Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Elections and Integrity  

Today the New York Times reports that there will be an inquiry into the Ohio election process that placed Mr. Bush back into the Oval Office.

Why? Because a county election official saw a technician adjusting a voting machine after he asked which county would be checked. The company spokesperson says he welcomes the inquiry and maintains that the machines have to be adjusted for recounts. So why is there a problem? Because no one in the auditor's office, no election official at the site, no person aside from those who have access to propriatery information about the workings of this particular machine understand how it operates. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means that none of the safeguards that are or have ever been in place to protect the validity of our election process will work for us any more.

Our elections are in the hands of the officials of some profit-oriented company that may very well have a stake in the outcome of the election. In Ohio, which went Republican, the company suppling the machines are well'known Bush supporters.

The day Herbert Hoover was elected, my father and his fellow poll workers stayed up until 3am counting ballots by hand. Decades later I was an election official, too. It was only after reading a letter about my fatherĀ“s experience that it clicked for me - all those forms we were required to sign before and after the election - not a one had changed since the days of hand ballots.

Still, it felt like we were guaranteeing the authenticity of the process. We were using those huge voting machines with the curtain and the metal arm that swung into place with a soul-satisfying metallic clank as it recorded our votes. Even though the machine had replaced hand ballots, the protocol made sense. We carefully recorded the numbers on the backs of the machines before and after the election, a Republican and a Democrat together to make sure there could be no mistake. Then we all signed and sealed the forms.

When computers came on the scene, our job was to remove a small black box from the computer, record the manufacturer's number on the outside of an envelope, place the black box inside and seal it. We still signed all the same forms, but it felt like fraud. We were in no position to verify the accuracy of the count.

In a recent program on public radio, President Carter was asked if The Carter Center could monitor an American presidential election. He said no. Why? Because their standards require that every voter throughout the country have access to the same voting equipment and that every candidate have equal access through the media to the public, without having to pay for it. There are others...

Four years ago we apparently resolved to get rid of the electoral college. Will anything be different four years from now? If we are to have integrity in our election process there is a lot of work to be done, but as yet, I hear no one from any party talking about it...

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