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Voting Reform Begins with Secretaries of State | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Voting Reform Begins with Secretaries of State

Worried about the integrity of today's election? You should be. The United States has a dysfunctional election system that produces unequal results depending on the state in which one lives, that is vulnerable to intimidation and manipulation, and that does not consistently guarantee that all eligible Americans can vote and have those votes counted.

The Florida debacle of 2000, the Ohio crisis of 2004 and the dozens of disasters in the primary voting this year have confirmed that the basis processes of our democracy are in need of radical repair.

But where does the process begin?

How about with races around the country for Secretary of State, the position that in most states is responsible to organizing and running elections?

Reform candidates are running in states across the country. One of the best, Debra Bowen, is running in California, the nation's most populous state. Others include Jennifer Brunner in Ohio, Ken Gordon in Colorado, Michael Mauro in Ohio, Carmella Sabaugh in Michigan, Mary Herrera in New Mexico and Ross Miller in Nevada. All of these campaigns have been highlighted by SOS: The Secretary of State Project (www.secstateproject.org) as "clean candidates" who "will protect voter rights in 2008." But they are more than that: If elected, these candidates will form the frontline in a national push for clean and fair elections.

And it will be a multipartisan push.

How do we know? The most outspoken champion of reform among candidates for Secretary of State around the country is Minnesota's Mark Ritchie, a veteran activist who in 2004 headed the National Voice coalition, the nonpartisan Get Out the Vote campaign that coordinated the work of over 1000 groups nationwide and registered 5 million new voters.

Frustrated by electoral irregularities that year -- particularly in Ohio -- Ritchie entered the race for Secretary of State against Minnesota's hyper-partisan Republican incumbent Mary Kiffmeyer.

Ritchie has throughout this campaign emphasized his commitment to protecting the rights of all voters and of all parties. He's done so with such passion that, on the eve of the election, a prominent independent candidate in the race -- Bruce Kennedy, who is an outspoken advocate for Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV) -- issued a statement urging undecided voters to cast their ballots for Ritchie.

"I've known for several years that Mary Kiffmeyer is not a good Secretary of State for MN. She lacks ‘people skills' with her own employees and with election officials around the state that she is coordinating. Mark clearly has a more positive and collaborative style than Mary Kiffmeyer," announced Kennedy. "Mark is a hard worker. As this campaign progressed, I became persuaded that he will be a strong voice for IRV in Minnesota. Bottom line, he has a good chance to win. I don't. I am recommending to any voters who are undecided to vote for Mark Ritchie."

Ritchie, who is running on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party ticket, welcomed the news by hailing Kennedy for enhancing the debate by adding "fresh ideas on ranked voting, voter education, and on how to make the entire system more fair and non-partisan for candidates and voters." Ritchie promised that: "Independent-minded voters can count on me to restore fairness, integrity and non-partisanship to the Office of the Secretary of State."

Minnesota voters have Ritchie's word on that, in the form of his four-party pledge to them:

<>1. You will be able to register and vote with ease, privacy and dignity regardless of where you live, political affiliation, or physical ability.

2. Your votes will be recorded as you intend on a paper ballot. All ballots will be counted accurately and in a timely manner and your personal election information will be protected.

3. All candidates will receive equal treatment and the same information from the Office regardless of political affiliation.

4. The Secretary of State's Office will be accountable to all Minnesotans for carrying out and protecting our laws."

There are a lot of important races to be decided today. But few candidates hold the promise that Mark Ritchie and his fellow contenders for Secretary of State positions do for the restoration and renewal of our battered American democracy.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

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