Columns » Bob McCord

Toward honest elections

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Late last month a 20-member commission of Republicans and Democrats made 87 recommendations as to how the states could eliminate cheating at presidential elections. The Commission on Federal Election Reform was headed by former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican. Some ideas were good, some weren’t and several were so complicated that I couldn’t understand them. No state is to be forced to follow them unless the Congress might decide to make some of them into laws, and that’s very unlikely with this slothful Congress. (It’s taken almost as many vacations as President Bush.) What prompted the creation of this commission were the scandalous events in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 and also in other states like Washington, Wisconsin and New York when absentee ballots rolled in by the thousands with phony names. One commission member, Susan Molinari, a former New York representative, said, “Notably the states had voter rolls that were filled with fictional voters like Elmer Fudd and Mary Poppins.” So far, the commission’s recommendation that’s gotten the most criticism was that a voter could not vote unless he or she could present a card with name and picture on it. Even three of the commission members voted no. George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton said that obtaining an identification card with a picture would be difficult for at least 19 million otherwise eligible voters. Many people would be required to present many things they don’t have, such as documentary proof that they were a real American citizen. Julianne Malveaux of USA Today wrote that even though the commission wants the government to pay for identification cards for those who do not have them, there would be a great burden on people of color, low-income and the elderly. Example: Finding a certified copy of a birth certificate would be not only hard to find but also expensive for people born many years ago. Personally, I don’t think this is an important problem. Why should the ID card be too complicated? A picture, signature and address on a card will at least affirm that a real citizen who lives in a real place is about to vote. Why should we care too much about where he or she was born? What disturbs me about our elections is that so few of us participate. The biggest American turnout came in 1968 when 61.9 percent of the eligible Americans bothered to vote. Last year it was only 60.7 percent. Seven of the last presidential elections drew fewer than 40 percent to vote. Arkansas voters are among those who aren’t excited to turn out to elect a president. In 2004, only 54.5 percent of us voted. It was the third lowest turnout among the Southern states. The best turnout in our region was in Oklahoma — 65.6 percent. One reason for that is that Oklahoma requires businesses to allow you time off to vote on election day. Well, since 1989 Arkansas has had a similar law. It says that an employer must adjust their employees’ jobs so that they can have time to vote on election day. If the employer doesn’t do it, he can be fined from $25 to $2,000. However, I can’t remember this ever happening. Other democratic countries have far more people going to the polls on election days than we do in the U.S. One reason is that in most countries, election day is a holiday. I am surprised that the commission didn’t suggest that the day of electing the president every four years be made a national holiday. I wouldn’t go so far for state, county and city elections – let state legislators take care of that – but I do think the day we elect a president every four years should be a national holiday. That’s my first suggestion of how to improve our elections. The other one is to reduce the time spent electing a president. Most countries have their election campaigns in weeks while we do it in years. The result is that people get bored and forget about the election. I wish laws would be passed to prevent candidates and political parties receiving money for candidates before March of the election year. There should be no more than four or five primaries in different groups of states, and they should take place no earlier than June. Except for the primaries, TV advertisements for candidates or parties can’t be shown until September. These changes might reduce the money every candidate had to have to try to get themselves into the White House and the winner finally moving in with fewer IOUs. I think Americans would be more interested in a shorter and less exorbitant campaign.

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