Friday, January 14, 2005

Building Confidence Through Election Reform

The following essay appeared in the My Word section of the Eureka Times-Standard today.

Ensuring every vote counts is a service to society. It is also a very tall order. Many thousands of "glitches" and "irregularities" arose in our last two presidential elections. How many times will this repeat before they are considered regularities?

Many aspects of our current electoral system ensure a shroud of uncertainty will taint future elections. Consider whether private corporations should own voting machines. The purpose of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. This motive has caused more than a few corporations to behave unethically. By keeping the source code of voting machines a secret, and also by denying a voter-verified permanent paper record of one's vote, the motive to manipulate an election is accompanied by the means.

Motive and means are usually joined by opportunity. Consider whether it is appropriate for votes to be tallied in seclusion, with the media and other observers explicitly barred from the room. This happened in Ohio. Opportunity also exists simply by virtue of the machines in use, regarded unequivocally by computer scientists as highly susceptible to tampering.

It is not my intention to argue that fraud was or was not committed in the most recent election. Many have tried due to the large number of statistical anomalies including lost data, negative vote totals, tallies equaling more votes than there are registered voters, and persistent automatic vote swapping from a voter's chosen candidate to an opponent. Apparently, the numbers alone just don't cut it. Many prominent people with much to gain by challenging the legitimacy of the outcome have instead shied away for lack of hard evidence. Is it irony, then, that in many places there is also no hard evidence to demonstrate how voters voted?

Let me be clear. I am not interested in allegations of fraud and I am not complaining about the outcome. I am interested in looking forward, with hope and determination, to a comprehensive set of election reforms that benefits us all.

At present, conditions do not exist for US federal elections to be considered beyond question. Even if you have never doubted before, a close examination of the American electoral system provides no explicit reason to believe it is truly measuring the will of the people. Borrowing from the spirit of Arcata's "Building Confidence Resolution," passed last July, here are eight changes that would collectively create a new basis for confidence and allow us to build faith in American democracy:
1) all private corporations are divested of ownership in election machines, and
2) clean money laws keep all corporate funds out of campaign financing, and
3) any future mechanisms for voting conform to a uniform national standard and produce a verifiable audit trail for every vote, and
4) all votes are cast on the same day, designated as a national holiday, with the exception of absentee ballots which will be granted to applicants meeting a narrow list of federally determined criteria, and
5) all votes are counted publicly in the presence of citizen witnesses and credentialed members of the media, and
6) equal time provisions are observed by the media along with a measurable increase in local, public control of the airwaves, and
7) presidential debates contain a minimum of three candidates, and are run by a non-partisan commission comprised of representatives of publicly owned media outlets, and
8) instant runoff voting (see H.R. 5293) and proportional representation replace the winner-take-all system for federal elections;
Until such changes are enacted, there shall be no basis for confidence in the legitimacy of the results reported from future US federal elections. This is the premise of the No Confidence Resolution, recently submitted for consideration at both the Arcata and Eureka City Councils. It is important that readers are able to see this for its solution-based orientation. Should No Confidence really be dismissed out of hand as negative any more than No Child Left Behind?

Election reform may be the most noble and non-partisan social change effort ordinary citizens can support. If we truly love democracy then we should favor politicians being increasingly responsive to and representative of their constituents. Building confidence in the American electoral system requires us to foster and encourage honest competition in the "free marketplace of ideas." Elections, as a measure of the will of the people, must be transparent, observable, and create records that forever sustain unanimous agreement about an election's outcome.

Discussions about how best to bring meaningful election reform have made a great start with this comprehensive platform of universally beneficial changes. No amount of fear on the part of citizens, or political expediency on the part of their elected leaders, should prevent pursuit of this positive and optimistic agenda for the restoration of faith in US federal elections. Please let members of your local City Council know that you agree, and that they should take up and pass the No Confidence Resolution.

Read the resolution here:



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