Magazine article Newsweek

Building a Better Election: Troubled by Botched Ballots and the Electoral College, Americans Rethink How We Vote

Magazine article Newsweek

Building a Better Election: Troubled by Botched Ballots and the Electoral College, Americans Rethink How We Vote

Article excerpt

Is this any way to pick a president? In an age of instant messaging, MP3 players and wireless shopping, about 30 percent of voters still poke a hole in a piece of paper to cast their ballot. One fifth use the kind of balky lever machines introduced more than a century ago. "Bicycles now have 27 speeds," says Dean Neumann, a voter from Northport, N.Y., "but the voting machine is still the same."

This mishmash of mostly low-tech systems exists because voting methods are decided not by the federal government but by county and state officials. And those local officials, constrained by thin budgets, are often reluctant to lay out the millions needed to upgrade their systems. Little wonder, then, that for many Americans--not just those in Palm Beach County--Election Day meant long lines, confusion and, we're now learning, botched ballots.

There are better ways. Among the technological alternatives are an optical scanning system in which lasers read completed ballots and computer-based systems that use touch screens to record votes and then store them electronically. Internet voting is also on the horizon--the first official Net balloting took place in Arizona's Democratic primary earlier this year. But critics warn that the new methods--which would cost New York state, for example, $100 million--aren't glitch-free. And fears about privacy, security and the digital divide cloud the promise of online voting. Technology, many observers say, isn't the only solution. "You could have the best state-of-the-art technology out there and still have problems," says Deborah Phillips of the Voting Integrity Project, a watchdog group. One low-tech alternative, mail-in ballots, increased turnout in Oregon this year to an estimated 81 percent--but it also kept vote counters busy for days.

If ballot changes aren't the ultimate answer, a broader overhaul of the process might be. …

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