By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
In counties across New Mexico, voters had an opportunity Tuesday to decide important issues like school bonds.
In the years since the disputed 2000 presidential election, voters have shown trepidation about whether their vote will count. The government’s response is the Help America Vote Act, which has mandated counties buy expensive voting machines when they’re already shortchanged by infrastructure needs and high energy costs.
Back in 2003, the Roosevelt County Commission wanted to say, “No thanks,” to the act, because commissioners said voting machines were only as good as the people who operated them, and Roosevelt County didn’t have problems.
Then-commissioner Tom Clark added his bigger concern was “unfunded mandates.” Even if the federal government were to fully fund the purchase of machines, we get one company producing every voting machine (re: corruption) or several different companies supplying machines (re: confusion).
Corruption and confusion shouldn’t interfere with voting, our most precious democratic process. Fortunately, the state of Oregon has solved the problems of Clark and others, whenever we get around to listening.
It’s called vote-by-mail, and I don’t see a single disadvantage.
In the two weeks prior to an election, voters are mailed their ballots. They have that two-week period to either mail ballots in, or just bring them to their polling place.
The early ballot means voters get to see every single choice and take time to research them. Some parents are even taking the time to show their kids the ballot and pound home the message of how important voting is.
But how do we know each vote is real? There’s a signature verification, and with voters turning their votes in before Election Day there’s a better chance to spot irregularities than with people waiting hours to vote and state elections chairs wanting results minutes after polls close.
Besides, that question is better posed toward voting machines. Every Election Day is rife with stories about how voting machine memory cards were lost, or a machine crashing and losing votes, or somebody who just can’t operate the simple touch-screen systems. None of those stories come from Oregon.
What if people forget to mail their ballots? Then they don’t get to vote. But it’s a lot easier to drop a letter in a mailbox than it is to call your county clerk and find out which polling place you vote at, bring your identification, learn a new software program, etc.
Isn’t it expensive to mail out that many ballots? Not nearly as expensive as buying thousands of voting machines and training hundreds of poll workers. In 2003, a $1.5 billion grant helped states buy machines. It would have cost about a 10th of that to mail a ballot, with return postage, to every registered voter in 2004.
Couldn’t an abusive spouse force the other into voting against their will? Or couldn’t a church leader simply round up congregation votes and threaten to kick contrary voters out of the church? A church risks losing tax-exempt status by engaging in political activity, and domestic abuse isn’t the responsibility of an elections board. Besides, Oregon voter participation is in the high 80 percent range every election cycle, so the increased electorate drowns out those misnomers.
We’ve given government seven years to bail us out with technology and bureaucracy, and they’ve failed. It’s about time we go to vote-by-mail, a system that produces greater participation, a more informed electorate and less chance of corrupted or confusing technology taking away legitimate elections.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact him at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: