Saturday, November 11, 2006

Keeping the Voting Clean

... But this reaction to the bugs and glitches shows that Americans have not learned the right lesson from 2000: the problem is not with the technology of running our elections but rather with the people running them.

The United States should join the rest of the world’s advanced democracies and put nonpartisan professionals in charge. We need officials whose ultimate allegiance is to the fairness, integrity and professionalism of the election process, not to helping one party or the other gain political advantage. We don’t need disputes like the current one in Florida being resolved by party hacks.

Critics of electronic voting raise two main issues: machines are susceptible to fraud (or hacking) and they are difficult to use.

Fraud problems would not go away if we switched to vote by mail, as Oregon has. Such voting — let’s call it mandatory absentee balloting — takes the voter out of the polling booth and puts him at home or elsewhere, someplace where votes could be sold to the highest bidder. Most of the documented cases of voting fraud in the United States in recent years involve absentee ballots. At the beginning of the last century, voter turnout declined as states adopted secret, in-person balloting, most likely because corrupt politicians stopped buying votes since they couldn’t verify that people were really voting for their candidate.

True, squeaky-clean Oregon has been able to use the vote-by-mail system. But it is not clear that clean elections could be held in places with more rancorous partisan disputes over election rules and vote counting. And mail-in ballots don’t eliminate the problem anyway: losers still have an incentive to claim fraud and try to get a close election result overturned. Public opinion on the integrity of the election process is volatile, and surveys show losers have less confidence in the fairness of the process than winners do.

Voting with pencil and paper creates its own problems. With long ballots like California’s it would take many days to calculate results, and the potential for election administrator error or fraud — if votes were really to be counted by hand, as opposed to optically scanned — would be enormous.

Nor would a switch to vote by mail or pencil and paper necessarily solve anything. Across the country last Tuesday we saw all kinds of mundane problems: not enough ballots, polls opening late, disputes about which voter identification rules applied. Problems arose with absentee ballots, too. Some were mailed to the wrong address, or with incorrect postage, or with inaccurate or incomplete information. Then there’s the question of accurately counting only the validly cast absentee ballots.

The point is not that electronic voting is the best system; maybe it should be scrapped. The real solution is to create a cadre of dedicated, professional nonpartisan administrators with enough money to run a scrupulously fair and voter-friendly system of election administration to resolve such questions.

To improve the chances that states will choose an independent and competent chief elections officer, states should enact laws making that officer a long-term gubernatorial appointee who takes office only upon confirmation by a 75 percent vote of the legislature — a supermajority requirement that would ensure that a candidate has true bipartisan support. Nonpartisanship in election administration is no dream. It is how Canada and Australia run their national elections.

We’ve moved in exactly the wrong direction. Election administration reform has become more, not less, politicized since Bush v. Gore. Since 2004, voter identification laws have been supported only by Republican legislatures and opposed by Democrats. The debate over election integrity versus election access makes administration just another locus for partisan debate. This should and can end with nonpartisan professional administration.

Even with divided government coming again to Washington, there is an opportunity to take steps that would keep each party from gaining partisan advantage, and that can end our biannual anxiety over whether we are headed for another election meltdown.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, writes the Election Law blog.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democracy Now! | Record 200 Ballot Initiatives Include Abortion, Gay Marriage, Affirmative Action, and Minimum Wage Measures: "AMY GOODMAN: We'll see if he won. It's still contested right now, but he does seem to be ahead. Let me ask you very quickly, because we only have a few minutes, the anti-affirmative action measure that actually passed in Michigan, what is it?

KRISTINA WILFORE: Well, it's very disappointing. It does provide a strict interpretation of affirmative action on universities and government services. And it's unfortunate. You had a bipartisan coalition opposed to it. It might be interesting to note that the only supporter publicly, organizationally, of this very extreme measure was the Ku Klux Klan. You know, so we still have a lot of problems in our country around race."
Temperance movement - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Because of the correlation between drinking and what we now recognize as domestic violence -- many of the women who were beaten by their husbands observed that their husbands were likely to do so when drunk -- the temperance movement existed alongside various women's rights and other movements, including the Progressive movement, and often the same activists were involved in all of the above. Many notable voices of the time, ranging from Lucy Webb Hayes to Susan B. Anthony, were active in the movement. In Canada, Nellie McClung was a longstanding advocate of temperance. As with most social movements, there was a gamut of activists running from violent (Carrie Nation) to mild (Neal S. Dow).

Many former abolitionists joined the temperance movement and it was also strongly supported by the second Ku Klux Klan. Often called the KKK of the 1920s, it had been established (or revived) in Georgia in 1915 largely to defend that state's prohibition laws. Promoting and even enforcing temperance became a cornerstone of the Klan's agenda as it spread throughout the country.

For decades prohibition had been touted as the almost magical solution to the nation's poverty, crime, violence, and other ills. On the eve of prohibition the invitation to a church celebration in New York said 'Let the church bells ring and let there be great rejoicing, for an enemy has been overthrown and victory crowns the forces of righteousness.' Jubilant with victory, some in the WCTU announced that, having brought Prohibition to the United States, it would now go forth to bring the blessing of enforced abstinence to the rest of the world.

The famous evangelist Billy Sunday staged a mock funeral for John Barleycorn and then preached on the benefits of prohibition. 'The reign of tears is over,' he asserted. 'The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs.' Since alcohol was to be banned and since it was seen as the cause of most, if not all, crime, some communities sold their jails. One sold its jail to a farmer who converted it into a combination pig and chicken house while another converted its jail into a tool house."