- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

One thing that members of a deeply divided Senate have already agreed upon is the need to modernize the nation's voting system. Sens. Sam Brownback and Charles Schumer have already made one proposal, and Sens. Mitch McConnell and Robert Torricelli another.

Both proposals have merit in that they will allocate funds to study how existing voting systems can be improved, and then will allow states to decide how best to improve their voting systems. While all of the proposed reforms should receive full public scrutiny, a few principles should guide the debate.

In the first place, state legislatures should retain their power to regulate elections. The Constitution gives states the power to regulate the election of members of Congress in Article 1, section 4, and while it is true that Congress retains the ultimate power to regulate congressional elections, Hamilton, in Federalist 59, argued that such power should only be exercised "Whenever extraordinary circumstances might render that interposition necessary." Moreover, the Constitution explicitly gives the power of appointing presidential electors to the states in Article 2, section 2 which states, "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors."

Mr. Schumer acknowledged his desire to adhere to that standard when he said of his proposal, "It gives states the expertise and the means to modernize their voting systems without leading us into the constitutional battle over whether the federal government has the right to dictate how we should vote."

From a practical standpoint, it also makes sense that states should retain the power to improve their own systems of voting. The 50 states have vast differences in geography and demographics, and so what works well in one state will not necessarily work well in another. Mr. Brownback alluded to the same problem when he said, "A heavily rural state like Kansas has problems with voting that are different than those faced by New York City. Our legislation will allow each state to implement the changes that are best for them."

Secondly, the proposed solutions must be bipartisan in nature, since all votes should receive equal protection. While partisan bickering is an inevitable part of the political process, both sides must agree on improvements in the voting system that will not favor any party. As James Baker tirelessly pointed out, voting machines, imperfect though they may be, favor neither Republicans nor Democrats. The Supreme Court upheld the same principle in its decision last week.

Finally, and most importantly, voters have the ultimate responsibility for marking their ballots correctly. It is impossible to construct a system that will correct every voter error. Perhaps there will always be a few individuals who wished they had voted differently, especially when they see the final tallies. Yet just as the Constitution begins with "We the people" and concludes with the signatures of individuals, so must voter reform start with systems, but return to individuals.



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