election, same old 2000 problems
Robert Richie and Steven Hill
The 2000 presidential election was a slap in the face for a
nation. The utter failure of the fundamentals of our elections
been a clarion call for change. Yet here we are in 2004, teetering
precipice of an election that threatens to repeat nearly every flaw
All signs suggest a tightly fought election. And given our failure
modernize elections, from voting equipment to voting systems, the
presidency is far too likely to be decided by a judge than by voters
and go to the candidate with fewer popular votes.
Let's review major defects exposed by the 2000 presidential
election, how we failed to correct them and what we must do to be as
proud of our elections as our military hardware.
-The candidate with the most votes didn't win: The Electoral College
is an 18th-century anachronism. It doesn't guarantee even a
plurality winner, and this year led to most Americans being
completely ignored in the presidential race because they did not
live in a battleground state. It also invites electoral fraud; those
inclined to steal an election can target their efforts on a few
As recently as 1969 the U.S. House overwhelmingly voted for an
amendment to abolish the Electoral College, but this term there was
not one piece of legislation even mentioning the phrase until a few
weeks ago. Whether or not we again get a wrong-way winner, it's time
to embrace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s resolution for direct election
of the president by majority vote.
-We couldn't count the ballots right: Who can forget the hanging
butterfly ballots, long lines and voter registration snafus of the
election? Congress for one. It passed the Help America Vote Act in
2002, but stopped at that halting first step.
The act accepts the chaos and disenfranchisement that flows from our
decentralized election administration, where more than 13,000
jurisdictions across the nation run elections with little uniformity
and not enough money.
The news is full of state and local decisions that will
voters this fall. Florida and Ohio plan to toss out all provisional
cast by registered voters who were not informed they were in the
polling place. A Nevada judge rejected a lawsuit asking the state to
reopen voter registration for citizens whose registrations were torn
up by a partisan voter registration firm.
Most voters in Ohio will use the thoroughly discredited punch card
system, while Florida voters will largely vote on new "touch
screen" systems developed by private companies with proprietary
software that is poorly tested and regulated and lacks a voter
verifiable paper trail.
Against all international norms, states collectively have stripped
million American citizens, disproportionately minority, from
And states have failed to register nearly one out of every three
The expected chaos and confusion has made work for swarms of lawyers
ready to pounce on flaws. Once again state and federal judges could
effectively pick the winner. To keep the decision in the hands of
voters, we need to pass legislation for a clear constitutional
right to vote and build a coherent, transparent electoral
infrastructure with uniform standards and secure voting equipment
and software developed for the public interest.
-Our system breaks down with more than two choices: In 2000,
the combined vote for Al Gore and Ralph Nader was more than 51
percent of the national total and more than 50 percent of the vote
in Florida. But because it was divided between two candidates,
George Bush won Florida and the presidency.
Third-party candidates like David Cobb, Michael Badnarik and Ralph
Nader add to the debate of important issues ignored by poll-driven
campaigns, but also threaten to spoil the race for one candidate.
States could have accommodated more choice and ensured a majority
winner by passing statutes to adopt instant runoff voting. A few
far-sighted political leaders like Howard Dean and John McCain back
IRV, and now San Francisco's breakthrough IRV elections this fall
could spur a wave of reform.
Action on these three areas would bring presidential elections up to
21st-century standards. But that's just the beginning. From
universal voter registration to fair candidate access to our public
airwaves to full
representation electoral methods for electing our legislatures,
full access, competitive choice and fair representation to all
be the nation's business.
In the wake of a potential ugly sequel to Election 2000, let's push