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Column: Increasing Voter Turnout: Think Outside The Booth

This story was written by Jeremy Sullivan, The Diamondback
If Nov. 4 were a national holiday and the university canceled classes, would that increase the probability that you would vote? What if everyone voted with mail-in ballots, instead of having to schlep to a library or public school? What if you could vote over the Internet? What if the act of voting could result in a cash payment to the voter?Only 60 percent of eligible voters participated in the last presidential election. Perhaps if it were easier to vote, more people would. The rules governing voting procedures have been changed repeatedly in the past, and they could be changed again.There are some outside-the-box ideas that might increase participation of college students, poor people and other groups who tend not to turn out to vote.For example, what if Election Day were a national holiday? Every Christmas, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July, we encourage Americans to devote time to opening presents, eating turkey or watching fireworks, so why not dedicate a day to voting?An obligation to go to work or attend classes may prevent some people from casting a ballot.What ifpeople didn't have to register in advance, but could simply show up on Election Day and register and vote at the same time? This might enable even the biggest procrastinators to get down to the polls.Or what if, instead of having to visit a polling place at all, everyone voted with a mail-in ballot? Ten years ago, voters in Oregon approved a referendum which specified that all voting be done by mail.Oregon voters overwhelmingly supported this system, and 50 percent of eligible Oregonians voted in the 2006 midterm election. In that non-presidential election year, the nationwide turnout was only 40 percent of eligible voters.In 2006, there was also an unusual initiative on the Arizona ballot. Proposition 200 would have established a $1 million prize that would be awarded to one randomly selected individual who cast a vote in future elections.Supporters of the initiative argued that more folks would vote if doing so gave them a chance to win $1 million. Proposition 200 failed, so we can't be sure whether a faint hope for a financial windfall would actually increase voter turnout, but it certainly seems plausible.Online voting is also worth considering. Disruption by hackers is a potential problem, but if we can develop security protocols which allow financial transactions to be conducted over the Internet, protecting the voting process could be possible. Online voting would allow people to do some searching online as they fill out their ballots, which could result in more consideration of candidates and referendums.There are reasonable arguments against all of these suggestions. An Election Day holiday would cost millions in lost productivity. Voter fraud is a concern with mail-in or online voting, and the lottery prize model seems to cheapen what is supposed to be a solemn civic endeavor.But we should at least consider these and other ideas, because our voting procedures are constantly evolving. There is no right way to conduct an election, but we should always try to encourage as many people as possible to vote; it's our civic duty.
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