Now that the Democrats have actually won a national election, it’s time we stopped all the talk about Diebold and Karl Rove conspiring to steal elections and started focusing on the real problem, which is the woeful lack of reliability, accountability and transparency in this country’s electoral system.
It’s actually a golden opportunity. Democrats who have been educating themselves on the shortcomings of electronic voting and the importance of recounts should still feel motivated to reform a system that so many felt was rigged against them in previous electoral cycles. Republicans, meanwhile, might finally want to initiate a grown-up conversation on the subject before they get tagged with the “sore loser” label they thrust so willingly on their opponents in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
From a procedural point of view, the 2006 midterms were a disaster that could still–depending on how things pan out in Virginia–turn into a catastrophe. One-third of the country was asked to vote on new machines whose technical integrity was questioned by computer scientists at a dozen top-flight universities and research institutes. Machines either failed to fire up, hit software obstacles or registered screen freezes, misalignments or votes cast for one candidate that appeared to be recorded for another. In Denver the new e-voting systems came close to collapsing altogether. In eight states voting hours had to be extended because the machines, operated by inexperienced and undertrained poll workers, didn’t do what the manual said they would do.
Over and above the mechanical problems was some singularly dirty electioneering–most glaringly directed at Jim Webb’s Virginia Senate campaign but restricted neither to one state nor to one party. This will go down as the year “robo-call” entered the political vocabulary, but it was also a campaign marked by old-fashioned voter disinformation and intimidation tactics, directed especially at African-American voters in the South. Voter-ID laws introduced by Republican legislatures to the fury of Democrats created havoc from one end of the country to the other.
The Democrats shouldn’t dampen their outrage just because they won. Likewise, they should resist the temptation to make too much fun of Republicans who have suddenly discovered their inner voting-rights activist. For sure, there was something delicious about Rick Santorum demanding the seizure of voting machines in counties reporting technical problems, or Heather Wilson, the Republican fighting to keep her seat in Albuquerque, calling in federal election monitors. But Democrats tempted to gloat should remember Virginia might yet see a recount, controlled by a GOP establishment, involving squadrons of e-voting machines that don’t produce a paper trail. Let’s get voting reform back on the national agenda–and fast.