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Sunday, November 7, 2004

A proposal for simpler, secure voting


Your voice: Cletus J. Holtgrefe

It is appalling that our country, as advanced as we are in most things, still clings to an antiquated paper-trail method of electing people to office. With modern electronics, we conduct business - including high finance - via secure Internet service. But we continue to do manual ballots, requiring vote-counting that is prone to all sort of errors and cheating.

A safe, secure and virtually foolproof system can be designed. It would be easy to operate and easily understood by voters, and would eliminate charges of fraud.

This system would be based on Social Security numbers, which all U.S. citizens should possess. A master voting file could be extracted from the Social Security system for all living persons of voting age. The data extracted would consist of the Social Security number, date of birth, first three letters of the person's last name and the last known ZIP code for that person. No other data would be needed. This file would eliminate the need for voter registration, and the ZIP code would replace the current precincts.

A person could go to any polling place in the United States and present a photo ID, including ZIP code and proof of Social Security number. They would then enter that number, date of birth, first three letters of their last name, and home ZIP code. The clerk would verify the input before issuing an electronic card (similar to hotel key cards) with the local ZIP code and time encoded in it. This card would allow the voter to vote one time, then would be automatically de-magnetized to prevent further use.

To count the ballots, the first priority would be to get the ballots sorted and grouped by voters' ZIP code, ensuring that each vote count would be correct for that ZIP code. The next step would be to match the ballots against the master file, which would then be "locked" to prevent other ballots from being matched against it, thus guarding against fraud.

It would probably take several passes through the files to get all possible matching combinations. After the last pass and final tabulation, the winners could be declared. All remaining unmatched ballots would then be listed and examined for fraud and any other discrepancies.

This system, operated properly, would greatly simplify the whole voting process nationwide, and could include voting at all levels, and for issues as well as candidates.

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Cletus J. Holtgrefe of Mason is a retiree who spent 33 years in Procter & Gamble's cost accounting department, helping to design and implement several accounting systems.

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Send your column or proposed topic, 400 words or fewer, along with a photo of yourself, to assistant editorial editor Ray Cooklis at rcooklis@enquirer.com; (513) 768-8525.




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