07/28/05 — Voting matters: Ballot machine reliability only part of the problem

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Voting matters: Ballot machine reliability only part of the problem

The North Carolina Legislature, like lots of other legislatures across the country, is very worried about making sure voting machines are going to work properly come this November.

And most, like North Carolina’s governing body, have reason to be concerned. Here, a recent snafu left scores of votes uncounted.

Making sure there is a reliable system by which North Carolinians can cast their ballots should be a priority, especially if we are going to try to move a completely automated system nationwide.

But along with that concern should be an even more pressing worry — how to get people to the polls in the first place.

Currently most elections are decided by less than half of the eligible registered voters in a state. Take out a major national election decision like who will be the next president of the United States, and that percentage could go as low as 20 or 30 percent in some communities.

That lack of participation might seem like a good thing considering so many Americans do not seem to care enough to make sure they are informed about the issues they will be considering in the voting booth or the people who are offering themselves for office on the ballot. But that low voter turnout also means only a very small percentage of people in a community are making decisions regarding such kitchen table issues as tax increases, school bond levies and economic development goals and standards.

And it also means that decisions are particularly vulnerable to “stacking the ballot box” with those whose registrations have been bought and sold or with those who have a vested interest in a certain outcome.

There are many people who talk about the future of this country with concern. They wonder where the new crop of leaders is going to come from if most of the nation’s young adults would rather hear about Paris Hilton, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt than economic incentives and international peace talks.

Getting people interested in the process is critical — and getting them to feel like their voices matter is the first step. The change will be a slow one, but once it is made, there will be a real chance to have a nation that is really governed by an informed and interested electorate.

Making sure the process is fair, however, is only the first step.

Published in Editorials on July 28, 2005 12:25 PM