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Time to get voting right

Nov 11, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Too many states proved again Tuesday that they don't know how to run an election

Why do so many U.S. states still have so many problems running an election? Perhaps they could learn a thing or two from Wyoming.

Florida, which simply gave up counting ballots on election night and sent everyone home, is the poster child for election irregularities, and has been for more than a decade. Two days after the election, when these words were written, Florida still couldn't tell the nation who won the presidential voting there, and injunctions had been filed in other contests on the ballot that figured to tie things up for days longer.

Ah, Florida. Home of sunny beaches, orange groves, "Miami Vice" and chronically inept election procedures. Most Americans remember the vote-counting crisis of 2000, the infamous election year of the "hanging chad," when voting in Florida was so screwed up that it took a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the presidential election run aground by Florida's ineptitude. The decision that year was simply to give up counting -- not for the night, but for good.

Florida isn't the only state that can't get this right. Wyoming voters accustomed to our state's smooth election procedure must have been puzzled Tuesday at the reports of voting problems around the nation Tuesday. In an election as close as everyone knew the Obama-Romney race to be, you might think voting policies and procedures would have been as close to foolproof as human planning and intelligence could ensure. But you would be wrong.

Here in 2012, amid a technology and communications revolution like nothing ever seen or even imagined in prior human history, too many places still can't run a voting booth, or a registration table, or a tabulation room.

The 2012 election makes a strong case for establishing a nationwide voting and election standard for all states. Could problematic issues of voter registration, ballot design, voting methods, vote recording, voter identification and voting technology be resolved through a scientific, technological, organizational and, above all, logical examination of the problems in the various states? Let's find out.

If every laptop computer, cell phone, and iPad in the country can be charged using a standard USB cord, if the french fries at a Megaburger in California can be produced to taste exactly the same as the fries at a Megaburger at the tip of Maine, and if an airline ticket bought in one state can be used at any airport in any other state, then why do we still have 50 different ways of running an election -- especially when so many states demonstrate time and time again that they can't do it very well?

In Wyoming, these problems are almost unheard of. We have fewer people and polling places than other states, of course, but that can't be the only reason we have fewer problems. Our system of voting and tabulating votes seems to work well, election after election, even as technology has changed and voting district boundaries have been invented and redrawn.

Fremont County had an election irregularity this year that affected a county commission seat, but it had nothing to do with how votes are cast, counted and reported. The mechanics of voting itself work all but seamlessly, at least from the outside looking in.

Just after midnight on election night, the newly re-elected President Obama thought enough of Tuesday's voting problems to mention it in his re-election acceptance speech. "We have to do something about that," he said of the long lines at polling places that eventually overwhelmed Florida to the point that election officials just gave up.

In case Mr. Obama is reading this in between meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and trying to avoid the fiscal cliff, here's an idea: The man the president just defeated in a long election battle might be looking for something to do. How about enlisting Mitt Romney to head up a nationwide program to standardize election procedures? Romney touts his organizational and leadership skills. Could he bring the same talents and approach that helped him get the 2002 Winter Olympics back on their feet to this problem? He might be just the man for the job -- and Wyoming might be just the model he needs.

The time has long since come for the United States of America to master its elections. Election officials in states that ought to have been shamed into improving their processes long ago still can't seem to manage it. In that case, let's find someone who can.

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