Overheard on CNN.com: 10 ideas to improve voting, elections
Voters cast their ballots November 4, 2008, at Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia.
January 3rd, 2012
05:47 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: 10 ideas to improve voting, elections

Editor's note: Overheard on CNN.com is a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community. If you voted in the Iowa caucuses, tell us your story on CNN iReport. Or put yourself on video and share your insights on the GOP race, and participate in the comments area below.

Readers found a CNN opinion piece about why we vote on Tuesdays (hint: a horse and buggy are involved) and took it all one step further, coming up with creative ideas for how to improve the voting system in the United States.

Why vote on Tuesdays? No good reason

Our question for you: If you could run an election however you wanted, what changes would you make and why? Here's a few ideas readers were sharing. Let us know what you think.

1. Change the voting day: The argument several readers made was that people have trouble voting during the week, so having a designated day off would make voting easier. They batted around ideas including having a designated holiday and voting during the weekend. Many said a holiday is the best way:

EDYVAN: "The day for General Election should be a national holiday. The primaries should be a state holiday."

MeAgain2000: "I agree with you, and I believe that it should be on a weekday and not inside a weekend."

msacks: "I've been so turned off by our political process, the idea of having a holiday for elections makes me sick."

But a few suggested weekends, too.

Germgaz2: "Nobody in Europe votes on a weekday. Most voting is held on a Sunday. Percentage of turn out is much higher than in the USA."

2. Rethink the electoral college: Some of the commenters said they were disheartened by the possibility that the electoral college would change the weight of their vote. Readers wondered whether a popular vote would be more fair or would give more populous states too much power.

ChipsAreGood: "We should also do away with the electoral college and decide elections based on the popular vote. A person's vote shouldn't be meaningless just because they live in a red or blue state."

mtiger: "Meaningless? if you go to a popular vote then Half of California will dwarf ALL OF 15 states and DC ... New Mexico West Virginia Nebraska Idaho Hawaii Maine New Hampshire Rhode Island Montana Delaware South Dakota Alaska North Dakota Vermont Washington, DC Wyoming ... and if half of Texas votes, take out ALL OF Arkansas Kansas Utah Nevada. Popular vote is awful. Electoral votes give strength to the weaker states."

msacks: "mtiger, why should states with less people yield more power over the populous states? How does that make any sense?"

tmac18: "A person in a small state's vote should not count more than someone who is from a larger state's vote."

WWWYKI: "So what you are saying is that you want the Country to be ran by California and Texas? Death couldn't come fast enough!"

3. Change the primary system: Is it too long and drawn out? Should everyone vote at once?

organically: "All 50 states should hold their primary on the same day! This will eliminate many problems associated with our election process. Why should someone drop out because they finished in 4th place in Iowa? What about where someone finishes in the other 49 states? Iowa makes no sense."

ShaunaDye: "The primary/caucus system allows for lesser known, poorer candidates to have a chance to share their message with the American people and gain support for their ideas over time. If there was a national primary, only those with a ton of cash and a nationally recognized name could become president."

Guest: "Okay and while we are at it, the primaries and that system need to be updated also! Give them 6 weeks to campaign, primaries all on 1 day. Boom! In 2008, by the time I got to vote in the primary, McCain already had it in the bag."

4. Make elections last longer than one day: Why have an election that is only one day? Would having a week-long election give more people a chance to vote? Or is there maybe another reason why people aren't going to the polls?

syd113: "Is there any reason it needs to be all done in a single day? If you really want to maximize turnout, hold it over ta couple of days (fri-sat for example). Kids would mostly be in school or daycare during the week so parents can get away, but the weekend's available for people who can't easily get away from their work responsibilities."

KootieBird: " I don't think it's a matter of what day we set aside for voting. I think it's more a matter of people feeling like their vote doesn't make a difference, that elections are rigged, and that there really aren't honest, hard-working politicians who care about the people to vote for."

