Voter Reform Pro
The call by Hilary Clinton for electoral reform in the US is one among many. The major democracy driver is the electoral process. If the democracy of any country is marred by controversies, it is important to examine the electoral process and effect the necessary changes. For instance, Clinton referred to “deep flaws in our electoral system” in relation to racial discrimination in polls (Wilson, 2013, p.1), part of what she referred to as moral standing in the US. The reform process involves different elements: transparency and campaign finance and voter registration, access to elections as well as ballot integrity among others (Overton, 2007; Queensland Government, 2013). The purpose of this paper is to look at some of the changes supposed to be part of such reforms.
Elements of Reform
We will focus on two areas of campaign finance: campaign expenditure and political donations. Political donations includes disposition of property and gifts from certain donors. Nevertheless, there is risk of some of the parties using these donations to impose inappropriate influence on political candidates and parties as well as to third parties. This can in turn damage democracy credibility. Therefore, there is an urgent need to prevent such occurrences. One way of achieving this is limiting and restricting the amount that a class of persons or a person, either collectively or individually, can donate to a political candidate and/or party (Queensland Government, 2013).
Election campaign expenditure that is exorbitant has also proven to be one of the highly perverse elements of electoral process currently. Although political candidates and parties have always defined campaign expenditure as the amount spend on resources and events used during the campaign trail (like opinion polls, advertising and other research). According to FEC (Federal Elections Commission) however, (cited in Democracy Chronicles, n.d) in 2012, “parties, candidates, PACs, super-PACs as well as politically active non-profits spent $7 billion in total to influence races up and down the ballot” (p.1).
The answer is to put into place stricter caps on amount of money a political party and/or candidate spends in the course of state election campaigns. Nevertheless, simply putting caps is never enough without having the means of ensuring such caps are respected. In this case, there needs to be disclosure requirements for the political candidates and parties in relation to amount of money that is spent during the electoral campaigns and the means of punishing failure to abide by these rules.
Expanded Access to Elections
Democracy is credible only when all the citizens participate actively. However, in the US, this has never been the case. Eve during the presidential elections in 2004, a period when voter interest was higher-than-normal, over 1 in 3 eligible voters did not participate in the electoral process (Commission of Federal Election Reform, n.d). As such, there is dire need for improvements to be made on voter access to elections (including polling resources and stations).
The election process has improved as a result of electronic voting and so has voter participation. For instance, in 1994, 8% of ballots were cast by mail before Election Day. In 2004, the figure almost tripled to 22%. Still, these voters will vote so we cannot say they voted due to email. It only served to make it easier (Tokaji, 2005).
Though that is a positive element, there is also need to encourage voting amongst those who would not vote otherwise. For instance, measures are supposed to be taken in order to expand participation of military and overseas voters as well as citizens with disabilities. In order to improve access for individuals with disabilities, polling places are supposed to be situated at public and/or semipublic venues that comply with access requirements for such people. Equally, there is a need to have an even more intense voter and civic education. This helps improve participation of young people among citizens. States are supposed to make voter registration and ID accessible to all citizen who are eligible. Equally, states ought to make improvements on provision of voter registration efforts provided by the election officials. This should include voter drives. Also, there is need to ensure all forms for voter registration are accounted for. “A unique number should be printed on the registration form and also on a detachable receipt so that the voter and the state election office can track the status of the form. In addition, voter registration forms should be returned within 14 days after they are signed” (Commission of Federal Election Reform, n.d., p3).
Electronic Voting: Voting Technology
In the US, electronic voting has been used for quite some time now. These are aimed at addressing restrictions on ballot casting like direct costs of voting (Berinsky, 2005). In this regard, the 2002 Help America Vote Act authorized about $ 650 million in federal funds for purposes of replacing the antiquated voting punch and lever machines in the country. Since then, great advancements have been made on voting technology with introduction of direct recording and optical scans electronic system. New concerns are however arising relating to voter confidence in voting machines (like their capability to tabulate and register votes accurately.
For these issues on confidence to be addressed, the Commission of Federal Election Reform (n.d) proposed certain changes. First, congress should pass a law that requires the voting machines to be equipped with “voter-verifiable paper audit trail” (commission of Federal Reform, n.d., p.2) and be accessible fully to persons with disabilities. This will boost the confidence of voter in the accuracy of the machine, permit recount when one is needed, provide backup when the votes are lost due to computer malfunction and facilitate testing (paper results and machine). Secondly, states need to avoid ambiguous procedures. Procedures that are unambiguous facilitate consistency, help reconcile disparities between electronic and paper ballot tally. Third, voting machines are supposed to be regularly audited; that is, public testing of all voting machines before, during and after Election Day. Fourthly, the DREs should use software that cannot be compromised (through hacking or attack by outsiders). Security of voting machines as such, should be taken seriously. Certify security source codes to accidental or deliberate manipulation of vote results; place a copy of source codes in escrow for future reviews as well as verify the voting machines delivered match the certified system among others.
Improving Ballot Integrity
This will include investigation and prosecution of election fraud, absentee ballots and voter registration. These steps are aimed at ensuring the electoral process is accountable and that people have a voice (Schultz, 2008).
This paper has not exhausted elements of electoral reforms required. However, that was not the objective. The idea was citing some of the problems with electoral process as it is presently, as an implication of even bigger problems. Some of these issues include election observation, responsible coverage by the media and election administration among others. There is no doubt there is urgent need for the electoral process in the US to undergo changes.
Berinsky, A.J. (2005). The perverse consequences of electoral reform in the United States. American Politics Research, 33(4), 471-491.
Commission of Federal Election Reform (n.d.). Voting Technology. American University. Retrieved 19 November 2013, http://www1.american.edu/ia/cfer/
Democracy Chronicles (n.d.). What do we mean by election reform? Retrieved from http://www.democracychronicles.com/election-reform-in-america/
Overton, S. (2007). Voter identification. Michigan Law Review, 1(1), 631-681.
Queensland Government (2013). Electoral reform. Retrieved from http://www.justice.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/171529/disc-ppr-electroal-reform.pdf
Schultz, D. A. (2008). Less than Fundamental: The Myth of Voter Fraud and the Coming of the Second Great Disenfranchisement. William Mitchell Law Review, 34(3), 484.
Tokaji, D. P. (2005). New Vote Denial: Where Election Reform Meets the Voting Rights Act, The SCL Rev., 57(1), 689.
Wilson, S. (2013). Hillary Clinton delivers rallying speech calling for electoral reform. The Telegraph, Aug. 13. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10239141/Hillary-Clinton-delivers-rallying-speech-calling-for-electoral-reform.html