Our elections of course should be fair, but it is also vital that they be seen to be fair. Voting irregularities have impinged on the last two presidential elections, and after the 2000 Florida debacle, many die-hard Bush opponents never did concede the legitimacy of his first term.
Thus, the recommendations of a private commission on election reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, are worth heeding.
One of the principal and most controversial recommendations was that voters be required to produce a government-issued photo ID. This could be a discouraging nuisance to the elderly and the poor, but photo IDs have become a fact of American life and, as the commission noted, "are needed to board a plane, enter a federal building and cash a check." The commission said the IDs should be free and easily available.
The photo-ID proposal should be adopted, with exceptions for voters who show up without one, either allowing them to cast a provisional ballot and return with an ID later, provide some other acceptable ID or fill out a sworn affidavit. Those exceptions can last until photo IDs become, as they inevitably will, universal.
The commission was rightly skeptical of computerized voting; it is too vulnerable to fraud and hacking, and voters are suspicious of it in any case. The commission insists that all votes have a verifiable paper trail. Just because an election is honest doesn't mean someone won't contest it, and a paper trail would be proof positive of the outcome.
Where technology is important is maintaining accurate and up-to-date voter rolls that can be crosschecked with those of other states. The commission also recommended a system for signature verification for absentee ballots.
The commission also recommended having four regional presidential primaries that would rotate in their order from election cycle to election cycle. This idea has been kicking around a long time and makes more sense than the heavily skewed and front-loaded system we have now, but it has one big drawback — the parties, candidates and even many voters don't want it.
Encouragingly, the commission found that "there is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting, but both occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election." And, we would add, taint the whole process.