Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006
SC should look
at new way of voting
SC Statehouse Report
10, 2006 - - If you were to hear of a new way of voting that
could significantly increase participation, it might be a
good idea to take a look at it.
South Carolina lawmakers need to look at how Oregon votes.
Instead of spending millions on new voting machines that malfunction
and scare some voters, instead of paying hundreds of thousands
for election-day workers who seem stressed out and instead
of having party leaders spend tens of thousands of dollars
on strategies to get people to the polls, how about voting
In Oregon, it works. In the recent elections, 70 percent
of voters participated. Two years back in the presidential
race, some 88 percent of registered voters cast ballots by
Eighty-eight percent. Imagine that. In South Carolina, that
means some 1.8 million voters would have turned up to vote
recently, 700,000 more than the 1.1 million who showed up
in November when only 50 percent of registered voters cast
Oregon started experimenting with voting by mail in 1981
in local elections. By the mid-1990s, it had the first statewide
election when a replacement was sought for disgraced former
Sen. Bob Packwood. The results were so good that the League
of Women Voters pushed a ballot initiative in 1998 for all
voting to be done by mail. It carried the day overwhelmingly
with 67 percent of voters approving.
A couple of years back, a study showed voters preferred this
new method because of its ease, among other things. Across
every demographic and attitudinal category, the results were
the same - - about 80 percent of voters approved of mail-in
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Critics outside Oregon say they're concerned about voter
fraud, which is something Oregon really hasn't experienced.
So with all of the problems in the past election with new
touch-screen voting machines and the amount of education required
for people to use them, going back to something simpler -
- checking boxes on a piece of paper that's fed into a computer
- - might be easier, safer, cheaper and more pragmatic.
In a recent column in The New York Times, U.S. Postal Rate
Commissioner Ruth Goldway observed that voting by mail could
have real advantages nationwide: "Voters would not need
to take time off from work, find transportation, find the
right polling station, get babysitters or rush through reading
complicated ballot initiatives." More importantly, voting
by mail could allow states to save up to 40 percent of the
costs of running elections - - and each ballot would be its
own paper trail. Anyone interfering with a ballot could face
federal mail fraud charges.
Here's how voting by mail works in Oregon - - and how it
could work here:
- About three weeks before an election, every household
gets a voters' pamphlet that describes the election process.
- Some 14-18 days before an election, ballots are mailed
to each registered voters. The post office doesn't forward
Voters fill in a form that includes the bubbles familiar
to anyone who has bought a lottery ticket or taken the SAT.
- They mail in ballots - or drop them at an authorized election
drop site (usually at a county election office) before 8
p.m. on voting day.
- It is up to voters to return ballots before 8 p.m. on
voting day. If they don't, their ballot isn't counted.
Charleston School of Law professor John Simpkins, who is
working on a book about ways to improve Southern political
participation, said voting by mail could greatly increase
citizen participation in government.
It's almost sad that he has to remind people, but "That
matters because our government is a representative democracy
and it should be as representative of the wishes of the people
In our state, where half the people aren't registered and
half of those who are registered generally don't vote, having
more participation certainly can't hurt. In fact, it would
make South Carolina a better place.
Learn more about Oregon voting at: www.oregonvotes.org.
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