Thursday, June 08, 2006

Elections, past and future

Salon is already predicting the two frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic nomination -- Feingold and Warner -- and is trying to handicap their odds. They seem to like Feingold better, but think that Warner's slightly more centrist, and therefore has a better chance of winning.

And, while we're on a political note, Ted e-mailed this Rolling Stone article to me earlier in the week, ostensibly because he knew I would blog about it. According to the enlightening article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the 2004 election in Ohio was rife with irregularities -- enough so that John Kerry might have won:

Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004 -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.
(citations omitted.)

Salon disagrees with the conclusion that, but for these irregularities, Ohio would have gone for Kerry -- mostly due to a failure of proof:
To date, dozens of experts, both independently and as part of several research panels, have spent countless hours examining 2004's presidential election, especially the race in Ohio. Many of them have concluded that the election there strains conventional notions of what a democracy ought to look like; very little about that race was fair, clean or competent.


One has to wonder what, after all of this, Kennedy might have brought to the debate. There could have been an earnest exploration of the issues in order to finally shed some light on the problems we face in elections, and a call to urgently begin repairing our electoral machinery. Voting reforms are forever on the backburner in Congress; even the 2000 election did little to prompt improvements. If only someone with Kennedy's stature would outline this need.

If only. Whatever his aim, RFK Jr. does not appear intent on fixing the problem.


Certainly you can find some good in Kennedy's report. His section on Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's right-wing secretary of state, nicely sums up the reasons why people have been suspicious of the voting process in the state. Blackwell, Kennedy notes, "had broad powers to interpret and implement state and federal election laws -- setting standards for everything from the processing of voter registration to the conduct of official recounts." There's no argument that he used those powers for partisan gain. As Kennedy documents, in the months prior to the election, Blackwell issued a series of arbitrary and capricious voting and registration rules that could well have disenfranchised many people in the state.

But to prove Blackwell stole the state for Bush, Kennedy's got to do more than show instances of Blackwell's mischief. He's got to outline where Blackwell's actions could possibly have added up to enough votes to put the wrong man in office. In that, he fails.

Mostly, I agree with Kos's take:
At what point do we take a nonpartisan step back, survey the mangled landscape before us littered with butterfly ballots and pregnant chads and glitching computer machines and say that this is not--should not--be part of the democratic process of our nation?

This isn't just about unsecure voting machines, which seem to dominate any discussion about election reform. It's about requiring a photo ID to vote. It's about voting machine shortages, whether they exist intentionally or because of incompetence. It's about limiting the availability of absentee ballots. It's about requiring that voting papers be filed only on 80 lb paper. It's about purging names from voter rolls without notice. It's about allowing partisans to control what is supposed to be a nonpartisan election process.

At some point, the right to vote morphs into a privilege to vote, granted to those lucky enough to live in a county with enough machines, or lucky enough to live in a state that seeks to enhance, rather than suppress voter turnout. It's a privilege that can be exercised only by those citizens who can afford to take a whole day off of work to sit in a line until midnight in Ohio, or by those who can afford to pay the fee for a state ID, or by those who are fortunate enough to even know of these requirements.

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