the process “user-friendly.” What I would like to offer are two suggestions for the President’s Commission on Election Administration—suggestions for not only improving the American experience on Election Day (which is purported to be the Commission’s focus), but also for supporting civic participation by easing candidate evaluation and the burden of the campaign process.

Performance Scorecards: Yes, this is tricky because too much of public service is politicized. However, I like to think that there are nonpartisan measures of performance for which any elected official could be held accountable. These statistics should be made clearly visible to voters from an unbiased source (I believe those do exist somewhere). Just a few examples, but I’d like to know the percentage of votes for which my Congresspersons were present on the floor; the number of times they abstained; and the number of bills they introduced that were passed in Committee or brought to the floor for a vote. While votes and bills are not the definitive indicator of a job well done, they are certainly two of the key activities we might reasonably expect our elected officials to participate in as part of their job. Another idea: since none of the candidates want public campaign funds, perhaps we can use that money to fund a nonpartisan entity to be the delivery portal for this information – that’s critical – we need one unequivocally accurate and trusted national source for this scorecard as a resource for voters. (If this already exists feel free to let me know @sruenb).

iVote App: There’s got to be an app for that – there’s an app for everything. Can someone please deliver online voting so that we can Mobile-Appsget on with the business of why we hold elections? This type of e-solution would be likely to improve voter demographic data analysis capability that could yield additional efficiencies across the campaigning and electoral process. Shouldn’t a goal of electoral reform be to reduce the costs (financial and technical) of becoming an elected official? There’s so much focus on the process of an election that our officials are having a hard time focusing on the reward of an election—getting to do their job.


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