Monday, October 27, 2008

And While We're At It ...

Voter fraud. Vote suppression. Rigged elections. Purged voters' lists. Hacked and hackable voting machines. The accusations are flying hot and heavy from both parties and the tensions are even higher than they were in 2004. Now it's time for a little rational discourse on the issue of vote manipulations, and I was delighted to see some solid proposals made by an expert in today's Los Angeles Times.

Charles Stewart III is a professor of political science at MIT and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. His op-ed piece notes the charges and counter-charges and comes up with some pretty straightforward proposals to fix things.

So, eight years after the Florida hanging-chad fiasco, we find ourselves in a deep irony. Elections undoubtedly are better-run now. However, a combination of greater media attention to election-system failures, transitional chaos and razor-thin election margins have increased anxieties. Unfortunately, as the recent turn against ACORN has reminded us, it is a small step from attacking shenanigans to creating the impression among partisans that the other guy won by fraudulent means.

What to do? To stop attacks on voting machines (and thus remove any taint from Republican victories), states need laws that ensure a clear chain of custody for all machines and ballots before an election, require thorough audits of the machines after an election and make all software open to public scrutiny. Some states, including California, have made progress in this area, but most have not.

To stop attacks on groups like ACORN (and thus remove any taint from the victories of Democrats), states must do a much better job of registering new voters. The best practice in this regard is election-day registration, which puts the business of voter registration back in the hands of election officials, where it belongs, in a setting that is the extreme of convenience for voters. Eight states allow voters to register at the polls. California and other states should adopt this reform.

That's certainly a good start. I'd add paper trails and mandatory audits for those damned machines and the enforcement of election laws already on the books to facilitate voter registration. It's too late to change the angst already engendered by this election, but it should be a congressional priority in 2009 so that by the mid-term elections come along in 2010, a lot of this crap won't once again rise up and bite us.

Voters this time around need to be reminded that their responsibilities as citizens don't end on November 4. That's just the start. Banging on doors in DC (and local offices) and a steady barrage of emails, faxes, and letters needs to be directed at the people who need to be reminded what their jobs are.

Make it so.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

On voter registration. I don't get it. Sometimes people want to invent and maintain complex solutions for simple problems. In my country, everybody over 18 is, by law, allowed to vote, and thus gets a voting card in the mail. Which you happily hand over at the polling station where staff member 1 and 2 check you out against the lists. If ok-ed, you vote. Voter registration? Hello?

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Florida in 2000 was about voter disenfranchisement on a massive scale. People were ARRESTED on their way to the poles. 'Hanging chads' is a canard. And what's to stop a highly partisan elections official, say katheryn harris, the Florida sec. state, from preventing people to register, or voting in a provisional (and easily discarded) category? I mean 'election officials' have been notoriously corrupt in the past.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

On registering new voters:
NO Incumbent EVER wants to enroll new voters, because there's at LEAST a 50/50 chance that the new voter WON'T vote for the Incumbent. So it is ALWAYS in the interests of the Incumbents to obstruct, if possible-- or disqualify if obstructing is not possible--any new participants in the system.

State election officials--who typically are Incumbents--are therefore NOT the best folks to entrust with registering new voters.

6:15 AM  

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