Voting Made Easy

20Feb14

Whenever the government says it is taking steps to make life easier for me, my BS detector goes off.

state_house_fxThe latest example is the Massachusetts Legislature’s effort to “reform” elections and voting. The House and Senate bills are currently in conference committee where they are negotiating a version that both branches can agree upon.

The bills include such provisions as online voter registration, election-day registration, early voting, “pre-registration” for those as young as 16 and “permanent registration.”

Advocates say that these reforms are needed in order to increase participation by making voting easier.

In order to fully appreciate the need for these reforms, let’s examine the punishingly arduous process that voters are currently forced to endure.

To register to vote, you must go to your local city or town clerk and fill out a form. The end.

If leaving your house is too much, you can download the registration form online and mail it in. But that will cost you 49 cents for a stamp, and who has that kind of money?

election_sign2If registration weren’t grueling enough, it’s nothing compared to the harrowing ordeal currently facing voters on Election Day.

First, the voter must drive or walk to a polling place. Once there, one is forced to state his address. After being handed a ballot, the voter must begin his trek across the floor (sometimes as far as 20-30 feet) to a voting booth. Using a pen or a stylus, the voter makes his selections on the ballot.

Assuming he can still muster the strength, the voter must then embark on the expedition to the checkout table, before sliding his ballot into a machine.

You can also stay home and request an absentee ballot by mail, but that will cost you another 49 cents for a stamp. That comes to almost a dollar between registration and voting. Imagine paying for the right to vote! It’s unacceptable!

Is it any wonder that our legislators are so intent on sparing us these unbearable obstacles to voting?

They have come up with a number of strategies to win over those who fail to see the wisdom of the proposed changes.

scott_brown_microOne is to describe the changes as election “modernization.” That suggests that if you’re not on board, you must be some kind of Neanderthal cave dweller who probably voted for Scott Brown.

They also stress that the proposed measures are aimed at “increasing participation in elections and democracy,” thereby casting anyone who doubts the wisdom of these proposals as anti-democratic and opposed to greater voter participation.

While these reforms are ostensibly aimed at making life easier for voters, what about their impact on cities and towns?

Let’s look at just one provision – early voting.

town_hall-entranceThe proposed changes would require cities and towns to designate certain places where early voting can take place up to two weeks before an election. These locations must be open a certain number of hours each day, including weekends. Local officials would be required record and track early voting every day, and ballot boxes for early voting would have to be “sealed, locked and securely maintained by election officers.”

Only a cynic could imagine extra costs or potential problems for cities and towns as a result of early voting.

If you’ve ever been at Wakefield Town Hall after the polls close on election night, you’ve seen the ballots from each of our seven precincts being delivered to the Town Clerk’s Office in locked boxes by armed Wakefield Police Officers. This is a safeguard to protect the ballots from tampering until they are counted.

So, will ballots from early voting locations be similarly protected by police details under the proposed reforms? Apparently not, as election reform proponents have indicated that police details “may not apply at early voting sites.”

Isn’t that reassuring?

votedI plan on continuing to vote the traditional way – on Election Day. Somehow, I’ll find a way to get to the polls during that slim 13-hour window that the polling place is open.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that requiring people to show up and expend a tiny bit of effort helps them to appreciate the worth of something.

Making voting require even less effort than it does now only trivializes and devalues the vote.

[This column originally appeared in the February 20, 2014 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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