Thursday, November 09, 2006

Election Reform When We're Winning

(Cross-posted from Jousting for Justice)

For years, on the losing side of things, we've complained about the Diebold machines and the lack of a verifiable paper trail. In spite of mounting evidence about the insecurity of the machines, including a damning HBO special about them this fall, it's hard to be taken seriously in defeat.

Now we're victorious, and it's time to use that to our advantage in ensuring fair elections for all Americans, regardless of political stripe or creed. To that end, I'd like to talk about election reform.

Fellow Maryland blogger and conservative monoblogue, wrote today:

One relief was that the election seemed to go relatively smoothly, and aside from a charge of misleading literature being distributed by the Ehrlich campaign, things went relatively well, particularly for Democrats. (Obviously voting is smooth as glass when they win, as opposed to seemingly always screaming “voter suppression and fraud!” when they don’t.) So we seem to have the computer voting pretty much down.

To me then, that means it’s time to perfect the system even more. Because this was a smooth, fraud-free election and a clear mandate for the Democrats based on the results, they should have nothing to fear by adding the requirement for photo ID’s at polling places - particularly with the Election Day registration that Question 4 would bring about. Heck, Arizona has a voter photo ID requirement (or two non-photo ID’s) and they managed to oust a sitting GOP Congressman (J.D. Hayworth) and pass a minimum wage increase.

Ignoring, only for the moment I assure you, the issue of Ehrlich and Steele bussing in homeless people from outside the state to hand out fraudulent sample ballots to voters in minority areas, let's talk about the computers.

Let me start by saying that I am not a luddite. I like computers. They help us get our work done. They are wonderful inventions that have helped fuel one of the greatest expansions of human productivity in the history of the world. They have also afforded our world the opportunity to speak freely on a scale never before known.

But as anyone who has ever programmed a computer can tell you, what you see on the screen need not have anything to do with what goes on behind it. Storing votes without a verifiable paper trail is a fundamentally insecure means by which to conduct our nation's most important business.

In this election, like the last, there were reports of glitches in the machines, some of which flipped votes. People shouldn't have to live with this kind of uncertainty. Something tangible that we can recount if necessary should be on the table. Governor Ehrlich was not wrong about that.

That the Diebold company itself is inherently untrustworthy is not even open to debate. And in a state like Maryland, we should be able to do something about it. State Senator Paula Hollinger (D) nearly single-handedly defeated reform in this area. And while I think she's a wonderful lady, now that she has left that body, perhaps some improvements can be made. It would be the saddest thing of all if Democrats, now in power to actually change what we've been complaining about, got complacent and hypocritical.

It's the will of the people that is important here, not who wins or loses.

To that end, I oppose monoblogue's proposal that we require a government issued photo I.D. I think the sentiment behind it is important. I agree that we need to make sure that voters are not voting multiple times, and that the dead do not miraculously rise from their crypts to express a political opinion. And I think that the state computerized registry went a long way towards avoiding those problems this year. Reviewing those registries before the election and being vigilant at the polls--perhaps even with cameras at the doors--will all but eliminate this kind of fraud.

But requiring a government issue photo ID makes it fundamentally more difficult for the most disadvantaged amongst us to cast their vote. People without photo IDs are almost all poor and elderly. They are registered citizens whose votes can impact their lives even more than they affect the rest of us. Adding any additional burden onto these people is discriminatory and unfair. As it is, we have enough of them who are entitled to vote but go unregistered.

I think we have a unique opportunity in Maryland for both parties to come together with meaningful election reform. The Republicans under Bob Ehrlich knew that the machines were not trustworthy even when they went his way. We know it too, even though they went our way. People need to have confidence in the votes that they cast in order to stay active in the system, and feel invested and responsible.

Surely this is something we can do in Maryland. Paper trails are just common sense.


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