Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

We Can Export Democracy To Iraq...
Whether we can hold fair elections in our own country, however, is dubious, writes Andrew Gumbel in The Independent:

Last week saw the start of early voting in Florida and a clutch of other states, and with it came a plethora of problems. In three heavily populated counties - around Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale - the network connection used to verify voter identifications broke down on the first day, creating hours of delay. In Jacksonville, where poor ballot design in 2000 knocked out the votes of 27,000 poor, predominantly black, predominantly Democratic voters, the county elections supervisor chose the first day of polling to resign, citing ill health. He had come under fire for failing to make early voting available in the city's African-American neighbourhoods - something his interim successor is now going some way to remedy.

Elsewhere, there were computer breakdowns during early voting in Memphis. Pre-election testing of electronic machines in Riverside County, California, and in Palm Beach County, Florida, led to multiple computer crashes. Elsewhere, machines have manifested problems handling basic addition - especially when asked to display instructions in a language other than English. Several county administrators have chosen simply to skip the non-English language part of the test.

In Nebraska, dead people were found to have applied for absentee ballots. In Ohio, a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was found to have offered crack cocaine to a known drug addict in exchange for completed voter registration forms, which he duly submitted in the names of Mary Poppins, Janet Jackson and Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious cannibal serial killer.

...In Florida, Secretary of State Glenda Hood has been repeatedly accused of doing the political bidding of the man who appointed her - Governor Jeb Bush, the President's brother. Her more recent exploits include directing county supervisors to throw out registration forms where applicants have signed a statement declaring they are US citizens but have forgotten to check a citizenry box elsewhere on the form. This, too, is seen as a vote-suppressing mechanism. It, too, is now in the courts.

Secretary Hood has also been waging a months-long campaign to ban what limited manual recounts the electronic voting machines permit. Her initial ruling was struck down by the courts, but now she has come up with a staggeringly devious rewrite. The state will now permit analysis of the computerised machines' internal audit logs in the event of a close race, she said, but if there is any discrepancy the county supervisors are to go with the original count. In other words: we will do recounts, but if the recounts change the outcome we will disregard them.

Secretary Hood's actions illuminate the real attraction of the electronic voting machines in the states where they have been introduced. They may work no better than the old punch-card machines - studies suggest they fail to record as many votes as their predecessors. In the absence of an independent paper trail, how- ever, all evidence of problems is hidden away in the binary code of an electronic black box and is, to all intents and purposes, invisible.

This raises intriguing and troubling questions about what a post-election contest might look like. One can reasonably anticipate - based on past experience - an avalanche of stories about voters turned away from polling stations, told they are on a felons list even if they have no criminal record, or kept waiting for hours because of technical glitches. No doubt people will tell some of those thousands of lawyers how they pressed the screen for one candidate, only to have the other's name light up.

The problem is, even if lawyers for the losing candidate are able to prove that the system failed, they will find it very difficult to talk specific numbers and demonstrate that enough votes were lost to alter the outcome.

How the courts will react to this hypothetical state of affairs is anybody's guess. They could accept the given election results, however flawed. They could allow the arguments to rage until December, when the electoral college is supposed to meet, or even into the new year, when an undecided election would be thrown into the House of Representatives.

Or they could be trumped, once again, by the Supreme Court. The most disconcerting possibility is that the highest court in the land could remove the electoral process from the voters altogether and turn it over to the state legislatures. Technically, they can do this under Article II of the Constitution, which offers no automatic right to vote. We know from the deliberations in 2000 that two, possibly five, of the nine justices have doubts whether the people should be the ultimate arbiters of presidential elections - a strict, literal reading of the Constitution that no modern Supreme Court countenanced before the current crop of ultra-conservatives. "After granting the franchise in the special context of Article II," the majority declared in its Bush vs Gore ruling, "[the state] can take back the power to appoint electors."

Were this scenario to play out it would leave the fate of many of the electoral battlegrounds in the hands of Republican-controlled state legislatures (in Florida and Ohio, for starters), who would promptly hand the election to George Bush. Talk about a nightmare scenario - which is why every elections official and every "small d" democrat in the land is praying it won't get that close.

Posted by aalkon at October 25, 2004 8:13 AM