Voter confidence has been shaken and stirred in recent years. After 228 years one would think we knew better however, such is not the case. In the four years since the last election we certainly have had time to insure a sound election process.
Here is some historical perspective: Our first disputed election occurred in 1800. It was our fourth election. In that election the Federalists nominated John Adams for President and Charles Pinckney for Vice President. Thomas Jefferson was nominated for President and Aaron Burr as Vice President by the Democratic-Republicans. Each elector was to vote for two candidates without specifying who was to be President or Vice President; Jefferson and Burr were assigned the same number of electoral votes. Without a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives decided the election. In seven days the House voted 36 times. On the 36th go-round Jefferson was chosen by a slim margin. There was a call to amend the Constitutional provision requiring double balloting for President and Vice President. It was eliminated by the passage of the 12th Amendment, which was approved by Congress in December 1803 and ratified in time for the election of 1804.
So you see, it can be done! We can prevail over election process issues.
Several challenges face us now, including capricious county-by-county procedures, well intended but often poorly trained poll workers, ambivalent funding, flawed registration systems and growing fear of offending unregistered and illegal voters. Add to that a dash of intimidation, general corruption and voting machines of questionable worth. The flaws in our voting system are giving rise to fears that many thousands of votes will be rejected, lost or nullified by illegitimate votes. Those with a sense of humor have referred to the 2004 elections as “faith-based” voting.
Ballot-less electronic touch-screen ? Direct Response Electronic (DRE) ? voting machines, among other things, are going to be heated and adrenaline-charged issues as we begin to cast our ballots. Stress fractures can already be seen in the system. A slew of lawsuits already has been filed — in more than a dozen states, including the battleground states of Michigan, Missouri Florida and Ohio, — before the first votes have been tallied. High on the list of issues are touch-screen machines and provisional ballots.
Georgia, Florida and 27 other states are using touch-screen machines. Election officials have known for months that they were ripe for serious contention because these machines do not produce a voter-verifiable ballot. This has made audit and recount systems unnecessarily opaque and prime targets for litigation.
Provisional ballots, which are replacement ballots given to voters whose names somehow get left off precinct rolls, are also under attack. People who are uncomfortable with the new voting machines would like to have the option of using a provisional paper ballot. However, unlike optical scan ballots, provisional ballots in most cases are cumbersome because they have to be counted by hand. Voting officials generally want to discourage their over-use for that reason. Several states using provisional ballots do require that the ballot be cast at the proper polling place. Oddly enough, that requirement also has been contested and settled in the courts.
There enough bumps and glitches in the system: thirty percent of all votes, regardless of Party affiliation, will probably cast on machines of questionable worth. However, can we all agree that it is just a crying shame when so-called leaders call for preemptive chaos? Eric Holder, formerly of the Clinton Justice Department, now a member of the Democratic Party’s “Election Task Force,” made a chilling, outrageous remark on Fox News Sunday. Holder said, “If every vote is allowed to be cast, and if every vote is counted, John Kerry will be President within a day of that election.”
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked, “Well, I don’t know how you can guarantee that.” Holder responded, “You heard it right here. If every vote is allowed to be cast and every vote is counted, John Kerry will be President.”
So logically if Kerry loses, Bush stole the election. Enough already! Yes, there are legitimate concerns from technologists and computer security specialists and scientists and lawmakers who are doing their best to raise the ethical and procedural standards of our voting systems, the very foundation of our form of government. At the same time voter confidence is at risk. How long before people start to give up because “my vote doesn’t matter.”
No system is foolproof. There needs to be a call for civility from sea to shining sea. The proverbial horse is out of the barn. Votes are already being cast. It may be time to make the best of what we have.
The Associated Press reports that Doug Lewis, Executive Director of the Election Center, a non-profit organization working with polling administrators, recently said, “There has been such a concerted effort to beat up on the system itself, that people need to step back and understand that if you destroy the very process by which your candidate gets elected, then what have you gained?”