The Sunday Washington Post headline said it all. Echoing a theme that is finally being picked up by print and broadcast media that for too long has neglected the dramatic problems with this country’s systems for casting and counting votes, the newspaper’s front page announced: “Major Problems At Polls Feared: Some Officials Say Voting Law Changes And New Technology Will Cause Trouble.”
Following a disastrous election day in Maryland that was defined by human blunders, technical glitches, long lines and long delays in vote counting so severe that some contests remain unresolved almost a week after the balloting, the Post declared that, “An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat — this time on a national scale — of last week’s Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said.”
Some of us have been writing and talking about this country’s almost fully dysfunctional electoral systems for the better part of a decade. And the one thing that every serious observer of the electoral meltdown recognizes is that the people who have managed the mess ought not to be trusted to clean it up.
That’s the message that underpins the candidacy of John Bonifaz for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts Secretary of State.
Bonifaz, the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute, is one of a number of activists and advocates who are running in races for secretary of state positions around the country this year. They have recognized that these posts, which in most states are responsible for conducting elections, can no longer be trusted to Republican partisans — such as Florida’s Katherine Harris and Ohio’s Ken Blackwell — or Democratic hacks. They have to be occupied by champions of democracy who believe that protecting and the promoting the right to vote must be the central function of local and state election officials.
Some of these champions have already secured secretary of state nominations, including Minnesota Democrat Mark Ritchie and California Democrat Debra Bowen. But in Massachusetts, where the primary is Tuesday, Bonifaz faces a tough challenge. He must overcome an entrenched incumbent, William Galvin, who at one point was considered a serious contender for governor but dropped back to seek reelection as secretary of state.
That decision by Galvin made Bonifaz’s job much harder. But he has persevered with a primary campaign that has spoken well and wisely of the need to fix our broken election systems. His small “d” democratic commitment has earned Bonifaz enthusiastic endorsements from newspapers such as the Boston Phoenix, one of the nation’s premier alternative weeklies, and the New Bedford Standard-Times, which declared last week that, “Mr. Galvin has not used his office enough to push through voting reforms that make Massachusetts a shining example and a leader in reviving democracy at the local level. Mr. Bonifaz will be that champion for the voter.”