The fact that the Democrats scored such a huge victory earlier this month should not make us forget that our election system (not just our voting machines) is horribly broken and must be dealt with in a strong and honest manner before November 2008 rolls along.
We certainly know that at least one election was, um, “marred by massive irregularities”, to say the least, costing the Democrats another seat. And frankly, lost in the celebration and euphoria of taking back both houses of Congress, real election reform should still be front and center.
There were over 12,000 complaints about malfunctioning machines or other “irregularities” and we had elected officials even having problems voting. The usual suspects (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia) plus California and North Carolina led the way with the most complaints. Not coincidentally, these states have been “repeat offenders” (Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida in 2004, Georgia in 2002 and Florida in 2000).
It is truly pathetic when a former President, Jimmy Carter, has an organization which has monitored over 50 elections and this organization would refuse to monitor the US elections because we don’t even meet the necessary criteria:
But there's no doubt in my mind that the United States electoral system is severely troubled and has many faults in it. It would not qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center in observing. We require for instance that there be uniform voting procedures throughout an entire nation. In the United States you've got not only fragmented from one state to another but also from one county to another. There is no central election commission in the United States that can make final judgment. It's a cacophony of voices that come in after the election is over with, thousands or hundreds of lawyers contending with each other. There's no uniformity in the nation at all. There's no doubt that that there's severe discrimination against poor people because of the quality of voting procedures presented to them. Another thing in the United States that we wouldn't permit in a country other than the United States is that we require that every candidate in a country in which we monitor the elections have equal access to the major news media, regardless of how much money they have. In the United States, as you know, it's how much advertising you can by on television and radio. And so the richest candidates prevail, and unless a candidate can raise sometimes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, they can't even hope to mount a campaign, so the United States has a very inadequate election procedure.
Pretty pathetic for a country that is a beacon of freedom and democracy.
But it wasn’t just the Diebold machines or the potential for vote switching or the lack of a paper trail. It is the robocalls that were being done by the GOP. And while there is anti-robocall legislation in a few states, this is something that Congress should take up as part of a comprehensive voter reform initiative.
This article has a number of ideas, some pretty good – including instant runoff voting. There are also bills in the Senate by Clinton and the House by Holt which are good starts (hat tip to lorelynn for those links).
Archaic machines and machines proven to be easily hackable and unsafe. A lack of a papertrail. Partisan participation at the highest levels of the voting and vote counting process. Rampant voter disenfranchisement, dirty tricks and voter suppression. Illegal and false threats to discourage voters. Fraud and illegally discarding voter registrations. All of this was happening again in 2006.
Who knows if there were any other elections whose results were skewed enough to change the outcome? It certainly isn’t like the issue is unheard of. Or that a sitting republican Congressman didn’t say that they would take care of the counting back in 2004. But just because the Democrats took back the House and the Senate, and just because the 2008 Senate picture doesn’t look so hot for the republicans doesn’t mean that all is peachy in our electoral process.
And it doesn’t mean that there won’t be millions of voters disenfranchised, or there won’t be some “strange irregularities” or missing smartcards or attempts to confuse voters into voting the day after election day. Or calls for people to jam the voter protection hotline. Hopefully (and chances are) the republicans will be in more of a disarray as a party, and the Democrats will be in an even better position to add to their advantage in the House or Senate. And the stakes will no doubt be even higher than they were this past voting season.
Which is why it is imperative that we don’t let this issue die. That we don’t find ourselves in the same position we are now come November 2008. That we make sure that comprehensive voter reform – voter reform with teeth – gets implemented as soon as possible. There is much that needs fixing. But the right to vote, and have your vote counted, is the very definition of democracy.
And right now, our country is a worldwide laughingstock when it comes to the very foundation of democracy.