October 28, 2008

Everyone’s vote needs to be counted on Election Day

By David A. Love
Progressive Media Project

October 21, 2008

In the land of the free, everyone's vote should be counted. But at the rate we're going, millions of votes could be discarded on Election Day.

First, some of the voting machines are not reliable. Their software and hardware are faulty, and they lack safeguards to prevent election officials from tampering with ballots and election tallies. Already, in early voting in West Virginia, six voters in two counties claim that electronic voting machines changed their votes from Democratic to Republican.

Due to a backlog by the Election Assistance Commission (the federal agency that oversees voting), defective voting machines throughout the nation will not be repaired in time for the presidential election, the New York Times reports. That’s unacceptable.

But malfunctioning machines may be the least of our problems. Republican operatives are again engaged in voter suppression efforts, with some officials trying to purge the voter rolls again, as they did in Florida in 2000.

Scheming to restrict the vote has a sordid past in American politics. In the Jim Crow South, election officials used poll taxes, literacy tests, physical threats and Klan violence to suppress the black vote. Sometimes, black voters were forced to answer questions as inane as "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?" 

Today, the Republican Party is worried that mass voter registration efforts across the country will dampen its chances of victory at the polls. So it is making grandiose allegations about people fraudulently registering to vote. Sen. John McCain accused one group of possibly “destroying the fabric of our democracy.”

But the issue of voter fraud is a ruse. There has been no significant evidence of voter fraud in recent elections.

“The incidence of election fraud is minimal across the 50 states and rarely affects election outcomes,” notes a report by the nonprofit group Demos entitled “Securing the Vote.” “The disenfranchisement of voters through antiquated voting systems, system error, and improper management of registration databases, as occurred in Florida in the 2000 election, is a far bigger problem than traditional forms of election fraud.”

Already, in the last few months, thousands of legitimate voters have been illegally purged, according to the New York Times. Another 200,000 new voters in Ohio were at risk of being challenged until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in. The high court struck down a federal court ruling that would have challenged these new registrants, whose information was not a perfect match with government databases due to typographical and data entry errors. 

What’s more, some states simply will be unprepared to handle the dramatic swelling in their voter rolls, according to a study by the Advancement Project, another nonprofit group. It predicts that in many jurisdictions, there will be insufficient numbers of voting machines, privacy booths and poll workers. This study of the battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia also finds that polling place resources are misallocated in some precincts, which is likely to result in long lines disproportionately in communities of color. 

With broken machines, voter purging and insufficient resources, an outsider might conclude that the United States runs its elections like a banana republic. A citizen should not have to worry about his or her vote being thrown in the garbage can. We must protect our voting rights.

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