Reassure voters with election reform

Jan BenDor and Phil Shepard

When a presidential candidate refuses in advance to accept the election outcome and charges “rigging” and voter fraud, it is certainly appropriate to reassure voters that their vote will count, that voter impersonation is rare, and U.S. elections are trustworthy.

We have strong election systems. However, misgivings about our elections have been widespread in recent years even without Republican nominee Donald Trump on the scene. So we would be wise to reassure voters not only by extolling our elections but also by redressing their weaknesses.

The superabundance of “dark” money unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision leaves some discouraged that their voice won’t be heard. Banning dark money and instituting proportional public financing (like doubling donations with public money) would greatly encourage participation in elections.

New restrictions on voting, like voter ID requirements and cutting back on early voting, have been adopted by numerous state legislatures since much of the Voting Rights Act was repealed. We need to restore the Voting Rights Act immediately.

To do this we must address the gerrymanders in most states. These extreme districting laws make votes for one party worth just a fraction of votes for the other party. (This includes races for U.S. Congress as well as for state legislatures, and even county commissions in some cases.) For the next round of redistricting, we should press to have districts drawn by politically independent boards so voters can again choose their politicians through elections instead of the current system of politicians choosing their voters through redistricting.

There is also much to do to strengthen the integrity of vote counting. Since the rise of electronic voting, many problems have arisen.

First, it has been thoroughly established by teams of computer scientists that our current electronic voting machines can be hacked. These devices should be redesigned to provide for robust security during elections, or replaced with much more secure systems.

One type of electronic voting device, touch screen or “DRE” models, provides no paper record at all. Yet many states still use them. These machines should be retired immediately after this election. Paper ballots should be the standard for all U.S. elections. Only with paper ballots can an election contest be truly recountable.

Even optical scanners used with paper ballots present many problems. Most current scanners in Michigan have exceeded their useful life and can no longer count with sufficient accuracy. Wisely, many states already require that election results be audited after the fact. Most worthwhile are audits of the vote count and the most cost-effective are statistical or risk limiting audits. Knowing that such audits will be conducted discourages most kinds of election rigging. If we were to do them routinely after every election (not in Michigan) voters would be reassured.

Finally, we need to realize that the advent of electronic voting has taken a previously public and transparent process of hand counting votes on paper ballots and placed it in the “black box,” to be carried out by electrons in the computer where no one can see it.

Virtually all other true democracies in the world have addressed this lack of transparency by choosing to hand count the vote. We would do well to follow suit.

Jan BenDor and Phil Shepard serve on the working council of the Michigan Election Reform Alliance.