Voting for Local Reform

When two ex-presidents (Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford) team up with President Bush to encourage election reform, that ought to help nudge foot-dragging states and counties to fix their voting processes (see story, page 1).

A report from a commission led by the two former leaders recommends many thoughtful changes, such as creating statewide voter-registration systems, allowing voters to cast provisional ballots (a citizen could vote, and have his/her eligibility checked later), upgrading equipment, and doing away with the now-notorious punch-card ballots.

The report also encourages turning Veterans Day into a national election holiday. That idea needs to be approached with caution. Unanticipated flaws may show up, and other options need to be explored.

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Would a national voting holiday, for instance, put pressure on states to create additional holidays for state and local elections? Would the move only increase the turnout disparity already seen between national presidential elections and those for, say, the local school board? Would the day tempt would-be voters to simply take a long weekend away instead of exercising their civic duty? Why burden business with a whole day off for what ought to amount to a 20-minute civic exercise?

Politicians, and citizens, should not get caught up in the hoopla of this idea, which is at best a mere band-aid for all the problems of politics that have created voter apathy and cynicism over time.

A wiser move for now would be to call on some states to experiment with the holiday idea. They also can, for instance, test Saturday voting and thus encourage the exercise of civic duty on an ordinary weekend. And more employers can allow workers a couple of hours off to vote.

Election reform, despite increased national attention, ought to stay at the state, county, and local level.

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