Chads, Dimples and Butterflies: Fixing the Mechanics of Voting

December 13, 2000
Miranda Daniloff

Election experts called for "evolution" rather than a "revolution" in reforming the way the country administers elections, in a panel entitled, "Chads, Dimples and Butterflies: Fixing the Mechanics of Voting." The discussion in the Kennedy School’s ARCO Forum was held just hours before the US Supreme Court effectively handed Governor George Bush the presidency on Tuesday.
Election 2000 has raised "serious concerns over the integrity of the voting system," said public policy professor David King who moderated the discussion. Flanked by models of voting machines and life-size punch-card ballots, King said that elections were tremendously complicated with over 200 thousand precincts that had to be administered at the local level.
However, Doug Lewis executive director of the Election Center in Houston, Texas, said we shouldn’t be too alarmed. He noted that the framers of the Constitution purposely designed the process to be inefficient because they distrusted a centralized authority.
A national election requires 15 to 20 thousand election administrators, Lewis said noting that no other process, "has to recruit that kind of work force. The perfect election is when none of the imperfections go public," he joked. He did concede that ballot design and voting equipment should be re-examined and that there should be more legal precision about what constitutes a vote.
Trevor Potter, former head of the Federal Election Committee speculated that Congress might examine whether to impose minimal technical standards for a federal election. He noted that the Constitution does allow for Congress to set the "time, place and manner for federal elections."
The Honorable Sharon Priest, secretary of state of Arkansas, who participated by remote teleconference from Little Rock, said she would be concerned about unfunded federal mandates. "Voting equipment is expensive," she said.
The panel explored whether Internet voting might eliminate some of Election 2000 irregularities. Potter cited a Department of Defense study on the effectiveness of the Internet to tabulate absentee military ballots as a first step. Donald Tighe, director of Youth-e-Vote.net said that "the Internet is not THE answer but many be AN answer," noting concerns privacy and security. But he added that intermediate steps such as Internet voting at secure polling places might be a solution.
Priest, in response to a question from the audience about moving elections to the weekend or a day when more people can vote, agreed that any reform would include government looking "at the way the public does business."
Despite the seriousness of the topic, the evening was marked by levity. Referring to the now infamous bits of paper ballots, Doug Lewis joked "that we should sweep up all the chads and whoever is president, should be given a ‘chad parade’."


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