Voting Technology and the Law: From Chads to Fads and Somewhere in Between

By Yang, Elizabeth M.; Gaines, Kristi | Social Education, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Voting Technology and the Law: From Chads to Fads and Somewhere in Between


Yang, Elizabeth M., Gaines, Kristi, Social Education


FROM THE TIME WE ARE BORN, we learn that there are rules and laws that govern our behavior. We learn that the crosswalk in front of the school is a safe place to walk and that cars are supposed to stop for children walking to school. As we begin to drive, we learn a whole new set of laws. ranging from how fast we can drive and when we can drive, to what kind of vehicles we can drive. Laws govern all aspects of our lives and are created to protect our rights of personal safety and liberty.

There are a myriad of laws governing our electoral process, ranging from voter registration, to campaign finance, to voting, and advertisements. A wealth of case law, statutory language, and administrative regulations cover these portions of the electoral process. The topic of voting technology and the law is not as cohesive because states are given some leeway in determining the manner in which they would like to conduct their elections. For instance, federal laws do not mandate the usage of any one piece of voting machinery. Instead, uniform guidelines are used to ensure a minimum standard to which states must adhere. States also vary as to the time and method of the election. Some states, such as Arizona and Texas, allow early voting, and Oregon now conducts its elections via mail-in ballots. Other states are experimenting on a small scale with internet voting. As in any instance involving technology, often there is a lag in the law, due to the uncertainty or instability of a product or process.

We live in an age where the internet has placed the world at our fingertips. We can literally plan entire vacations without leaving our homes, from airfare, to hotel, to rental car, to clothing, and guidebooks. We even take classes via the Internet. We use automated teller machines to get cash. We do all of this because we believe the system we are using is secure. So why can't we vote in a similar manner? Shouldn't our voting technology match the technology' we use to carry out our daily activities? A closer look at the current laws for voting and a brief history" of the evolution of voting technology will hopefully serve as a solid starting point for discussion of the issue.

The Law and Voting

Voting is an integral part of American citizenship. It is a fundamental right and privilege of democracy. Over 200 years ago, when this country' was first founded, a very limited part of the population was allowed to cast a ballot. Now, nearly all citizens over the age of eighteen are entitled to vote. The law has played, and continues to play, a great role in the evolution of voting. Laws determine who is eligible to vote, what procedures must be completed in order to vote, and finally which methods of voting machinery can be used.

Voting Rights

The Constitution originally bestowed the right to vote only on white males who either owned property or paid poll taxes. In the aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the Fifteenth Amendment eliminated racial barriers to voting. The women's suffrage movement and the onset of World War I led to the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. The civil rights movement of the 1960s also addressed historic obstacles to voting. In 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment abolished the use of poll taxes. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 repealed historic requirements, such as literacy tests, that had been used to discourage voting. The Vietnam War served as the catalyst for the most recent extension of voting rights. In 1971, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment granted the right to vote to citizens eighteen years and older. Advances and events in American history, beginning with the Revolutionary War, helped expand the right to vote to include, today, almost all adults over the age of eighteen. And just as changes in our lives and society have changed the laws governing who can vote, so too have they influenced the laws governing how we vote.

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Voting Technology and the Law: From Chads to Fads and Somewhere in Between
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