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While some seek a technological solution, others are looking for ways to alleviate the inconvenience of having to travel to a crowded polling place in order to vote. Oregon this year tried all mail-in ballots for the first time. Voters could send in their ballots anytime up to the Friday before Election Day; after that the ballots had to be brought personally to election centers or designated drop-off sites. The mail-in system helped boost Oregon's turnout to 63% of the state's eligible voters, in contrast to a 51% turnout nationally. But a hefty 44% of those ballots were deposited in person on Monday and Tuesday alone. The result was crowding at election offices like the one in Portland's Multnomah County, where the line of "mail-in" voters on election night stretched for two blocks. "We have vote-by-mail until the Friday before the election," says Dan Lavey, a Bush campaign consultant and vote-by-mail skeptic. "And from Saturday through Tuesday, we have mildly organized chaos."
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York plans to introduce a bill directing the Federal Election Commission to evaluate various vote systems and propose guidelines for adopting the most effective ones. Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is calling for a commission to do the same. A similar bill in the House is sponsored by Republican Jim Leach of Iowa and Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, who almost lost his seat in 1988 because of a poorly designed ballot. Because congressional candidates appeared on the same line as presidential candidates, 79,000 people neglected to cast a vote for Congress.
Americans can take some comfort from the knowledge that most other advanced nations have voting methods at least as shopworn as ours. All of Japan uses paper ballots on which voters write in candidates' names themselves. On the other hand, sometimes the old methods have their points. The ancient Greeks, who invented the tumult of democracy, voted by tossing stones into a bowl: white for yes, black for no--hence "blackballed." There is no recorded problem of "hanging chads," though chipping might have been an issue. Best of all, it was cost effective. Rocks can be reused every year.
--Reported by Melissa August and Anne Moffett/Washington, Elisabeth Kauffman/Nashville, Todd Murphy/Portland, David Schwartz/Phoenix and Ken Shiffman/Concord