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Legislating Fair Voting

by Ali Meyer // Published June 22, 2009

The New York Times recently published an editorial called "How to Trust Electronic Voting," which argued that Congress should ban paperless electronic voting in all federal elections.

Although the editorials in the New York Times are not always aligned with my personal views, this particular one is welcome. The editorial centers on Representative Holt's proposed bill, which would mandate optical scan technology be used in federal elections. Optical scan equipment involves both paper ballots, to allow for recounts and accuracy tests, and computers to do the counting, so that we don't have to fully rely on our current system of well-intentioned elderly people.

Rep. Holt's bill includes $1 billion to help states transition their voting equipment to the preferred optical scan technology, so that states are not faced with an undue burden in their attempts to comply with federal law.

Traditionally, states have controlled their own election processes; every state has a Commissioner of Elections, an Election Board, or an equivalent department. The federal government, though, has always been permitted to tinker with states' sovereignty concerning voting; Section 4 of Article 1 of the Constitution gives states power to control elections, "but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations."

Representative Holt's bill is an example of such constitutionally allowed legislation. In 1872, Congress legislated that "all votes for Representatives in Congress must be by written or printed ballot or voting machine, the use of which has been duly authorized by the state law; and all votes received or recorded contrary to this section shall be of no effect."

Clearly, there is a set precedent for Holt's bill. Plus, his bill would be enormously helpful to ensuring democracy in our country. A reliable voting system is integral to this type of government, and our constant miscounts and allegations of voter fraud are embarrassing; the widespread imposition of optical scan voting would help mitigate these issues.