- - Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I have had the opportunity to visit many countries, and I have taken it upon myself to inquire how people in other nations prevent voter fraud. Even those from Third World countries tell me that everyone has some type of official voting credential that is nationally recognized. It seems only logical that you would want to ensure that only legitimate constituents of a region would be able to vote on issues relevant to that region. Nevertheless, certain groups and individuals in America have begun to agitate the populace about the unfairness of a system that requires voter identification. The word “racism” is tossed around so easily by those intent on creating division and victimhood instead of unity. The energies of every faction of our society would be much better spent by legitimately analyzing the reasons why so many Americans don’t vote and how we should address that issue, not only prior to a national election, but at all times.

Tens of millions of Americans who could have voted did not during the latest election. In my travels and interactions with tens of thousands of Americans in recent months, it has become clear to me that many people have tuned out of the political process because they are disgusted with both parties. I’ve been particularly saddened by the elderly individuals who told me that they are simply waiting to die and have given up on America.

There are countries in the world, some with mandatory voting and some with voluntary voting, where the turnout of eligible voters is greater than 90 percent. The percentage of our population who vote has been declining steadily since the 1960s. This is a serious problem in a country that was designed for the people. In our latest national election, thousands of members of our military serving overseas were unable to obtain absentee ballots in a timely fashion and were essentially disenfranchised even though they were risking their lives for our freedom. This should be upsetting to every citizen in this country, but many have become so accustomed to news like this that it simply doesn’t faze them anymore. I can go on with many examples of the inefficiencies and unfairness in a process that is essential to a democratic nation. Instead, let’s turn our attention to some potential solutions, which tend to be much more efficacious than complaining.

A great deal of the technology that would be necessary to properly identify voters and defeat voter fraud already exists. Almost everyone uses credit cards these days, and the transactions are done electronically. It is easy to obtain paper records of these electronic transactions upon request. Similarly, if voting is conducted using electronic machines, information could be collected in the same way that it is with credit cards. Voters, or people appointed to verify election results, could be provided with paper documentation. In fact, it would be wise to encourage every voter to take advantage of such verification. The necessary numbers and other identifying characteristics could be embedded in each voter’s driver’s license or national identification card.

Another major barrier to voting is the wait in long lines, which frequently take hours to navigate. Voting often takes place in a school or a fire station, where entrance and egress are not conducive to moving large crowds. If large athletic facilities such as stadiums were used instead, huge numbers of people could be serviced relatively quickly by positioning electronic voting machines at multiple entrances. Instead of conducting the voters to various parts of the stadium for seating, this would facilitate their rapid exit.

The process for voter registration should be no more complex than the process for obtaining a credit card. That process should be uniform throughout the nation, again, as it is with credit card applications. There is no need to reinvent the wheel every time we try to solve a problem. As a neurosurgeon, I frequently used techniques and ideas gathered from people in other disciplines to solve complex problems with great success.

Using that same line of thinking, how should we deal with voter fraud and computer hackers attempting to alter results of elections? Some claim that this does not occur in any substantial way in the United States, which is like a burglar saying that theft is rare in order to discourage the placement of security measures. In Saudi Arabia, the incentive to engage in thievery is dampened significantly by a judicial system that imposes a penalty of loss of digits on the thief. I am not suggesting the same penalty in this country, but the concept of severe punishment likely would deter such acts if imposed in a consistent way.

Hopefully, rather than trying to pick apart all of these suggestions, readers will be encouraged to add their voices and their intellect to arriving at solutions for this important problem.

Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.

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