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Tilly: A modest proposal

BY ZACH TILLY | FEBRUARY 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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If you watched the State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, and you really stuck with it, you probably remember when President Obama pointed out 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a Florida woman who waited in line for six hours to vote in last year’s presidential election.

She was the very old woman clapping like she was underwater.

Victor, like most special guests at the State of the Union, was a prop. Obama used her to illustrate the necessity of reforms that would make voting faster and easier. His speech was short on specifics — he’ll put together a nonpartisan commission to study and recommend changes to the current system, he says — but Obama’s mention of voting reform was refreshing because there seem to be so few in the government working to make voting easier.

Right here in Iowa, the House Republicans and the Secretary of State Matt Schultz are working on legislation that would make voting somewhat more difficult by requiring voters to present photo IDs at their polling places.

Opponents of such a law — Democrats, usually — argue that requiring photo IDs to vote could unfairly disenfranchise poor and elderly voters who cannot easily acquire identification cards.

Voter ID advocates say they want to combat fraud; opponents want to make sure it’s easy for everybody to vote. A seemingly intractable conflict. But what if I told you I had a plan that would eradicate fraud and make it much easier to vote in the United States? Would you give me a Nobel Prize? Would you erect statues in my honor?

Let’s find out. Because Obama didn’t show the way to a better democracy, I will. Here is my specific plan for comprehensive voting reform that will save our democracy and, by extension, ensure the freedom of mankind for all eternity.

(Disclaimer: I understand that election rules are not, for the most part, set by the federal government. Changes like those below could take a Constitutional amendment.)

Let’s issue universal, permanent voter-registration numbers — everybody has a Social Security number; I suggest a universal voter number that would follow all American citizens throughout their lives. No more need to register to vote and, therefore, no more need for states to controversially purge voter rolls (see: Ohio, 2004, or Florida, 2012). A unique identifier for every voter would virtually eliminate the possibility of voter fraud and eliminate a biggest hurdle to convenient, one-stop voting.

Let’s make Election Day a two-day affair — holding a national election on a weekday is an inefficient relic of the agrarian age. It causes long lines that can make voting prohibitively costly for people who have to get to work or school. In our November elections, let’s open the polls on Sunday and close them on Monday, now a federal holiday called Election Day. We’ll need more volunteers at polling places, sure, but we’ve already made voting way more convenient.

Let’s expand mail-in voting and early voting — everybody should have easy access to mail-in ballots and two weeks of early voting. This should happen in every state; it’s a no-brainer. More people will be able to vote on their own time, and crowding at the polls will be further eased.

Let’s create a uniform national ballot — no more confusing ballots in general elections. No more hanging chads or bizarre butterfly ballots. It’s time we establish a simple, uniform ballot for federal elections so that every vote is cast and counted in the same way. That’s another way to make voting simpler, and less susceptible to tampering.

Now, if you’re a coward who likes half-assed solutions, this is where you’ll stop. If you’re really intent on improving our democracy, you’ll take one more step.

Let’s make voting mandatory — hear me out. Voting is a civic duty (such as paying taxes), so let’s require that everyone do it. People without valid excuses who fail to submit even blank ballots by mail or in person will have a $15 penalty assessed to their tax bills. (Address all your concerns about the constitutionality of such a mandate to John Roberts, care of the Supreme Court.) We’ll put the revenue generated by the non-voter penalty toward further modernizing our voting infrastructure.

And there you have it; voting is now easier and far more convenient. And everybody takes part. Democracy fixed; back to work.


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