Let's Fix Some Elections... Wait, That Came Out Wrong

Post-Election 2018

I've seen a lot of people Online discussing this last election cycle, the U.S. Mid-terms, and talking about all the ways the U.S. does it wrong. Of course, many of them were grousing about how third parties aren't treated fairly, how the Electoral College is outdated, and how it's unfair that states with smaller populations (i.e., Republican-controlled states in the South, Midwest, and West) get a much greater say in the running of the government than larger-population states (i.e., the Coasts), granting them a larger share of Electoral Votes and Senators for their smaller population. While those are problems we could discuss, that's not going to be the focus on this article. The distribution of Senators and Electoral Votes is baked into the U.S. Constitution, and changing these two systems would require an Amendment, which would need a bunch of Republican Senators to vote for it, something that's unlikely since it would be removing their own power.

Instead let's look at some common-sense solutions the U.S. Federal Government could put into place now (or, at least, once the Presidential administration changes, since I'm not expecting the current administration and batch of Senators to care). These would essentially standardize all elections across the U.S., from local dogcatcher all the way up to President, and ensure that all citizens, no matter location or past voting experience, can vote. Yes, this would require a Constitutional Amendment as it would be taking presumed rights away from the states and putting them in the hands of the Federal Government. This is allowed, as the Federal Government is allowed to reassess and make recommendations and requirements for any power the States control. The States would still be in control of their elections, and if they wanted to make any of the standards even better they could, but they would be required to meet these minimum standards for all elections everywhere.

As a bonus, these new standards would likely give the third parties better representation in elections. Whether or not they were able to get enough votes to regularly get elected is a different question. What it would fix is the assumption that a vote for a third party is a vote thrown away.

  1. Anyone of legal voting age (18 currently in the U.S.) is automatically registered to vote at their current, listed home address. If they move they would still be required to register again with their new address, but this will be allowed at a State-run government office (in most states, that's usually the BMV/DMV, where you can register to vote when you update your license).
  2. Anyone with a criminal record who has fully served their time should be allowed to register to vote. Although many states allow this, some states still prevent convicted criminals who have served their time from voting even after that. If you're a legal U.S. citizen and you aren't in prison (or under house arrest, or on parole, etc.), your right to vote should be restored. You've served your time and, presumably, are going out to be a full and legal citizen once more.
  3. All states would be required to have a government office open for a full three weeks, from 6:00 AM until 8:00 PM, in each voting district in the state. These offices would:
    1. Issue State IDs. These are not drivers licenses, simply State IDs that list a person's name, address, age, basic info, and have a state-issued ID number on it (whether it's a State-generated number or simply their Social Security Number, as some states, like Virginia, use). In states where a State-issued ID is required, this ID card would qualify for in-person voting.
      • Also, because these IDs have an address listed on them (even if it's just "State Road 400S"), this would qualify as their address in any state that requires a full state address when someone votes.
      • The burden to get one of these IDs should be small: two pieces of delivered mail with the person's name and address on it. Anything more, like birth certificates or SSN cards would be a burden for some people to get, especially with the way work schedule operate.
      • And, of course, if someone already has a valid ID and is previously registered to vote, they would already be in the system (and already have a State-issued ID). Someone else coming in trying to get a card under that person's name would be committing a crime, one that the state office would easily be able to identify.
    2. Register any voters not currently in the voter logs. If the person is a legal resident of the state they should be allowed to register while they're in the office.
    3. Oversee early voting. The office is open for three weeks before an election, and can handle all the ID requirements and registration. It makes perfect sense for them to handle early voting, too, as someone can come in, get an ID if they need it, register to vote while they're there, and then move over to the Early Voting line. One-stop shop.
  4. States should have a minimum three-month open registration for absentee ballots. The states would run a website where someone could go on with their State-issued ID number (see above) and ask for an absentee ballot to be sent to their address.
    • All absentee voting should be open for three weeks before Election Day. Ballots will be sent out at the start of that period, and the ballots can be sent in during the three week window to be counted.
  5. All elections would use Instant Run-off voting. Voters would be given a multiple choice ballot and would be allowed to rank their choices for each elected position. Thus, if someone really liked the Green Party candidates, they would list them as their "first choice" for a given job, then the Democrat as their "second choice" and so on until they're out of candidates. When the votes are tallied, if no one candidate has 50% or more of the votes, the lowest ranking candidate is removed and their first-place votes are redistributed to the next choice on their list. If 50% is still not achieved, the next-to last finisher is removed with their votes redistributed among the remaining candidates, and so on.
    • If, after all but the top-two candidates are removed, there is still a 1% or less margin between the candidates, a recount of the votes would automatically be required. A second recount can be requested by either candidate after this if there's still a 1% or less margin between them. After both of these, any further recounts would have to be approved by the courts.
  6. All voting machines should use paper ballots. This ensures a paper trail and allows votes to be recounted by hand if there's ever a question. If someone reports that a machine miscounted their vote or says they voted for a different party than the one written on their ballot, they should be able to prove otherwise.

So what does this accomplish? One, it ensures that anyone that is a legal U.S. citizen who wants to vote can do so. It removes many of the burdens some states have put in place to block voters from voting (in the name of "in-person voter fraud", something that almost never happens, no matter what some politicians may say). If you want to exercise your Constitutional right to vote, no one should be allowed to prevent that.

Two, it standardizes how elections are run and how votes are tallied. These measures remove doubt -- doubts about the voters, doubts about the system, and doubts about where people's votes are going. Everything is open and standardized, and if ever there's a question there's also a fully, written record of everything.

Obviously this doesn't solve every issue -- we still need to have a long conversation about Electoral Votes, for instance. But by fixing these issues we can count these as "solved" and then go on to tackle bigger issues facing elections in this country.