In 2000 and 2004, Democrats and Republicans pointed accusatory fingers at each other, claiming "They're trying to steal the election!". Accusations of vote stuffing, ineligible voting, mislaid votes, rigged computers, purged voter rolls and voters that should have been purged and weren't, inadequate voting machines, inaccurate voting machines, political tricks to suppress votes, and manipulative use of the courts to invalidate results - these are just a sampling of the complaints raised from Washington to Ohio to Texas to Florida and in between.
- In Washington, the Republicans are challenging the results in the governors race, where the Democrat won by less than 200 votes after multiple recounts. The Pubs believe that felons that should have been purged from the voter roles were allowed to vote.
- In Ohio, over three dozen non-Republican voters sued, contesting the results of the presidential election. Their suit alleging fraud was dropped in the Ohio courts, although they say they'll pursue the issue in federal court.
- In Texas, a 22-year incumbent in the state Senate challenged the 33 vote upset by a Democratic challenger. After two recounts, the incumbent is claimed illegal votes and fraud tilted the results in his opponents favor and planned to ask the Republican-controlled senate to overturn the results. He dropped the challenge after a fellow Republican investigated and determined that he lost fair and square. (Extensive coverage was provided by Texas blogger Charles Kuffner at Off the Kuff.)
- In Florida, beyond the insanity of the 2000 election, the 2004 election gave rise to allegations of hacked electronic voting systems and rigged exit polls (details at Common Dreams), voter registration fraud, purged voter rolls, and illegal voter suppression. Some allegations were investigated but to my knowledge no legal actions were instigated in response to any allegations.
The heart of democracy is in the reliability of election results. When citizens don't trust the election process, the government formed by that election is weakened and suspect. This is clear in the response many citizens had to George Bush. He was accused of stealing the election, obtaining office by fiat, and he was seen as an illegitimate president. The problems continued in 2004, with many citizens convinced that the election process was fundamentally unfair. Clearly, there is an outstanding need for the government to get involved and improve the election system so that citizens have confidence in the results.
An effort to address the issue has been made jointly by Senators Clinton, Kerry, and Boxer and Representative Tubbs. The Count Every Vote Act would require that electronic voting systems product a paper trail, that felons be allowed to vote, that election day be proclaimed a federal holiday,that early voting be allowed in every state, that voters could register to vote on election day, and that officials of companies manufactoring voting machines wouldn't be allowed to engage in specific political activies. The bill provides $500m to the states to improve their election process and requires that these changes be implemented for the2006 mid-term election.
Julie Saltzman provides an overview of the proposed legislation before lamenting the lack of a Republican sponsor. She's convinced that the Republicans will work to kill this bill and recognizes that felon voting rights is a rich target for them, though she's curious to see how else they spin an unwillingness to support election reform. Charles Kuffner provides the basics on why felon voting rights are worth supporting while Kevin Drum picks up where Julie leaves off. Drum figures that the Republicans will either find a Willie Horton to attach to the felon voting rights component or barring that, they'll simply ignore the bill and propose their own, claiming credit for the initial concept.
Drum recommends dropping the felon voting rights component. I'm not sure if that's pragmatic politics or abandoning principle. I'm really not sure, but my tendency is to argue that the need for election reform is so fundamentally critical that we can't afford to lose it in favor of felons' rights. We may need to drop it and bring it back on its own. Alternately, there is an opportunity for us to push this issue at the state level and we should. There's no guarantee that the Republican controlled Congress will allow any election reform through,especially if we follow Drum's other advice and make it an issue that the public associates with the Democrats. The Republicans could easily pass it in the House and Senate and then let it die in committee. We need to push hard at the federal level and you can start by becoming a citizen co-sponsor of the bill here. But that's not enough. We need to push our state legislators and governors to act before 2006. If the feds won't address it, then the states have to. It's up to us to make sure they do.