Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How to Improve Elections

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How to Improve Elections

Article excerpt

Clean, fair and credible elections underpin a functioning democracy, so improving the way ballots are cast and counted ought to be a broadly embraced, wholly nonpartisan goal. The divisive 2000 presidential contest, with its drawn-out tally and infamous hanging chads, delivered a wake-up call both to the electorate and to election officials that improvements were needed, even in our mature form of representative government. Twelve years later, elections are unquestionably better administered, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Election difficulties have not been limited to one state, one region or one time period. Across the country, state and local officials have continually lacked clear information about how their methods and outcomes stacked up to balloting elsewhere. This was, in fact, a question I asked myself when I served as Kentucky's secretary of state and chief election officer, and one that I had put to my peers during my tenure as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. For without factual and impartial comparisons, the nuts and bolts of a running governments are bound to suffer.

Until now, that is. A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, encompassing all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, provides exactly the kind of metrics and comparisons that could help elections officials figure out how they measure up. Most important, it offers a way for states to borrow the best ideas from each other.

Notably, due the lack of consistent and quality data, the interactive Elections Performance Index steers clear of the rancorous issue of voter identification, which too often obscures meaningful discussions about how simply to make elections work better. The tool also moves away from using mere anecdotes to shore up points of view, a habitat that's as hard to break as it is unproductive. In addition, it allows users to customize the index to see how the rankings are impacted by the inclusion or exclusion of different indicators.

Now, elected leaders and administrators have a real opportunity to make sure that what they do aids the process of democracy. …

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