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The ABCs Of Election Reform

A. Following the controversy-crazy U.S. presidential election of 2000, in which the Supreme Court was drafted to determine the outcome, there have been efforts by various groups to reform the country's electoral system. However, "we have not changed much of substance really since the 2000 debacle," says Norman Ornstein, a co-writer of the 2010 Election Reform Project report.

The five-year endeavor was a joint venture of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. The upshot, Ornstein says, is that "another 2000-style debacle could easily happen, but worse. God help us."

B. Oh, there have been some attempts at changing the game. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, for instance, provided federal funds to enable states to update their voting processes and technologies, established the Election Assistance Commission and called for uniform standards for federal elections.

"It was a salutary effort," Ornstein says, "but it put most of its effort and money into ameliorating the 'hanging chads' problem and created instead a new and unintended one — getting states and localities with generous federal subsidies to buy electronic machines that raised such serious questions of reliability and sanctity that they were largely dumped within a couple of years."

Other political labs have been exploring alternatives. Americans Elect, for example, hopes to establish a national, nonpartisan primary on the Internet, and FairVote is pushing for instant runoff voting and a national popular vote for president. Further ideas include age-weighted voting that gives more power to younger people and open-source digital voting made possible by transparent, publicly controlled technology.

C. With so many new techno-innovations and so much pressure to make changes — changes that might lead to more innovation and jobs and government contracts, as well as a more equitable election process — there is always a chance that Americans will eventually find a new way to elect a president.

But apparently not this time around. At the moment it's hard for Americans to vote together on anything — including how to vote together.

Previously: The ABCs Of Politicians

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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