There’s been much said lately about the way we vote in this country, especially now that COVID-19 has overloaded the mail-in voting process and states cannot agree on a uniform way to gather and count those ballots.
Complaints about misprinted or discarded ballots, charges of voter suppression and rigged elections — the 2020 presidential election could go down in history as the most controversial ever.
It is clear that local and national election officials need to put their heads together and figure out how to fix and unify not only the mail-in system but the entire voting process — preferably before the next midterm election in 2022.
There is lots to fix. An email from reader Joe DellaLonga raised an important point. “It is so evident to me and others that so many issues cannot be agreed upon between the two major political parties,” he wrote. “So, why then is there a requirement (which is not in the constitution) that you must register as a member of ANY party?”
Joe is right. In just about every state, if a citizen wants to become fully involved in the election process, he or she must register ahead of time and declare allegiance to a political party. (Only the state of North Dakota does not require citizens to register to vote.) In Joe’s state of New Mexico, for example, it’s right there on the voter registration form: “Note: You must name a major political party to vote in primary elections.”
Those, like me, who are registered as independent voters get no say in the run-up to an election. If there are multiple Democrats and/or Republicans running for, say, a seat in the U.S. Senate, a primary election is called to winnow down the field to one candidate from each party. But an independent isn’t allowed to vote in a primary. We are denied full participation.
Just because someone declares themselves to be a free thinker, they are excluded from the process? Not fair! Especially since an increasing number of Americans have abandoned the two major political parties and now declare themselves independent voters.
The latest Gallup poll puts the number of voters in the “I” category at an eye-opening 42%. Twenty-eight percent declare themselves to be Republicans; 27% align with Democrats.
Traditionally, independent voters usually do favor one party over the other, but these are not normal times. The same Gallup poll asked known independent voters which party they lean more toward. Democrats were ahead 47% to 44%. But many political analysts recognize the phenomenon known as the “shy Trump supporter,” someone who, for whatever reason, has decided to keep their presidential choice to themselves. If they aren’t counted, then the polls aren’t accurate.
There are more flaws in our voting system than just the alienation of independents. For instance, why are there different rules in different states as to how and where a person can register to vote? Can’t we agree on one system?
Twenty-one states plus Washington, D.C., allow same-day voter registration, whether the participant is voting on Election Day or casting an early vote. As of April 2020, 19 states plus Washington, D.C., offer automatic registration when a citizen interacts with a state agency such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Get a driver’s license and you can automatically register to vote. And over the last five years, there has been a push for states to set up voter registration online. New Jersey just approved the system last month, and Oklahoma is on track to follow.
Getting citizens excited and involved in voting is great, but wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if there was a national norm?
And one more thing, as long as we’re discussing revamping our out-of-sync voting systems. In many states, voter rolls are bulging with the names of residents who no longer live in the state or have died. Lawsuits are pending. States must pay closer attention to the health of their voter registration lists. To do otherwise invites even more public apathy.
In 2016, almost 92 million eligible Americans did not bother to vote. Yet the midterm election in 2018 saw the highest turnout in four decades. Let’s hope the trend continues.
This country needs a definitive, indisputable outcome to this presidential election. Whatever you do — vote.