Universal 'Vote-by-Mail' Eliminates Lines, Protects Against Fraud and Intimidation

Matt Novick, of Southwest Ranches, sits in a chair while waiting in line to vote at the Southwest Regional Library in Pembrok
Matt Novick, of Southwest Ranches, sits in a chair while waiting in line to vote at the Southwest Regional Library in Pembroke Pines, Fla. on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Joe Rimkus Jr.) MAGS OUT

Repairing our banana-republic voting system does not require the genius of the Obama and Romney campaign attorneys.

Like Oregon and parts of Washington State, and like every state's absentee voter system, each voter is mailed a ballot to his/her address several weeks prior to the election. The voter fills out the ballot, places it in an inner envelope, inserts the inner envelope into the mailing envelope that has a place for his/her signature, affixes a stamp and drops it in a mailbox or, without a stamp, in special drop-boxes scattered around the state that are guarded.

The signature provides the identity check, but the use of the inner envelope, with no identifying features, ensures anonymity, preserving a secret ballot. If someone wanted to steal my ballot, it would require knowing and accurately copying my signature, with the risk that it would be reported (I would not have a ballot, and would report that to the Board of Elections) and prosecuted with long jail sentences, all for the purpose of changing one vote.

Universal "vote-by-mail" would largely eliminate intimidation. Truth-the-Vote and other right-wing thuggery would have no target.

Washington State mails a voter pamphlet in which each candidate for each position is listed along with a blurb they write themselves. For ballot initiatives and referenda, the proponents and opponents each write a statement for or against and, separately, rebut the other's argument.

The ballots are machine counted, but there is a paper trail so that manual recounts can be performed when necessary. Thus, voter machine fraud is not completely eliminated, requiring continued diligence, but it is no worse than it would be for ballots cast at polling stations.

Personally, I would like to see a voter bill go further, tying federal funding for roads, unemployment and other activities to increasing registration. Everyone who gets a driver's license, a gun license, or collects unemployment, or gets other licenses or benefits from the state, should be required to be registered to vote to receive those licenses or benefits. This does not force anyone to vote, but it provides them the opportunity when that ballot arrives in the mail.

Republicans will fight this tooth-and-nail even if, by magic, it dawns on the two attorneys that this is the answer. Including Romney's attorney will hardly convince Republicans to make voting easy, fair and simple.

A large fraction of Republicans truly believe it is "their country," and do not want the rest of us to be voting at all. If the Romney attorney wants to be the "Ryan-or-Rubio-or-Christie-or-xxx" attorney in 2016, he will not recommend any measure that would actually improve the voting experience.

The big drawback to vote-by-mail is that it robs the voting experience of romance. There was something uplifting about participating in the centuries' old tradition of standing on a line in front of a school house or library or post office or lodge hall, signing one's name, greeting the poll-worker, closing the curtain, and then pulling the lever or punching the holes or filling out the box to make one's choices among one's fellow citizens.

But, voter intimidation through long lines, "broken" machines, direct confrontation and inconvenient hours that our right-wing friends imposed destroyed that romantic tradition. After an hour or so on line, the romance turns to its opposite.

Vote-by-mail, moreover, has its "romantic compensation." Parents can talk to their children about the choices as they are filling out their ballots, and, perhaps, even have a discussion about them. I know of one parent who opposed marriage equality but whose (under 18) teenage daughter strongly favored it, so he let her watch him fill in the "yes" box as she wanted. One suspects that girl will always remember her father fondly for that event.

Perhaps, with this settled, the Justice Department could spend its time prosecuting state officials who conspired to interfere with citizens' right to vote, in violation of Sections 241 and 242 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

Now, that is a dream of a true romantic.