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(originally published by Booz & Company)


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

SECRETARY PRIEST:  I’d like to make a point to that, because I know, Norm, that you really focus on election day voting.  But we’re talking about treating the voter as a customer.  And, in fact, I believe very strongly that we in government don’t do enough to treat people as customers.  We’re in the service business.  That’s all we have to give, is service.  And I, for one elected official, am tired of saying I’m from the government, I’m here to help you, but only between 8:30 and 4:30.  That is not fair, that is not what people want.

The financial industry now has banking 24/7, not because they think that it’s easier for them, not because it’s more convenient for them or cheaper for them to operate.  It’s because we as consumers have demanded service.  And I think we as consumers are demanding that voting be made more convenient for us, whether that’s through early voting, no excuse absentee voting, voting on election day, or Internet voting.  We get a lot of requests, why can't I vote on the Internet.

People are looking for more convenient ways to vote.  They want to participate, but if you limit their time between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., for example, you’ve limited them and you’re not giving them the opportunity that they need to get to the polls.

DR. ORNSTEIN:  Let me answer that, Sharon.  I don't want to make voting a boot camp experience.  I’d like to reduce all the barriers for registration that we can.  I would be all in favor of – my own feeling is we ought to have a 24-hour voting period from, say, noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday dealing with all the Sabbath problems, knowing that that would be expensive and difficult to do.

Customers, absolutely.  But that’s not the only criterion.  And if all we do is blind ourselves to any notions of civic responsibility or a civic culture by saying the only thing we want to do is make it easy for people to vote, then we are making a huge mistake and we are throwing away our civic culture.  Make it easy for them, but there are other things that matter.

We have had a long tradition in this country of having a minimal civic responsibility of going to the polls and voting. Do away with that and you lose something very, very important.  And I’m afraid too many election officials are so focused on just making it easy for people to vote that they don’t look at the down side.

MR. WALKER:  I want to address the write-in ballots in Oregon.  And one of the things that I know a lot of people commented on as a result of the last Presidential election is Oregon has write-in ballots for everybody.  And look how long it took Oregon to be able to figure out who won the Presidential election.

So when you have a close race and you have significant percentages of write-in ballots, it’s not just an issue of the integrity.  It’s also an issue of the timeliness of when you’re going to be able to know who won.

Ultimately, as has been said, you want to get it right.  But you don’t want it to drag out over weeks.

DR. ORNSTEIN:  By the way, Oregon, we now have a number of studies, the notion that all vote by mail sharply increases turnout is simply wrong.  The Oregon Secretary of State has been more disingenuous on this than anybody I’ve seen.  He repeatedly says we had an 80 percent turnout in Oregon compared to a 50 percent turnout for the rest of the country.  He’s using the numbers in Oregon that are as a proportion of the registered voters, and for the rest of the country as a proportion of all voters.  And of course this was right after Oregon had done a purge of their voting rolls, so that you had an even sharper increase.

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