5. A few, um, incentives: Some people think there isn't much that can be done.

unafilliated: "Our voting system doesn't need to be 'fixed.' Not the day, not the manner, not the counting. This culture of 'I have an idea that solves everything' has also been tried to 'fix' our schools, putting massive pressure on public schools with basically no results, because in the end, the most important factor is the lazy kids and apathetic parents. If you really want to boost voter turnout, offer free booze and tats. I guarantee you that you'll see people turn out that have never voted before... even if you do it on Tuesday."

6. Allow voting online or by mail: Readers wonder whether it's time to make it easier for people to vote without actually going to a polling place.

lamarjones: "Damn it, figure out how to let me vote online. For those of you who still live in '85, that is your deal. Not mine."

mike3316: "Suuurrre.... online voting. Our votes will be safe and secure, because nothing EVER gets hacked on line. lol"

A few commenters mentioned mail-in voting as a model for successful remote polling.

BandonWind: "Apparently this author doesn't know about vote-by-mail, which we have been doing here in Oregon for YEARS (as well as other states). It is such a simple process, no rush for time, don't have to go anywhere or battle weather, and fraud is minimal since signatures are verified. Learn about it and you will become a fan, and probably start voting. We also register to vote by mail."

Seola1: "Not all states allow that. There are some states where you have to show up in person or with a doctor's note basically."

Some pointed out that early voting is already a reality for many people.

djcarter66: "Unless only I live in the modern age or am totally missing something most states have early voting. You can vote about a month or so before the election. One of our voting places used even be in the mall (although they might have moved that place). Now we usually go to the library or city hall."

7. Tweak the winner-takes-all system: One reader suggested a graduated election system whereby the "losers" would have representation.

IndyJim1969: "Plenty of people voted last year. If you recall, it was the second largest turnover in party history in the last 100 years. Unless you were upset with that outcome, why would you be worried about it? If we wanted more participation, we should look at changing the winner takes all system we have in place right now. If the election goes as:

Candidate A 38 percent of the vote
Candidate B 35 percent of the vote
Candidate C 20 percent of the vote
Candidate D 7 percent of the vote

Then the net results are that only people who supported Candidate A get a voice in the congress. 62 percent of Americans who voted are without a voice. That is why I would like to see the Senate remain as is, but the House of Representatives be a proportional representation system. Even the green party with 7 percent of the vote gets 7 percent of its candidates seated in congress. As it is now, candidates are so pre formed and cookie cuttered by the time they get in power they have bought and sold their soul 10 times."

8. Manage the money: Many readers said they thought elections have become too much about money and lobbying.

jedclampet1: " 'Operating system of the country is broken' - Well then, we need to boot or re-boot, send the non-working members to quarentine, and prevent infection by lobbyists and special interests by means of a political 'firewall.' Until we repair the 'files' we elect, it matters not what day we vote on."

9. Open up voting: A few commenters complained about the party system, and one suggested allowing people to vote for more than one candidate.

Paganguy: "The problem is not the day of the week. This voting system is divisive. 'If you ar not for me, you are against me.' On the other hand if you could vote for more than one of the listed candidates the process would pull people together. We already practice this when voting for judges. This would be a fault-less voting; all marks on the ballot counts. The candidate with the most votes win."

10. Ensure that people vote: Perhaps more should be done to encourage people to go to the polls, this commenter says.

lgny: "By contrast, in Montreal, the agency responsible for voter registration goes out throughout the city to assure that everyone is registered and that those unable to vote in person have filed for absentee ballots. They even visit nursing homes and other places where voters can't get to the polls. In the States, we really don't work very hard to make it easy to vote."

Now that Iowa's headed to the polls, there's clearly a spirited readership out there waiting to see what happens during election season. What do you think of these voting ideas, as well as the candidates? We'd love to hear your ideas for the future of polling.

