National Voting Standards? May Become Reality Under Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder proposed an idea for national voting standards during a speech on Dec. 11, citing a study by the MacArthur Foundation that said nearly ninety percent of those who voted in the most recent election would support such standards. He does not seem to support specific legislation at this time, however, though he does believe in addressing which steps to take regarding long lines at polling places and increasing people’s opportunity to vote through longer voting hours and more voting days.

Such legislation, however, has already been proposed by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Her proposal includes setting a minimum number of voting machines and poll workers at polling places for elections, helping to ensure that voters never have to wait for more than an hour to cast their ballots. The bill, if passed, would require the attorney general to develop and implement these standards.

Given that Holder is currently only open to the idea of talking about standards that address problems at the polls, and not really endorsing any specific path, it’s worth noting that Senator Boxer’s ideas fit in with what he says needs to happen and are worth a look.

Holder also discussed addressing antiquated registration procedures that vary widely from state to state. He proposes a system of automatic registration for all eligible citizens and that registration should go with people when the move, so they don’t have to re-register every single time, helping to eliminate the issue of people finding that they are ineligible to vote simply because they didn’t realize it was necessary to update their registration.

He also believes that re-districting, for both state and federal district lines, should be addressed so they are are more neutral, rather than drawn to favor a certain candidate or party. Currently, re-districting tends to protect incumbents, making it much more difficult to ensure fair and accurate representation of a state’s population.

One issue Holder didn’t seem to address was the issue of ballots. On Election Day, a video showing a voting machine in Pennsylvania repeatedly changing the voter’s choice from Obama to Romney went viral as accusations of in-person voter fraud flew from both sides. This particular situation was apparently determined to be a calibration error, and not an attempt at fraud, however it highlights the problems with having widely differing ballots and voting methods between the states.

The MacArthur Foundation study, however, found that the people who support national voting standards consider ballot designs as part of what needs to be standardized.

Some states, like Illinois, have a simple, fill-in-the-oval ballot. Ballots are marked with a black, felt-tipped pen provided by election workers at polling locations, so there’s no chance of ovals being erased and others filled in later on.

Everyone understands fill-in-the-oval; no matter what generation we’re from, we all had to take fill-in-the-oval tests countless times in school. So using this type of ballot lessens the chances that someone will not understand how to vote, which in turn decreases the chances of a repeat of the 2000 debacle in Florida, where elderly voters feared they voted for Buchanan when they intended to vote for Gore.

It also virtually eliminates issues with voting machines being improperly calibrated, as they claim the issues were with the voting machines changing votes in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere. It’s a low-tech solution, yes, but sometimes low-tech is best, especially when it comes to ensuring that everyone is able to vote how they see fit.

It seems to be more clear than ever now that that national standards for the election processes and processes that affect election results, if done right, will help to ensure a fairer process that can help keep voters from being disenfranchised, and can also make competition for Congressional seats and seats in the states’ own legislatures better, stronger, and ultimately more fair, meaning the full representation of the people.