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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Panel Discussion: “Election Reform: A Systematic Business Solution”

It’s going to take money, it’s going to take some creativity.  But if we don’t make the experience on election day a reasonable one with people who are there adequately manning these stations and knowing what they’re doing, then we’re going to end up with what I think is an awful process.  And it’s a process where we lose the sanctity of the private voting booth. I don't care how much technology you have where you can identify the person who’s voting in a remote spot.  That doesn’t keep it from having a spouse looking over their shoulder and saying, “No, no.  You’ve got to vote this way.”  Or having a shop steward or any other person or group of persons, a pastor, saying, “Let’s all vote together.” 

We’re going to move to a very different kind of system in which we lose some of the fundamental elements of voting in our democracy unless we can make that experience at the polls a reasonable one.  And if we don’t provide money and other ways of creating adequate poll workers, that’s the direction we’re going to go in.

MR. WALKER:  Our work would say that it’s primarily a training and pay issue when you’re dealing with poll workers.  Not inadequate training and inadequate compensation for what you’re asking them to do, especially given the hours involved and things of that nature.

SECRETARY PRIEST:  But if we do a good job of recruiting poll workers, we don’t have to have POV’s, what I call prisoners of voting.  Because on election day in many cases we’re holding poll workers prisoner for 15 hours.  And it doesn’t have to be.  In many cases they can work in shifts.  You have students.  You could have all kinds of combinations of things to make it a whole lot easier to have people work the polls on election day.

MR. GERENCSER:  One last question before we open it up to the audience, and I’ll give you all an opportunity to provide a 30-second wrap-up, if you like.

Dr. Ornstein, you noted the benefits of voting by mail.  You then also noted the complications of remote voting, for example over the Internet and issues of privacy and issues of fraud potentially.

The question I have is, how would you rate the integrity of voting by mail.

DR. ORNSTEIN:  Not very highly.  We have to provide, obviously, absentee ballots for people who are unavoidably away from home on election day.  I’m all for looking for creative ways, including Intranet possibilities, networking local areas where you might be able to vote near your place of work as opposed to your home.

But if you go back through the history of the country, go back and look at why we had the wave of election reforms at the turn of the century.  It was because of a very substantial amount of fraud.  The fraud in vote by mail, inherent in it, the possibilities of fraud are enormous.  In some places those possibilities have not been seen or reached because of the culture.  In Oregon I would say very little evidence of any significant amount of fraud.  Florida has had fraud in election after election. 

Because when you have substantial amounts of vote by mail absentee ballots, the possibilities of going to people and saying, “Give me your ballot,” filling it out for them, of stealing ballots, of having ballots sitting around precincts for weeks with opportunities to do something to them is very, very great, and nobody's watching.  And it’s a very major problem.  Not to mention the one that I suggested earlier, that the sanctity of the private booth, walking in as an individual, closing a curtain, having a zone of privacy around that polling place within hundreds of yards, where once you’re there you can't be pressured, is enormous in its significance in this country.  And you lose all that if we move away from voting at the polls on election day, which is, perhaps inexorably, the way in which we’re going.

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