Join the conversation about the 2012 election in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or share your opinion on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: Elections • Overheard on CNN.com • Politics
soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. MC in TX

    The system most definitely needs to be overhauled. To begin with, simply switching to an "approval voting" system would dramatically improve the quality of the results and give 3rd parties more opportunities. The biggest problem, of course, is the PAC money but it will likely take a catastrophic scandal to ever get that changed.

    Truthfully, though I know it would never happen, a system where for major offices the voter was required to identify key elements of what his/her candidate stood for on the ballot in order for the vote to count would be a great improvement. Too many people make election choices without really having any idea whom they are voting for. This type of system would filter out many votes by individuals who are voting based strictly on party affiliation, name recognition, or other trivial reasons, and would force people to make an informed choice if they want their vote to count.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bannister

    Out of the 10 ideas given, at least 6 are designed to "make voting easier." But WHY do we need to make voting easier? And WHY do we need more people voting anyway?

    Voting is already fairly easy – provided you really want to do it. People seem to have no trouble finding their way to the mall – so why should they have trouble getting to the voting booth? Making voting "easier" will simply give us a more "dumbed down" electorate who vote on style rather than substance. And online voting would turn the Presidential Election into American Idol (more than it already is.)

    If anything, I think the voting process should be made HARDER to ensure a more educated voter. Make people take a test of basic civic knowledge before they can register. And yes, EVERYONE must present a valid photo ID or some proof of citizenship. To get the smartest people in office, we need the smartest people AT THE POLLS.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt W

      So, you don't really get 'democracy,' do you?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • lgny

      Making it harder does not get the more educated voter, it gets the more fanatic follower - the one more eager to jump through all the restrictions you create.

      January 4, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. P. Bishop

    Vote by mail works great here in Oregon. I also think that the money should be taken out of politics. If each candidate had the same amount of money to run it would be a lot more fair. Plus some great people that currently couldn't keep up with raising money could afford to get into the races. It would also keep existing elected officials doing their job for the 99% instead of trying to raise money from the 1%.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jorgath

    a) Primary elections tailored to specific parties are unfairly limiting the vote. I have no problem with political parties endorsing a candidate, but candidates should represent people, not parties.

    b) If we must have primaries and caucuses, my suggestion is that we allow the Iowa-New Hampshire-first thing to continue because of tradition, but then have all of the other ones on the same day, maybe 2-4 weeks later.

    c) On that note, why not just use existing holidays for primaries? Have Iowa and New Hampshire on Martin Luther King Day, and the rest of them on Presidents Day.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Publius Novus

      Duh. Why should Republicans allow non-Republicans to tell them who their candidate should be? Should Catholics let Protetants vote for the Pope? Should Rotarians let VFW members elect Rotarian officers? You don't sound very smart.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Clayton

      I don't think that's what he's saying, Publius. He's saying that the primaries shouldn't exist, because all it does it strip the candidates down to the one each side thinks will win. So, in the last election, if a non-Democrat wanted to vote for Hillary Clinton once the real election got started, that wasn't an option anymore.

      I just see problems with information overload. Instead of political ads for 2 candidates come election time, you'd have 6 or 7 different ads. While this would reduce attack ads (Because who would you attack with your one commercial? How would you be certain that you'd take their votes?) it would also make debates far more tedious. Maybe there should be a combined primary?

      January 4, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Clayton

    In an ideal environment, this is how I'd change the voting system.

    1) Ditch the electoral system. Popular vote is the way the elections should be run. How you can possibly like a system where a majority of the country has voted for one candidate, but the other candidate won? A popular vote system doesn't swing the electoral power in the favor of more populous states. The electoral college already does that. It's why California and Texas have so many electoral votes. What you're now doing is allowing those votes to be split. All of California doesn't lean Democrat, and all of Texas doesn't vote Republican. Over 4.5 million people in California voted for McCain, and 3.5 million Texans voted for Obama. What the current electoral college says is that 12 million Californians voted for Obama, and 9 million Texans voted for McCain. All you're doing in this situation is giving disproportionate national power to the loud local majority.

