Maine system combined with shareholder-style voting could overcome false fraud fears, boost turnout

The biggest issue in the November elections may not be Trump or Biden. It could be about voting itself.

Whether votes will be counted fairly is turning into a major national argument, but a combination of Maine voting and corporate balloting provide an answer.

The Republican Party has been remarkably open about its efforts to reduce the number of voters. Its leaders believe that the GOP faithful will turn out when others may be discouraged from voting by complex electoral rules or worries about going to the polls during the Covid-19 crisis.

The GOP strategy boils down to limiting the number of voters and laying the groundwork for post-election fraud complaints if voting access expands thanks to mail and electronic voting. This is not a partisan statement; it is open strategy.

Last week in Virginia, a Republican member of Congress lost his party’s nomination to run again. He charged there had been “voting irregularities and ballot stuffing.” His victorious opponent dismissed the charge, telling reporters: “That’s what losers say.” Exactly.

Donald Trump won the presidency with less than half of the popular vote but with an electoral vote majority. His campaign is following the same plan this year, consistent with GOP voter suppression.

The Democrats have been gearing up to fight attempts to disqualify voters by states imposing an unconstitutional poll tax or impossible eligibility requirements even for people who have previously voted.

The Maine approach comes into play when voting actually takes place. The idea is to reduce or eliminate any basis for claiming fraudulent voting.

The key is paper ballots. If there is any thought that electronic voting may open the possibility of fraud, paper ballots close the door.

The traditional paper ballot remains an option. It may cause slow counting and require more election workers, but it leaves a tangible record. It amounts to cutting-edge technology.

But there is also the increasingly frequent use of machines that count paper ballots electronically. They produce quickly tabulated and accurate results. In case of doubt, the paper ballot can be reviewed.

Either of these methods work with absentee voting by mail. Voting absentee still takes place on paper. Election officials have managed adequate safeguards of this process for many decades.

Maine uses paper ballots or paper backup and absentee voting. Maine’s voter turnout was 70% in 2016. The national turnout was only 55%.

Almost inadvertently, Maine also has another advantage that produces more voter security. As a rule, each of the state’s precincts is small. Election workers know the voters or the voting roll. Voters need not wait in line for hours.

Counting, even of paper ballots, can be easy and quick with fewer ballots to review. The results, always subject to verification, can totaled and passed up the line.

The immediate objection might be that Maine is a small state and its example would not work across an entire country.

How about Canada? With a population similar to California and a huge territory stretching from Newfoundland to the Yukon, Canada uses polling places, each with a small numbers of voters. Even with three major parties, it gets its election results quickly.

If the Maine model is the solution, does that mean electronic voting is not possible? Trump says remote, electronic voting can be corrupted.

The best way to conduct remote voting, maybe even this November, is to use a proven, non-political system, already in existence.

Each year, people who own corporate stock vote in elections of boards of directors and on other issues by using electronic services such as proxyvote or proxy-direct. They may also choose to vote by written ballot.

The electronic services are operated by independent companies with no stake in the outcome of the corporate voting. They provide extensive safeguards to prevent double voting or tampering with the system. They have worked well and have faced no charges of voting irregularity.

Neither moving to paper ballots nor using a neutral outside organization for electronic voting requires federal action.

States could act to create smaller precincts and to allow for the use of paper ballots. They could now explore the rapid redeployment of an electronic service.

Such changes could have two important effects. First, it could reduce the chances for political manipulation of the election. Second, it would take away the possibility that if Trump lost the presidential election, he could claim fraud, that is, “what losers say.”

Election tampering in the U.S. has been almost non-existent. Trump’s complaints have made it seem more of a possibility. Needed or not, these changes could slap a lid on dubious charges whose main purpose is to undermine greater voter participation.

Imagine the political effect of a national turnout that was as great as Maine’s.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.