Claim Democracy
Claim Democracy encourages networking and collaboration among national, state and local democracy groups in order to build support for and strengthen a national infrastructure for a pro-democracy movement within the United States.  Its most significant accomplishment thus far has been our November 2003 and 2007 Claim Democracy conferences, which brought together representatives of more than 100 organizations and more than 500 people for intensive private meetings and public dialogue inWashington, D.C. In light of recent election administration problems and high-profile obstacles to fair elections in the public interest, its major goal for 2008 is the Democracy SoS (Secretary of State) project, designed to develop a comprehensive agenda for action by Secretaries of State and other elected officials who influence election policy.

The vision for Claim Democracy is to help create and support a network of state-based organizations that work to secure, enhance and exercise the right vote through a range of reforms and activities. Rather than exclusively focus on one particular reform or another, these organizations would be able to coordinate and pool resources to advocate one of a number of reforms that meet clear pro-democracy goals. Examples include: expanding the electorate, increasing citizen participation, providing fair representation, promoting better political debate, freeing voters to support their candidate of choice and supporting equality in the political process. Potential activities include plans to:
  • Establish a new website with a range of information about pro-democracy issues, blogs from several leading pro-democracy advocates and easy means to find pro-democracy advocates in one’s state or locality. An internal invitation-only set of pages would facilitate communication among leaders of pro-democracy groups.

  • Promote creation of and support for a network of state and local groups working to promote participation and reform in their state – ideally seeking to integrate efforts to boost citizen participation with reform efforts and seeking to establish lasting relationships with elected officials able to enact change.

  • Coordinate regular meetings of a pro-democracy roundtable of national and local groups, designed to promote strategic thinking, greater communication and coordination in the pro-democracy movement and support for state/local efforts.

  • Develop a “war-room” communications ability able to spotlight deficits in our democracy and work being done to address those efforts.

  • Develop and work with caucuses of pro-democracy elected officials, at local, state and federal levels – coordinating strategic initiatives that can be carried out at different levels.

  • Develop curriculum about the history of expansion of democracy in the United States as a whole and individual states to be used in K-12 schools.


 
Ballots step backward?
Optical scanner voting machines - they’re new, but are they improved?

By Brenda Hawkins
Published June 18th 2008 in Collier Citzens Newspaper
Hanging chads, leaning chads, pregnant chads. Chad was a busy guy during Florida’s 2000 general election.

Those little snippets of paper, and how they were interpreted, kept the nation in an uproar for more than a month, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on how to determine the winner of the Bush-Gore presidential race.

As a result, legislative election reform in 2002 steered Florida counties away from paper ballots, which had to be interpreted by canvassing boards, in favor of touch screen electronic voting systems.

That direction was reversed by Gov. Charlie Crist in May 2007, with the signing of House Bill 537 to establish a paper trail for voting. The bill required all Florida counties to abandon the touch screen machines in favor of paper ballots and a combination optical scanner/touch screen device to tabulate them.

It was a move that many elections officials, including Collier Elections Supervisor Jennifer Edwards, defined as a step backwards. Today, Edwards is cautiously optimistic.

“I have confidence it will work accurately, based on use in other counties,” she says of the latest polling device. “But, it is a concern that Florida’s 15 largest counties, representing more than half the voters in the state, have to make this change in the biggest election year ever experienced.”

Edwards predicts there may be long lines, extended wait times and some confusion with the advent of the new system. To avoid such confusion, the office is providing demonstrations and practice voting to as many groups and clubs as possible over the summer.

Members of the Golden Gate Area Civic Association, Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association and the Collier County NAACP got to sample the goods during a forum June 9 at the Golden Gate Community Center.

“The biggest difference is the amount of paper they’re going to be using with this system, compared to the electronic system,” said GGACA President Rick Sims. “It’s not exactly ‘green.’ ”

The biggest difference at the polls will be the number of machines utilized. Instead of directly voting on several touch screen machines, which both contained and tabulated the ballots, voters will go to a booth where they’ll be given a ballpoint pen to blacken ovals on a paper ballot, before entering the ballot into a single optical scanner at their precincts.

The county will purchase 145 optical scanners at a cost of $5,775 each, compared to the 1,255 touch screen devices it purchased four years ago for $3,225 each, bringing the total investment for the two purchases to $6.1 million.

The retired touch screens — for which Collier County still owes $2 million — have virtually no value in the U.S. The Secretary of State is charged with disposing of the equipment overseas and will return any proceeds to the counties to hopefully offset that debt.

In addition to the cost of two-page primary and one-page general paper ballots for each of the county’s 180,000 registered voters, the county will incur the cost of storing those ballots for 24 months. Edwards estimates her office will need more than 1,000 square feet to do so, with additional space for subsequent election ballots.

Canvassing boards will also be busier due to the new voting system. Ballots with write-in votes will have to be retrieved from each collection bin to be manually counted, provided the write-in vote is deemed to be a valid one.

To avoid mistakes, voters must blacken the oval without going too far outside the lines. If a voter marks more than one oval for a race (called an overvote), the voter will have a choice of accepting the overvote or re-doing a ballot. Voters will not be notified if they undervote, or skip a race.

Visually impaired voters will continue to vote on one of 120 audio-enhanced touch screens the county plans to keep.

“This is like going from using the computer on your desk to using paper,” said Edwards. “Voters should be very careful, and bring their sample ballots to the polls. This is a big election, because it’s the first time since the ‘50s we’ve had a presidential election without an incumbent or a vice president on the ballot and there may be a higher turnout because the campaigning began so early.”

As to media reports on voting results prior to the closing of polls, Edwards urged all voters to exercise their right to vote, despite early predictions.

“Remember, there was only a 537-vote difference in Florida in 2000, so every vote does count,” she says.

To schedule a demonstration of the new optical scanner voting machine, or to request an absentee ballot, go to “contact us” at colliervotes.com or call 252-8450.