In the last mid-term election, we Kansans were proud that a record 51 percent of registered voters cast their ballots and were part of the political process.
But shouldn’t we be asking, why did only half of us vote? Shouldn’t we be concerned that 49 percent of our fellow citizens did not engage in the process? Was the real reason because people didn’t care to vote or is it because our voting system hinders participation?
Recently the ACLU of Kansas provided an interesting insight into just how flawed our voting system is in a report called “All Democracy Is Local: The Impact of County Elected Officials on Citizen Participation in Elections.” It highlighted how County election officials control and operate elections. Everything from early voting, outreach efforts, selection of voting places, hours to vote are all in the hands of these officials. This inconsistent, ineffective and subjective interpretation of our voting laws often impedes the ability to vote.
Shouldn’t we have a system that treats all Kansans the same? Why should our right to vote depend on the county where we reside? Is this really the best Kansas can do?
A better system does exist. The state of Oregon has a voting system that typically provides for 75 percent voter participation, automatic registration, is cost effective and is not subjected to cyber-attack. So how do they do that?
First, when you get your driver’s license, you are automatically registered to vote as of age 18. If you do not want to register, you have the option to opt out. Also, as everyone in Oregon is required to update their change of address on their driver’s license, a ballot is automatically mailed to that address 20 days before Election Day.
This allows time to contemplate one’s choices, and after those decisions have been made, the ballot is mailed back to the state.
No one has to miss work or have trouble finding a polling site. No costly machines can be hacked, just paper ballots that can be hand counted if needed. No need to search for volunteers to work as poll workers. No county official can make an unwise decision to place a voting site somewhere that may wind up costing the tax payers of that county by having to expend funds defending that decision in court.
Voting by mail is not a unique legislative concept. In addition to Oregon, we can look to the success of two other states, Washington and Colorado, that provide for a similar system that’s enhanced voter participation.
It’s time for legislation to be introduced and passed in Kansas which makes voting easier, safer and more cost effective than the current system. Any of these three states can be used as examples of what our legislators can do to help our democracy work to its fullest.
So, as we begin a new legislative session, ask your legislators: Why can’t we vote like they do in Oregon?
After they give you a tired excuse for why we can’t, ask: “What are you afraid of?”
Barry R. Grissom is the senior vice president of Electrum Partners. He was U.S. attorney for Kansas from 2010 to 2016.