Remember the moving images of Iraqi citizens voting? This was a human demonstration of what we're "fighting for" in Iraq. We were spreading democracy, letting liberty and freedom take root, and for the first time the Iraqi people had the chance to choose their leaders in a democratic election. The final step — an election worker marked the voters hand to prevent repeat voting. The pictures were moving — proud, defiant, purple ink-stained fingers. Proof of their taking a major step towards self-determination.
So: Democracy, self-determination. One person, one vote, no repeats. Sounds good, right? Well, why are we spreading these innovative concepts to other countries, and simultaneously tweaking laws in our own country to make it more difficult for our own citizens to vote? And more difficult to count the votes accurately?
From state to state, even district to district, different rules, deadlines and voting methods apply. Some will cast a paper ballot; some will touch a screen to register their vote, or feed a ballot card into a computer device, or use the old mechanical lever machine. Some states require you to bring a voter registration card, some ask only for signature verification; others require a drivers license, or even a birth certificate. For the poor, elderly and non-drivers, getting this documentation can be especially difficult.
And polling hours vary widely: in New York City you can vote from 6 in the morning to 9 at night; but in Hawaii it's only from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m. In Illinois it's 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; North Carolina, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Why? These inconsistencies leave way too much room for tampering, mistakes and misinformation that could lead to voter suppression.
Voter fraud can happen. The rumors of lost and found ballot boxes in Chicago during the 1960 presidential election were legendary. And in the 2000 presidential election weird things happened: tens of thousands of eligible Florida voters who were said to have felony convictions were wrongly purged from the election rolls; ballot cards with "hanging chads" were questioned, and polling places closed early.
If "American Idol" can get 63 million telephone votes, then it's crazy not to make voting for public officials more simple, accessible and uniform. Why can't voting be as simple as a paper ballot — and a purple finger?