Mary Sanchez: Make sure every vote matters

November 19, 2012 

Oh, how quickly the electorate forgets.

The long lines at the polls, the glut of millionaire money that poured into candidates' coffers, the efforts to undercut voters' rights under the guise of preventing "voter fraud." It's on to the holidays and pre-Christmas sales. Stuff that turkey, hang the mistletoe and whip out that credit card.

Before this chance for post-election reflection completely vanishes, though, let's talk election reform -- and begin to push for it.

Congress needs to act to clean up the mishmash of rules, modernize the process and address the real problems, not the overpoliticized and underproved claims of voter fraud. We also need to get the glut of money from a few tamped down to size, restoring balance and empowering smaller donors. And that's the short list.

The country dodged a bullet on Nov. 6. Thank you, Mitt Romney. Virtually imploding in many battleground states, the election was not nearly as close as many had assumed it would be. Thank you, Nate Silver, for reading real data, not tea leaves.

We could still be counting chads.

States operate under a hodgepodge of laws. According to the Brennan Center for Justice: "In Florida, a recount must be completed within 12 days, but in Ohio it could take more than a month. Automatic recounts are triggered in Ohio if the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent, and in Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania if it's less than 0.5 percent." This doesn't mean there is post-election peace and tranquility in the land.

A week after the election, Arizona officials had managed to make it through half of the state's more than 600,000 uncounted ballots, but several close races were still undecided.

The longer the tabulating goes on, the more chance the public will begin to question the fairness of the process -- as they should. Many of the uncounted ballots were cast provisionally. That occurs when there are discrepancies in a voter's registration. Why that occurred in such high numbers is now the glaring question.

This is a nation that has computer programs capable of tracking every online purchase, deciphering what link you may click next, and a range of other digital wonders once considered Orwellian concepts.

And yet, many voters still cast their vote by filling in little dots with a stubby pencil, like grade-schoolers taking a multiple-choice exam. Some people were left scrounging for the birth certificate that mom squirreled away to prove where they were born.

It's quaint, but not in a pleasing retro way. Developing democracies need to show the purple-ink-stained fingerprint of the just-voted. The United States can do better.

Much could be accomplished by simply using available technology. Some states electronically transfer data from their motor vehicle offices to election officials. That negates the chances for human error in data entry and aids in keeping people's current address in the system.

Online voter registration is another measure shown to ease data foul-ups and increase voter registrations.

Same ballot, my fellow Americans. We need to get on the same ballot here.

Along the way, we could also re-energize enthusiasm for the civic duty of voting.

Part of the reason people don't vote is the often-repeated line that "My vote doesn't matter." Congress can change that allegation.

E-mail: msanchez@kcstar.com.

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

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