    2) Remove party affiliation from ballots. If you're not well read enough to know the people you want to vote for, don't vote.

    3) Allow for "anti-votes". Sometimes in certain years, you don't have someone you want to vote for, but you know that you don't want one person to win. Why would you go to the polls? You have to vote for someone that you don't like in order to have a chance at preventing someone you despise from being elected. In these situations, you should be able to cast an "anyone but them" vote. It would counteract one vote for the candidate you anti-voted for.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      I agree with 2 & 3. I was going to disagree with 1, but taking the time to look at the numbers, and really think about it, it really doesn't make sense. The excuse is that it smooths out the votes, so that you don't have a vocal majority always running roughshod over the minorities. In practice though, it accomplishes the exact opposite. I'll use my state as an example. Washington state tends to be split right down the middle, with the west side being democrat, and the east side being republican. The population is about 4:1. In the presidential election, that means that roughly 1 million votes are ignored.

      Basically this is simply a holdover from the days when it was impossible to count every vote on a national scale, so it made sense to count votes locally, and figure out who won. Then, a representative would ride on horseback to the state level, where the other representatives would get together to figure out who won, and finally, someone would take that vote and go on to the electoral college to run the final tally. It was easier to remember "Jackson County votes for Adams" than it was to remember "353,251 votes for Adams, 59,322 votes for Stevenson, 32 votes for Richardson, 3,422 votes for... etc.". Now, with modern technology, it's stupid not to count every vote equally.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jonathan

    The biggest problem with our elections are the candidates. Why is it so hard to find someone with intelligence, integrity, and selflessness? We need someone who really understands what it means to be a public servant. Someone who will tell corporations and lobbyists to keep their money because they work for the people. Someone who will listen to any idea, no matter which side of the political fence it's from. In fact, we need someone who doesn't believe in political fences at all. It's one thing to have your own set of personal beliefs and convictions, it's another to ignore the will of the people or the good ideas of someone else just because you don't agree with them. There are times when you need to stick to your guns, and times when you need to compromise, and we need someone who has the wisdom to know which is which.

    Until we find that, all the changes in the world won't fix our elections. We could implement every single change listed and, with the exception of removing parties and corporate money, none of them would make the slightest bit of difference in the end.

    January 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Publius Novus

      Buy low, sell high. How do you know if an idea is good? Most of us think an idea is good if we agree with it. So how does a "selfless" politician know if an idea is good? Why, if he/she agrees with it, of course! I don't think you have done too much reading. Have you ever heard of Plato's Republic? Try it, you'll find that your ideas aren't new. They just don't work.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      And that's my point – we need someone who doesn't think like that. Someone who doesn't believe that anything they think is right must be right. We need someone open to new ideas, willing to listen to evidence and arguments, rather than blindly sticking to a position. There are less subjective ways to tell if an idea is good or not, beyond just "I like it". Predictive data models, past history, expert opinions from people who have studied the topic – all of these can be used to decide whether an idea has merit.

      As for Plato, I've read enough to know that he didn't like democracies, for precisely the reason why we are in trouble today. We are handed our options from political parties, forced to choose between the few choices that the few parties hand us, most of whom he would consider as unfit, based on the ideal criteria of the philosopher-king.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ThinkLessDoMore

    reformation to the process in favor of the VOTER is well overdue, get rid of the electoral collage!!!

