Commitment to Democracy
following commentary was distributed by Knight Ridder on its national wire on
presidential election presented two dramatic, but competing lessons to the
American people. On the one hand, George Bush's victory in Florida by less than
one vote for every 10,000 cast was a graphic lesson in how an individual vote
clearly can count. On the other, your vote may not be counted.
series of events in the weeks of recounting Florida's ballots sparked disbelief
about how the world's dominant superpower can choose its leaders with outdated
voting machines, inconsistent standards for design, irregular poll hours,
limited number of polling sites that led to absurdly long lines, absentee voting
rules that undercut the votes of those in the armed voices and often zealously
partisan administrators. Several Members of Congress quickly responded with
legislation to set clear standards and assist states in efforts to modernize
voting equipment and procedures.
But most of
these bills have been inadequate. The level of proposed funding for most has
been minuscule when compared to the significance of presidential elections. It
is time to commit to firm action to restore faith in our electoral process.
that it would cost some $3 billion to have every voter in America be able to
vote on state-of-the-art voting equipment by the next presidential election,
with more money necessary to train pollworkers, have appropriate polling hours
and number of polling sites and improve registration procedures. That's not
small change, but it's significantly smaller than some wildly inflated
estimates. Surely a democracy we can trust is worth a one-time cost equal to
barely one percent of what we spend annually on defense.
most new voting equipment would likely be purchased anyway, but on a haphazard,
county-by county basis. Punchcards, the most common voting method, have been
completely discredited, and already several states are entertaining proposals to
purchase new machines. Indeed, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Bush
v. Gore and class action suits filed against unequal election administration
in states like Florida, Georgia and Illinois, some states easily could face
federal court orders to upgrade their equipment before the year is out.
counties are right to take the initiative to ensure all voters in their state
are treated equally at the polls, but only the federal government can make it
likely that all states and all voters will benefit before the 2004 elections
from modern voting equipment and procedures. To ensure that it's not just
wealthy states that get the best voting process, President Bush and Congress
should appropriate funds to make it possible for every state to purchase new
voting equipment-- a federal commitment of $5 for every $1 from a state should
sensible standards is not rocket science. Machines should make it impossible to
overvote (cast more than one vote in a race, as happened in more than one in ten
ballots in one Florida county with a particularly confusing ballot design) and
unlikely to undervote by accident (consigning dimpled chads to history's
ashbin), prevent corruption and be as easy as possible for people with a range
of educational backgrounds, voting experience and physical capacities. The best
bet is some form of ATM-style electronic voting machine, but states could choose
among vendors as long as they met the criteria.
This is no
time for timid, inside-the-Beltway thinking. Anything less than a full
commitment to creating the best electoral process in the world is intolerable in
the wake of last year's electoral fiasco. Modern voting machines and better
voting procedures are only one step in that quest, but an essential step for
which we should achieve wide agreement.
ago, John Kennedy pledged that by the end of the decade, we would place a man
upon the moon. We succeeded. Let us restore Americans' faith in our elections
and the power of their individual vote by pledging that everyone who wants to
vote will have a vote that counts by the next presidential race in 2004.
Richie is executive director of The Center for Voting and Democracy.