Can Democracy Be Downsized?

Living in a free country, can be downright costly these days at election time.

While bills are still trickling in, the running total for the May 8th primary election in St. Joseph County has hit $317-thousand dollars.

In comparison, the number of voters who bothered to cast ballots---11,952—pales.

That means the 2007 primary will carry a per voter cost of at least $26.52.

It’s to the point where some are wondering---and even experimenting with the idea of downsizing democracy.

For instance, St. Joseph County had 142-separate polling places on May 8th. Each had an average of five poll workers, who earned a minimum of $80 for the day.

Yet, “we only had 11 percent of registered voters (show up)between Mishawaka and South Bend,” said St. Joseph County Clerk Rita Glenn.

Meantime, on May 8th in Richmond, Indiana, a radical experiment was going on.

“This was city election,” said Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, “usually during city election they'd have 31 polling places open…that went down to four.”

Richmond also went from 186-poll workers, to just 36.

In the process of offering less, 40-percent more voters cast ballots in the primary, than was the case in the last comparable election.

“This is a terrific example of how you can smartly use technology to get the vote out and counted more efficiently,” said Rokita.

The experiment in Richmond is ongoing, and will continue in the fall: so the question remains, can democracy be downsized, without being compromised.

Much of the answer apparently depends on ones trust in technology.

It is technology that guards against voter fraud in a scaled down election system, and some aren’t as trusting.

“I think in theory, elections look like the cost too much,” says Glenn. “I don’t think you can put a price on a persons vote.”

Glenn points out that St. Joseph County was still using old fashioned voting machines with levers in 2003, and that the state has yet to fully solve a host of technological problems associated with the new voting system.

Meantime, St. Joseph County Commissioner Steve Ross was keeping his hopes up. “if the system can be done well, it would truly be a financial benefit and a more efficient way to get people to vote.”

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