Election '06: Great Outcome, Flawed Votes
Don't confuse a good political outcome with a bad electoral process.
Election integrity activists face a quandary this week. After an Election Day where new voting machines failed from coast to coast, and GOP-favoring voter suppression tactics unfolded in state after state, this largely liberal-leaning community knows all too well that the machinery used to slam the breaks on the dreadful Bush administration is deeply flawed, that Tuesday night's vote counts shouldn't fully be trusted.
But will they say so? Will they stand with, gag, the apparently dethroned Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and demand the electronic machines in 27 counties be impounded and examined for vote-count problems? That could reveal, once and for all, why new electronic machines need to be junked. Or will political victory throw a wet blanket on a fired-up election integrity movement?
Election integrity activists were true model citizens on Tuesday. As people turned out in droves to vote, activists helped citizens in state after state document failing voting systems. They noted voting system breakdowns that went beyond the nasty partisan mailings, robo-calls, registration challenges and other tactics that largely were GOP ploys to suppress Democratic turnout.
The 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, created by People for the American Way, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others, logged thousands of complaints about misbehaving machines, in addition to poll worker confusion. Indeed, thanks to the spunk of videographers and YouTube, Americans could watch elected officials -- including members of Congress -- seeing their ballots rejected by optical scan voting machines.
Election integrity issues are no longer conspiracy theory. Too much of Middle America saw just how real voting problems have become. This raises a thorny question: How can new electronic voting systems, used by one-third of the electorate for the first time, fail so miserably during the voting phase of the day but be trusted during vote counting on election night, especially when there is no paper trail to audit results?
That question -- of which races are affected and which electronic tallies can be trusted -- is very hard to answer and won't be known for days, if at all. Unless candidates challenge results and demand machines be impounded and examined, the new electronic voting systems may be packed up until the next problem-plagued election. But even that happens -- and it shouldn't -- there was so much else that went wrong on Tuesday that must be addressed.
As coauthor of the recently released book "What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election" (The New Press), it was striking to see that much of what unfolded on Tuesday across the county had direct precedents in the election that gave George W. Bush a second term. The same voter suppression tactics and voting machine problems that occurred in Ohio in 2004 plagued state after state on Tuesday, despite efforts by the election protection movement to bring them to the nation's attention.
The story of Ohio in 2004 broke down into two main categories: massive voter suppression and widespread vote count problems, some of which we believe produced fraudulent results. As in 2004, the midterm elections experienced: voter purges (this time done with new electronic poll books), voter intimidation (this time letters threatening jail if voters showed the wrong I.D.), long lines causing people to leave and not vote (because machines didn't start up or were pulled from use, and/or delays due to voters not being on precinct lists), the high use of provisional ballots (which were not counted Tuesday and many of which will be disqualified for technicalities), vote hopping (where one candidate is picked but the machine records a vote for his/her opponent). All of these trends happened in multiple states, according to the 2006 election incident reports.
What voters experienced on Tuesday was not conspiracy theory. But the voter suppression and early signs of vote count problems aren't the full Election Day story. The rest of the story is the electronic vote count, which is still hidden and not verifiable. Voting integrity experts, such as Warren Stewart from VoteTrustUSA.org, said on Tuesday night that too many congressional results were simply not verifiable -- even if Democrats were reportedly winning.
This is not to say that Democrats didn't turn out in droves, didn't tell exit pollsters that a majority of Americans wanted Republicans removed from power, and didn't win big. But do we really know how votes were and weren't counted on Tuesday night? No. Can we say the systems that failed so miserably in the day performed flawlessly on Tuesday night? No. Is this a difficult question to ask because most election protection activists are liberals -- and have been waiting for six years for the Bush administration to be stopped? Yes.
But doesn't America deserve a voting system that can be trusted no matter who is in power?