Futuristic voting pondered at presidential panel
DENVER • Voters could one day print ballots at home like airline boarding passes, or skip traditional precincts for weekend voting at vote centers.
But first, elections administrators nationwide must stop trying to fix problems of the past and focus on innovations, a panel of Western elections officials said Thursday before a presidential commission touring the nation looking for ways to improve voting.
Elections officers from California, Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico laid out ideas to slash wait times and bring vote procedures into the Internet age. They said advances are possible without alienating older voters and people who don't want to give up in-person Election Day voting.
Los Angeles County is developing new voting machines that can "read" ballots printed at home, similar to checking in for a flight at airports.
Oregon's elections chief talked up the possibility of voters receiving bar-coded ballots on email and returning them in person, like returning a rented movie to Redbox.
Precincts have closed in favor of fewer, bigger "vote centers" in New Mexico's largest county. The county that contains Austin, Texas, kept precincts open but allowed voters to cast ballots at any of them. Austin encourages voters to tweet wait times, then broadcasts the messages to let folks know when lines are short.
"It's clear that voters today and certainly in the future are going to expect options. Voters are going to want to cast ballots when, where and how they want to," said Los Angeles County Clerk Dean Logan.
The daylong hearing was the second of four such events in battleground states. A hearing was held in Miami in June, and others are planned for Ohio and Pennsylvania. The commission has until year's end to submit its recommendations to President Barack Obama.
The Western elections officers touted the region as a leader in new elections methods. However, the remarks sparked a lively debate about mail voting, given the problems facing the U.S. Postal Service.
"It is not a business model that is particularly vibrant for the future," said Benjamin Ginsburg, co-chairman of the commission and national counsel to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign last year. He said the Postal Service will be "an institution that's going to look pretty different a decade from now."
The outgoing director of Oregon's election division, Steve Trout, said Oregon's all-mail elections saw more than half of last year's ballots personally dropped off, not mailed. He agreed that elections officials have to stay flexible.
The elections clerk in Bernalillo County, N.M., said voting innovations in the West should spread nationwide. But she urged the commission to preserve some level of personal interaction for voters who choose.
"Voting is fundamentally a human and a human interactive process," Maggie Oliver said.