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Tom Zirpoli: Voting process needs improvement

An important report by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration was presented to President Barack Obama and the public last month.

The bipartisan commission was co-chaired by Benjamin Ginsbert, a lawyer for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, and Robert Bauer, a lawyer for Obama's 2012 campaign. A summary of the 10-member commission's recommendations, according to Carolyn Kaster, writing for The Associated Press, is that voters should have easier access to the polls "through increasing use of technology and early voting before Election Day."

The commission spent six months looking at the problems that Americans have in casting their votes, including long lines and few polling stations, and concluded that "No voter should have to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote" in America.

Of course, not all politicians want all Americans to vote; making voting difficult is their goal. And this is the major problem with voting in America. Election policies and procedures are regulated by states and local jurisdictions. Thus, the recommendation of the commission to make voting easier is likely to be ignored.

In fact, many states controlled by Republican legislatures have gone out of their way to make voting even more difficult in 2014 by reducing the number of early voting days in their states.

"I think all of us share the belief that, regardless of party affiliation, that our democracy demands that our citizens can participate in a smooth and effective way," Obama said. Wishful thinking, Mr. President, but for some politicians, the demands of democracy are not as important as the demands of getting elected.

The commission had some general recommendations, such as the greater use of technology and more education for poll workers. It also included more specific recommendations, such as continuing to use schools as the primary polling place. Schools, according to the commission, are found in most neighborhoods and are accessible to people with disabilities.

We need to take politics out of the voting process. The number of voting days in Pennsylvania, for example, should not go up when Democrats hold a majority of seats in the state legislature, only to be decreased when Republicans control the majority. Instead, bipartisan groups made up of both major political parties, like the commission, should make the rules and set the procedures, methods and times for voting.

Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, recently conducted a review of how Americans voted in the 2012 presidential election and found that 35.5 million Americans requested absentee ballots. Liptak reported on a study by Charles Stewart, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "who calculated that 3.9 million ballots requested by voters never reached them; that another 2.9 million ballots received by voters did not make it back to election officials; and that election officials rejected 800,000 ballots" for a variety of reasons.

To discover that one in five absentee ballots is not counted in America is truly outrageous and unnecessary given the advances in technology. Clearly, we need national legislation to correct this scandal, especially given the fact that the use of absentee ballots, as well as mail-in ballots, is becoming an increasingly common form of voting for Americans.

Interestingly, there has been a significant amount of discussion about voter fraud at the voting booth and the need for voter identification. Studies have shown, however, that most voting fraud does not occur at the voting booth, but in the use of absentee ballots. Justin Levitt, professor of Law at Loyola University, noted that while the voter identification laws are "ostensibly designed to reduce the incidence of fraud" they are "likely to increase the rate at which voters utilize a system known to succumb to fraud more frequently."

Liptak notes that in the 2008 Senate race in Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken beat his opponent by a mere 312 votes, "while state officials rejected 12,000 absentee ballots." If you don't think this is important, writes Liptak, consider that Franken was the 60th vote needed to pass the Affordable Care Act.

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