Why can’t Michigan vote like Oregon?

    Remember how, a few months ago, I posted video of myself eating a fried pie on the street in Portland, while talking with a guy about the plotting of the 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan? Well, that guy… a former Michigander by the name of Dave Miller… has asked that I share the following article, which he apparently pecked out late last night on his cell phone, while his wife slept beside him, in bed.

    Hello Readers of Mark Maynard.com.

    You guys need a nickname, a nomme de guerre. Like tea baggers, dittoheads, or birthers. The Church of England produced the puritans. Arsenio had the dog pound. Let me throw a couple of ideas out there.

    Ball Shavers

    We’ll vote later.

    I’m writing to spread the word about how voting is done in Oregon. I moved there about ten years ago, and have been meaning to enlighten the Ball Shavers with a guest post pretty much since then.

    In Oregon there are no polling stations to have to locate. There are no archaic machines to have to operate. Election day is a party where all sides gather to see the results, not to wait in line, worrying that you’re name isn’t on the list when you finally reach the front. Everyone receives their official ballot roughly a month before election day, and can fill it out and return it at their leisure. You can drop it in any mailbox, and, if you can’t afford the stamp, you can take it to any public library. If the locations of local libraries are unknown to you, there are also drop boxes strategically located near places that you might frequent.

    Here’s how it works: Before every election, voters are mailed a ballot package containing the scantron ballot, two envelopes, and a voters guide.

    The envelope labeled “secret” is where your completed ballot goes. These envelopes have no identifying information about you. At the processing station, I picture my ballot anonymously piled with others being torn open and fed into the scanning machines.

    The other envelope has your voter registration information printed on it and a brief statement you swear to with your signature. This is the envelope that you place your secret envelope into. When this envelope arrives at the processing station, your registration info is verified and your signature is matched to the signature you provided when you registered to vote. If all is good, it is opened and your secret envelope is thrown on the pile.

    This is a great system because it makes voting convenient and completely low stress. While filling out my ballot, if I have a question about a candidate or measure, I can stop, research online, go sit on the can to ponder, talk things over with friends or coworkers, sleep on it, pick it up again the next day.

    That’s pretty awesome, but wait, there’s more. The voter’s guide that gets sent with the ballot is great reading. Really. It contains photos and bios of all of the candidates. Every candidate gets a 1/2 page to make their case. Obama, Romney, the 14th District Water Commissioner candidates, and the homeless guy running for Mayor all get the exact same amount of space, in the same plain format — fonts, colors, and layout — to make their argument for your vote.

    Each ballot measure or initiative is also included in the guide. The full text, a plain language summary, what a “yes” vote means, what a “no” vote means, and any extra information, like the projected financial impact on the budget of the related government entity.

    Of course you can imagine that this could be a little dry. And I’m a social creature, not policy analyst. I want to know what other people think! After the official description of the measure is the arguments section. Anyone who can scrape up $500 can have their 1/2 page argument printed in the guide. Like in the candidate section, every entry is given the same plain layout, fonts, and colors. And every argument is marked as “In Favor Of” or “Opposed To”.

    In recent years a couple of intrepid entrepreneurs have gotten measures on the ballot to legalize casinos in areas other than on Indian reservations. A group called “Viva Las Portland” supports them with their argument in favor of the measures. Here’s a clip:

    “Long ago Oregon’s pioneers placed a big bet when they decided to risk everything, travel the Oregon trail, and settle our great state.

    Today we are asking voters to make another risky bet by voting YES to the creation of a mega-casino in the Portland metro region. It is time we amended our state constitution so that one day we can have privately run, Las Vegas-style casinos in every community in our state.

    Portland buys local, eats local, and drinks local. It’s time we gamble locally. These measures will create desperately needed opportunities for Portland’s struggling pawn shops, bankruptcy attorneys, and repo men. Plus, by reducing air travel to Nevada, we’ll cut our region’s carbon footprint.”

    Ha! Most of the arguments are legitimate, however, and it’s interesting to see which measures unions and other professional groups endorse and why.

    I’m quite often surprised by some perspectives. There is a marijuana legalization measure that is being opposed on the grounds that it will put current small growers out of business. Family farms that have been passed down through the generations, who are “protected” by the current laws, it’s argued, will be trampled by big agribusiness, who will move in if this measure passes.

    If Oregon’s voting system is the final straw to get you to move to Portland, we welcome you. There is always room for more good liberal Maytards.

    And, now, with the opposing view, I give you Deanna Swenson, the Oregon election worker currently facing a criminal investigation for allegedly altering the ballots submitted by way of this perfect system that Dave describes, to benefit Republican candidates.

    For what it’s worth, I think it’s a compelling idea. It does seem to me, however, that there would be opportunity for fraud, as illustrated by the above story. I suppose, however, that there’s always opportunity for fraud, regardless of the system that’s being used. Paper ballots can be shredded. Electronic voting machines, as we’ve seen, can be hacked. The bigger issue for me, if we started voting this way, would be the loss of the communal feeling that I get when I stand in line on Election Day, surrounded by my neighbors. While I can see the appeal of filling the form out at home, in my pajamas, eating fried pies, I think I’d miss standing in line, surrounded by young and old Ypsilantians of all races, colors and creeds, feeling like a member of a real, authentic community. And I just don’t think driving up to a metal box outside of a McDonalds, and tossing in my envelope, would give me the same sense of fulfillment and civic pride. I don’t want voting to become just one more form that I need to fill out and drop in the mail, like my taxes. But, maybe there’s some kind of hybrid system that we could agree to, that would serve all of our needs. The important thing, I think, is that we initiate a serious dialogue about election reform that addresses everything from campaign finance to electronic voting, and from the possibility of setting nationwide standards to the elimination of the electoral college. We’ve been putting it off long enough.

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