Counting All the Votes

A nagging worry that Florida-like election problems exist in many states has an army of reformers and investigators on the march to improve ballots, vote counting, and other electoral procedures.

Such reforms have been too slow for democracy's own good. The task remains huge. A report released this week by researchers at the Massachusetts and California Institutes of Technology found four million to six million votes not counted in last November's presidential election - "unacceptably high," said one researcher.

Three million of the uncounted votes were lost to registration mix-ups, along with 500,000 to 1.2 million votes not counted due to voter error and poor operations at polling places.

The report, "Voting: What Is and What Could Be," found troubling numbers of uncounted ballots in Illinois, South Carolina, and Georgia, for example, as well as in New York City and Chicago - numbers even higher than those uncounted ballots found in Florida.

To remedy all this, the researchers suggest that states computerize voter registration information. But they're skeptical of voting over the Internet, which they believe remains too susceptible to fraud. They suggest having laptop computers at polling places to provide more up-to-date voter information, along with provisional ballots when registration information is questioned. Registration would have to be confirmed before the vote would be counted.

Counting paper ballots with optical scanners was found to be more reliable than other methods, and less expensive than touch-screen computer voting. Voters would use pencils to fill in circles, similar to those on school standardized tests, which the scanners then read. Giving voters a second chance if their ballots don't immediately "scan" properly would help ensure a correct count.

Other studies under way, including a commission headed by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, will report their results soon, hopefully renewing the initial impetus seen in many states toward electoral reform. Those efforts have generally stalled.

Now is the time for states and counties to get to work and implement reforms that will make voting - the most basic of democratic rights - as reliable and secure as possible, so there are "no more Floridas."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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