For a Voting Rights Amendment | The Nation


For a Voting Rights Amendment

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The 2000 presidential election, with more than 105 million votes cast, involved: five weeks of political and legal maneuvering; what many view as an arbitrarily imposed Supreme Court constitutional crisis; and a final five-to-four ruling by ideologically driven conservative Justices on the Supreme Court who essentially selected their favored candidate President of the United States. The final media consortium report confirms this. The two parties' political and legal tactics aside, if genuine democracy had prevailed and all the votes had been counted, Al Gore would have been narrowly elected President.

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Jesse Jackson Jr.
Jesse Jackson Jr., member of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, has represented Illinois's 2nd...

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Approve a Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution, granting all the
right to vote; craft a unitary voting system for federal, state and
local elections, guaranteeing an honest and efficient count.

What was consistent about the man was his belief that each state has a sovereign right to control its laws.

Upon closer examination, we also discovered that our voting infrastructure is broken. Thus, the nation learned about chads--whether pregnant, dimpled, hanging or swinging. The pattern across the country revealed confusing ballot designs. The best machines with the lowest error rates were generally located in the wealthier and whiter areas, while the worst machines with the most mistakes were disproportionately located in areas with the poorest people and the highest number of people of color, especially African-Americans. In Florida precincts that were at least four-fifths African-American there were more than three times as many rejected votes as in predominantly white precincts, even after accounting for differences in income, education and voting technology.

Additionally, Florida's county election administrators used inconsistent methods of counting votes. Electronic scanners rejected ballots clearly marked with pencils instead of pens. Scanners also discarded ballots marked for two different candidates, or properly punched ballots that also had a candidate's name written on it. The scanner saw both ballots as erroneous double votes and rejected them, even though in many instances the voter's true preference was clearly indicated. In Florida, while many voters' choices were easily discernible on ballots rejected by optical scanners, some election officials never bothered to look at the actual ballot if the machine rejected it.

While the lion's share of attention was focused on Florida--because of the pivotal role it played in the election's outcome--virtually every state's election system would have revealed similar fault lines if given thorough scrutiny. My home state of Illinois was the worst.

A year ago Democrats were outraged by this mess, and the American people generally seemed concerned that the instruments of their democracy were sorely in need of repair and reform. But after a dozen national task force reports and recommendations, several Congressional hearings and legislative proposals, a US Civil Rights Commission study and hundreds of state legislative proposals, we find ourselves essentially in the same position as on November 7, 2000. Only a nationally embarrassed Florida completely overhauled its voting system. New York City still votes on forty-year-old lever machines.

The United States advocates for democracy around the world. We sometimes even link economic or military assistance to the establishment of democracy in a foreign land. Can you imagine the American people and our government's response to a country that said it had established democracy and conducted a democratic election, but in a controversy over ballots could not provide us with official election results? Yet that is exactly the state of American democracy. There are no "official" results in our presidential campaigns, and the various sources of "unofficial" results vary by as much as 200,000 votes. Given the margin of victory claimed by Bush in Florida (537 votes), and Gore nationally (539,000 votes), a 200,000 variation in national vote totals should be of major concern.

All true electoral reformers are saddened, frustrated and discouraged that virtually no progress in changing the system has occurred. Prior to September 11, blame was placed on voter apathy--no one was interested in engaging in the dull process of fixing "election mechanics." Now election reformers believe such potential change has been buried beneath the World Trade Center--that both the twin towers and voting reform have been brought down by terrorists. But this is not the true source of the inaction.

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