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Imagine there’s no Diebold

By Aaron Kinney
Monday, December 22nd, 2008 at 3:56 pm in Aaron Kinney, Elections Office, Jerry Hill, San Mateo County, Warren Slocum.

Warren Slocum, San Mateo County’s chief elections officer, participated in a national conference earlier this month in Washington, D.C., on America’s system of voting.

The three-day conference was put on by the Pew Center on the States and the JEHT Foundation with the goal of brainstorming solutions to common problems, from public wariness of electronic voting machines to long lines at the polls.

For Slocum, it was a chance to get creative, as he participated in a Dec. 9 panel discussion titled, “Imagine we could start over: How would you design an election system?”

Slocum was joined on that panel by half-a-dozen elections officials, including the secretaries of state for Kentucky and Missouri. The conference itself was attended by a wide range of people, from academics to congressional staffers.

One of the subjects Slocum’s panel touched on was universal voter registration. Jurisdictions throughout the country handle registration differently, so people in various states and counties fall through the cracks in different ways.

The best way to solve this problem would be to adopt a uniform, automatic system of registration, Slocum said. For instance, whenever a citizen is born, a parallel voting record could be created. When people turned 18, they’d be registered automatically.

Other countries have adopted universal registration systems that remove bureaucratic obstacles to voting, said Slocum.

The panel also tackled the issue of making it easier for members of the military who are stationed or deployed overseas to cast their ballots. One option for fixing this problem might be allowing them to vote online using secure Defense Department servers.

Among the other topics at the conference was end-to-end verifiability, which means establishing a method for voters to confirm vote totals as well as track their own vote to make sure it was tabulated.

There was also talk of ways to “increase (or) expand the pool of poll workers,” since many voters based their sense for the reliability of the election system on their impressions of the workers at their precincts, Slocum said.

One thought was to hold elections on Saturdays, so that people wouldn’t have to take off work to volunteer at the polls. Slocum said he is intrigued by the idea of offering a property tax credit, say $70, as an incentive to work at the polls.

One subject at the conference that resonated with Slocum is the cost of holding elections. This week, the county Board of Supervisors decided not to hold an election to fill the seat of Assemblyman Jerry Hill because of the cost, which would risen to about $1.7 million, Slocum said.

“It gets down to this idea of dollars or democracy,” he said. “This same idea is being grappled with across the country.”

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