There’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A.
When our first Congress met, we carried exports in the holds of wooden sailing vessels. We plowed our fields with oxen and other animals. We rode horses or drove horse-drawn carriages or carts between towns and farms, to market, and to voting locations. Representatives and senators held the first sessions of Congress in Federal Hall in New York City, where they met face-to-face just as they do now. But now our nation in the twenty-first century operates electronically and with more efficiency and effectiveness because of the tools that even school children have available—smart phones, computers, and tablets. Our democracy must be adapted to utilize these kinds of electronic tools to enable better governance and more inclusive voting. We must integrate today’s electronic tools with our constitutional voting process. Enabling e-voting for elections using technology to manage registration and election results is the first step.
If John Adams or Thomas Jefferson could revisit us today, they would praise all of the technological and efficiency-oriented advances (telephone, television, Internet, and other communications) used in commerce, education, and government operations. Suppose they could sit in the galleries in the House of Representatives today. The process of making laws is similar to what they experienced. They would feel at home and see that the Constitution operates as they intended.
There were about four million inhabitants of the United States in 1790. Now we have over 325 million citizens, or about eighty-five times greater population. And since women and African Americans could not vote then, the number of eligible voters is more than 160 times greater than in 1790. Additionally, since a much higher portion of the population were presumably children (under voting age), then the number of voters today could be closer to two hundred times larger. How can we continue to manually tally votes and set up an adequate number of polling locations to accommodate an ever-expanding modern democracy? We will fall short in our attempt to maintain our republic if we keep doing it this way when we know the technology is sorely out of date.
We need to re-examine how we vote, realizing that the introduction of e-voting touches on the core of the electoral process—casting and counting votes. If we want to utilize e-voting, we will need to modify the Constitution to allow e-voting. Currently states have the right to control elections. Does this still make sense? Our Constitution handled elections with the tools available in the eighteenth century. Therefore states were responsible for setting up and tallying elections mainly because the federal government had no mechanism for doing that. We are the tenants and caretakers of our republic, our democracy. Adams, Jefferson, and all the other founders never envisioned the availability of the tools we have now. Elections should be handled at the national level in a uniform, fair, and accessible manner.
I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance.
–Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1821
The Voting Patchwork
The Constitution bestows on states the right and responsibility for holding elections for senators and representatives. Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution, called the “Elections Clause,” describes the primacy of states in the voting process. “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” Over the years, this procedure produced a patchwork of voting methods. Historically, some localities tried to restrict voting to some groups even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
As businesses mature, they standardize their processes in order to maintain efficiency. Businesses as they grow move from ad hoc processes and procedures to formally defined, repeatable steps in their operations. For example, when a president leaves office, the Secret Service has a set of protocols to follow to set up the security for the former president’s new residence and his family. Each transition gets handled in the same way every time. That’s what e-voting would do. Wherever a person lives in the nation, they would see the same procedures over and over again when voting. If an improvement is made, it will be reflected at every polling precinct or, if e-voting is implemented, across every device.
The protection and expansion of voting rights has been, and continues to be, a strong thread throughout our nation’s history. We have a duty to maintain the ability of citizens to be able to vote. Putting voting rights in the hands of a federal agency and providing consistent, accessible e-voting could close the chapter on this issue once and for all. Anyone who qualifies and wishes to vote could have that access consistently and without artificial barriers. The patchwork of state laws could be rescinded. When you move your residence, you must register in your new location by a certain date to be able to vote. E-voting administered at the national level would only require that you update your residence by logging into your account, the way you already do for your bank, your driver’s license, and so many other things. To move to e-voting would require changing the Constitution, passing other laws in Congress to regulate how states conduct elections, and making changes to state constitutions and laws. Continue reading