Bring United States’ election system into the 21st century

The 2012 presidential election, like those in 2008 and 2004, was plagued with problems at the polls and with barriers erected by many Republican-governed states, including Ohio, to undermine early voting.

As President Obama noted in his inaugural address, “...our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

Obama first talked about the shortcomings in the election process when he secured a second term on Nov. 6. In his victory speech he made it clear that the time had come to “fix” the broken system that has the effect of dissuading legitimate voters from going to the polls.

While Election Day in Ohio was relatively trouble-free, the weeks leading up to the big event were steeped in controversy because the Republican controlled state government took action to curb early voting. As a result, voters in the larger counties had to stand in line for hours to cast their ballots. There were reports of people simply walking away in frustration.

Not an isolated case

This effort to restrict voting was repeated in state after state controlled by the Republicans.

That’s why President Obama has made reforming the election system a priority for his second term.

The Brennen Center for Justice, spurred by Obama’s call, last week released a proposal to modernize voter registration and bring the nation’s election system into the 21st century.

The Voter Registration Modernization is the centerpiece of the Voter Empowerment Act introduced by several Democratic members of the U.S. House, including John Lewis, Steny Hoyer, James Clyburn, John Conyers and Robert Brady. In the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand is leading the charge.

“The ramshackle voter registration system is a prime cause of long lines and Election Day chaos,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennen Center. “We have a chance to modernize our elections so every eligible citizen is on the rolls, with lower costs and greater election security.”

Voter Registration Modernization would establish voluntary, automated registration of all consenting citizens when they interact with a wide range of government agencies; make registration portable, keeping voters on the rolls even when they move; provide fail-safe procedures to ensure that eligible voters whose information is not on the rolls or not up to date can correct the information online or at the polls; offer states federal funding to make necessary technological upgrades.

Multiple benefits

The Brennen Center believes the adoption of the new registration system will boost election integrity, provide safeguards against hacking and curb the potential for fraud.

An estimated 50 million eligible voters could be brought into the political process and the new system would cost less than the current paper-based system.

But, given Republicans’ record of making voting difficult especially in heavily Democratic urban areas, the effort to implement urgently needed changes in the system will face stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled House.

The GOP can be expected to fight any attempt to increase the voter rolls and participation.

President Obama, the Democratic majority in the Senate and all the grass-roots organizations that have long advocated changes must join forces in overcoming Republican resistance.

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