    January 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Peikovianii

    The Electoral College was part of the compromise that convinced smaller colonies to become states in the first place. Without it, most states would be ignored. One way to have better representation would be to have preferential balloting. The voters select all candidates in order of preference, and as each candidate drops from the bottom of the list those votes scatter to the voters' alternate choices until a genuine majority candidate is elected. All opinions are aired, but there is no more vote-splitting to deny the public a consensus candidate.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Publius Novus

      Most states are ignored anyway. Maryland and Massachusetts are ignored in presidential elections because they are reliably blue. There are many Southern states that are ignored because they are reliably red. Those are choices the voters in those states make. Giving Wyoming three electoral votes does not make it a political stopping place–there is no point in a Democrat going there, because a Democrat can't win there. And at bottom, states do not elect presidents–people do.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peikovianii

      Well, invent a new republic at the library or the soup kitchen. Winter evenings are long.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. howard

    Cmon online is the way to go, you must put in your social security number to vote and every number gets one vote. You give your number to every one, including the doctors, dentist etc so forget about it if you don't think someone can't get it anyway.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tron

    Voting online is utter nonsense. Hackers will have a field day. Jobs with go to India. Already IRS tax work is done in India. Now they will tell us who our new President is going to be ? Keep it secure, keep it within our borders.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ken

    Make Voting a National Holiday. It is a Holiday in New York State it should be a federal holiday. Polling places should give out some form of receipt showing that you voted that can be required by bosses as proof that you voted on that day or you have to take a paid vacation day.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. tom

    Get rid of the electoral college. It should be a popular vote. If a state has more people, then it SHOULD have a bigger say-so about who is elected. California has 66 times more people than Wyoming, but only about 18 times more influence on who is elected president, due to the EC. That's just wrong.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Publius Novus

      I agree. The reasons for the Electoral College system no longer exist. Get rid of it.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      i agree

      January 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    Two things I want to say:

    Living in NY, no matter who I vote for, it doesn't matter with the way things are set up. New York will never be a "red" state or any other color except blue. My vote is useless right now. So why vote? I’m not in 2012.

    Second about NY, I'm registered Independent. Not in the idea of being part of the Independent party, I just don't want to choose sides. By not choosing sides, and wanting to vote based on the person, I am not allowed to vote in the NY primaries because I'm not a Democrat or Republican.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      as a new yorker the last time i voted was Bush's first term... after realizing that the popular vote does not matter i stopped

      January 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. gary majam

    I don't think that doing it in the weekend will increae the voting percentage. Make the election day a holiday is better.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jimmy James

    Why can American Idol get so many people to vote but the Presidential Election can't? How about technology. I'm sure there is a way to allow people to text in a vote, and only one vote, through their phone. If not through text message, I'm sure there is a more up to date way for people to vote. Time to move into the 21st century.

    January 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic

      Well ok, but I voted 200 times on one night...You really want that?

      January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zombie John Gotti

      Yeah, because no one would go to Walmart and buy a bunch of pre-paid cell phones to text in extra votes for their candidate.

      January 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • avayandia

      Why so much worry about the Internet and text to vote? its not like they ID you at the polling place: I live in an apartment building of 15 units, nothing stops me from going to my polling place 15 times and giving 15 different names (maybe by time 8 the poll worker would catch on, but its a busy polling place).

      January 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • matt

      I'm suprised nobody mentioned order-of-preference voting.

      Instead of checking a box for a candidate, and not being able to vote for who I *REALLY* want for fear of tossing my vote to the mainstream winner, let me set an order of preference..Everyone gets a list of the candidates running on the ballot, and we prioritize who we'd like to see in office. The top person gets say, 3 points, the next gets 2, and the last place gets 0.

      Voter A might have a ballot that looks like this: 1) Gore. 2) Nader 3) Bush
      Voter B?: 1) Bush 2) Nader 3) Gore.

      In this scenerio, Gore gets 3 points, Bush gets 3 points. Nader...4.

      In effect, we could vote for who we want to be president (the top shelf), as well as who we DON'T want (the bottom of the list), and people we'd be begrudgingly accept. Someone that shows up as a lot of second-choice ballots could potentially become president, and viola, we've got...wait for it folks...someone that both sides get a benefit from, and we could finally stop having candidates preen to the crazy radical uncles in our families, and make them tell us how they'll *actually* help the moderate majority.

      January 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
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