In a campaign where there has been much talk about change, bringing new people into the process, and high voter turnout (at least on the Democratic side), the recent lawsuit in Nevada attempting to bar nine at-large districts created so that shift-workers could vote was indeed a low moment. Fortunately, a District judge made the right decision, protecting voters and rejecting a transparent effort to suppress turnout for Barack Obama.
As I noted in a previous post, shouldn’t Democrats be on the side of getting more voters to the polls, not turning them away (leave that to the Republicans)!?
The Nevada shenanigans once again exposed problems with a voting system desperately in need of reform. If we are to succeed at this historic moment in bringing new people into the process and creating a fair, transparent, accountable and truly democratic system – then we need to understand how the hardwiring of our electoral system works against *real* change. As Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. has written in the pages of The Nation: “Our voting system’s foundation is built on the sand of states’ rights and local control. We have fifty states, 3,141 counties and 7,800 different local election jurisdictions. All separate and unequal.” While many of the needed reforms are resolutely unsexy, they are also vital if we are to overcome our current crisis – a downsized politics of excluded alternatives and a growing mistrust of the way we vote and our election results.
The 2000 presidential debacle focused public attention on our increasingly dysfunctional electoral system. In its wake a pro-democracy movement has emerged, and efforts to bring democracy home are making headway on some important fronts. Many advocates have demonstrated the unreliability of so-called black box or touch-screen voting machines which can be hacked, breakdown, and don’t always leave a paper trail to resolve tabulation disputes. California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently decertified Diebold voting machines.
Bowen, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie all support switching from touch-screen to optical scan machines, which read ballots that voters mark by hand, like a standardized test. They are more trustworthy and cost-effective, and they provide a record of each vote. Representative Rush Holt also recently introduced the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008. Currently, 20 states are scheduled to conduct completely unauditable elections in 2008. This bill would reimburse jurisdictions that choose to implement voter-verified paper trails; provide funding for audits of voting; and help states move to an entirely paper-based system. It’s a good effort at a quick-fix – but it still makes the fix optional.