Congress may soon try to reform federal election law. While improvements are possible, it should be careful not to make a generally good system worse.
American elections are highly decentralized, organized by more than 50 states and territories, and this is good.
Efforts to hack or "rig" elections must contend with more than 50 different governments with different systems. No one hacking technique would likely work everywhere.
Ronald Reagan, negotiating arms control, frequently quoted a Russian proverb to Mikhail Gorbachev: доверяй, но проверяй ("trust, but verify"). In other words, don't depend on assurances from the other side that it is complying with a deal, but see for yourself.
This "inspection" principle is also fundamental to honest elections.
Watchdogs for both major parties observe the counting of each vote, no matter whether it was cast in person or by mail. That is why Republican leaders in Georgia and elsewhere could be so confident when they affirmed, often after several recounts, that Joe Biden had won in their states, even though they expressed personal unhappiness with that outcome.
Fixing something that isn't broken is a bad idea.
However, a few changes to our good voting system would be a good idea. Voting machines that don't provide a "paper trail" documenting each vote should be replaced by machines which do, or by paper ballots which can be tabulated either by computers or by people.
Many states lack experts with the technical skills needed to prevent attacks through the internet by foreign or domestic hackers.
So the federal government should increase its ability to do this on behalf of all the states.
There has been considerable Republican enthusiasm for measures, including tighter voter ID legislation, often apparently tailored to discourage voting among groups — including people of color — that favor Democrats. But ID legislation, if done properly, would not have partisan consequences.
It would need to make the required ID readily available to everyone without any expense (which might constitute an illegal poll tax — see the Constitution's 24th Amendment ) or time-consuming bureaucratic hassles.
But partisan enthusiasm for voter ID would then evaporate.
Voting by ineligible people is so negligible that the costs of administering a fair voter ID system would vastly exceed the benefits.
In a democracy, voters choose the government rather than government choosing the voters. But in many states government deprives people of the right to vote because they are or have been in prison.
Felons are not exempted from paying taxes. If we really believe that there should be "No taxation without representation" even those who are in prison should be allowed to vote.
A few states already allow voting by people who are still imprisoned. Others allow voting once the person gets out. But some states permanently deprive those convicted of a felony of the right to vote.
Florida voters recently endorsed restoration of voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence, but this reform was sabotaged, probably for partisan advantage, by the state legislature.
Unfortunately felon disenfranchisement does not appear to be unconstitutional. Language in the Fourteenth Amendment reduces a state's representation in Congress if the right to vote is "denied" or "in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime . . . ." This implicitly seems to authorize, but not require , denying felons the right to vote.
But merely because something is constitutional does not mean that it is good.
Selling our vote — transferring it to someone else — is properly considered corrupt and illegal. To prevent current rulers from enacting legislation narrowing the number of people to whom they are accountable, voting should be an "inalienable" right in two senses: that we cannot sell our vote to someone else, and that government cannot deprive us of that right for any reason.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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