Three Simple Fixes for our Elections

It seems like every year lately where we have a major election, the same problems, complaints and suggestions come up. People complain about no paper backup for electronic voting, people using their elected office (especially if they’re Secretary of State) to influence the election for another office they run for and finally third party candidates influencing the outcome where possibly the worst option ends up winning. I won’t go into the issue of voter suppression (though it is part of those using their elected office to influence elections for their party’s benefit) but the three I mention impact everyone who truly cares about the integrity of the election process and the power of their vote.

The problems listed above play a major role in why voter turnout is lower than most Democratic nations. People believe their votes don’t count or it’s too hard to vote. Well here are some simple fixes already used around the world and in many parts of our nation that could improve matters for everyone regardless of party who’s interested in fair and transparent elections being held where those who are truly supported by the majority wins.

In the United States there are no national standards for how local States and communities gather and count votes. There’s a mishmash of jurisdictions that are completely paper ballots that are hand counted and others that are completely electronic with no paper trail that can be used to challenge the electronic tabulation. Even Donald Trump is on record saying there should be a paper trail for elections. In my State and County we use paper ballots that feed into electronic counting machines to tabulate votes. The paper ballots are then collected and stored for a period of time. In fact in Arizona 75% of all our votes in the last election were mail-in paper ballots. After they were confirmed as legitimate via signature comparison on the envelopes for which they are sent, it turned out that Kyrsten Sinema has (as of this writing) a growing lead over Martha McSally. In fact due to the way the voting is done, verified and tabulated even the Republican Governor and McSally herself are acknowledging that Sinema is in the lead and could win based on the concept that every vote should be counted. Nothing prevents a similar war of accepting, verifying and tabulating votes like this from being done throughout the entire nation. Nothing except election officials not interested in using a simple, economical and accurate means to collect votes from using this method in their jurisdictions. Perhaps national standards should be considered via legislation that Trump is already on record supporting. Check his twitter feed.

In Georgia we have the ongoing drama of the Secretary of State (who controls the election) using his office to suppress votes in areas of the State that would benefit his democratic opponent. This was also the case in Kansas. Now Kemp is claiming victory and only after the election resigned his office while Abrams has refused to concede and the vote remains close (as of this writing). Kemp certainly did some unsavory and suspicious things as Secretary of State as did Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Now fortunately in Kansas, Kobach lost decisively as many Republicans found his actions unpalatable. In Arizona if an elected official wishes to run for another elected office in the State, they are required by law to resign that office. However, this doesn’t apply to State office holders running for Federal office. Well the fix is obvious, anyone holding office should be required to resign that office if they choose to run for a different office regardless if it’s local, State or Federal. That eliminates any perception of abuse of power to influence the vote. Besides, if you want to go on to another office, why keep the one you already have?

Now for the big one (in my opinion) third party candidates. We as a nation always complain that we are a two party system that prevents third party or independent candidates from ever winning office. Well there are some independents who have won office, but go on to caucus with one or the other major party (Bernie Sanders for one), but this complaint is essentially true. In 2000 Ralph Nader ran as a third party candidate and although he had no chance of winning was able to draw off enough votes away from Al Gore to give George W. Bush the election via the Electoral College (despite losing the popular vote). In 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was able to draw off enough votes away from Hillary Clinton to permit Donald Trump to win via the Electoral College (despite losing the popular vote), and finally in 1992 Ross Perot drew off enough votes from Bush to permit Bill Clinton to win (but he did win the popular vote). Some argue that there shouldn’t be third or fourth party candidates since our system is built to only accommodate two major parties. Many disagree with that proposal as unfair to the wishes of those who don’t want to vote for any Republican or Democrat they don’t like or support for whatever reason. So how to resolve this issue?

One already exists. Instant Runoff Voting. It’s used in Democratic nations around the world and even in certain offices in the State of Maine. Essentially if you have more than two candidates for an office, you just don’t select one, you rank the candidates in order of your preference. If your primary candidate doesn’t collect enough votes to overtake the top two candidates, your second choice is then selected as your choice. Too often voters complain that although they don’t like their Republican or Democratic candidate they’re not going to waste a vote on a third party candidate and hold their nose and vote for someone they really don’t like. Or they don’t like either candidate then vote for the one that has no chance of collecting enough votes to overtake the other two, thus possibly giving the election over to the greater of two evils. With Instant Runoff Voting people would feel more at ease voting for who they really want and if that person doesn’t get enough vote, their second choice gets their vote. Every vote counts and the candidate with the most overall support wins. It actually helps third party candidates get a greater chance of possibly winning since voters know they can choose who they really want first, but have a backup just in case.

Seems to me that Republicans, Democrats, Third Party and Independents would all like this option unless the candidate wants to dilute the vote from the populous hoping to eke out a win like LePage or Abbot who never get anywhere near a majority vote when they ran for office against multiple candidates. This option is economic too since some jurisdictions require that if no single candidate gets over 50% of the vote and second election is held for the top two vote getters. Why hold a second election when you can resolve in in one?

Ideally there should be national standards for our elections and better yet, a constitutional guaranteed right to vote in our country. Some say we already have that via the 15th Amendment. In reality we don’t since as long as voting suppression measures can be shown to impact people beyond their race or ethnicity, it’s permissible. For example, everyone needs to get Voter ID. Now theoretically this applies to Whites and Minorities (despite the reality that most minorities can’t afford or obtain what’s needed for the ID). Voting suppression laws remain legal if you can’t prove the measure was designed specifically to suppress certain minorities from voting. So a simple “Every citizen has a right to vote” clause in the 15th Amendment would resolve the problem instead of the current wording of “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” As long as they can say the provision isn’t denying the vote because of race or color, it’s constitutional. The 15th Amendment needs to be amended.

In the meantime, until fixes are made, continue to vote the entire ballot in all races. It’s the best we can do in the meantime to make sure our voices are heard.

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