Thursday, October 19, 2006

Voting Chaos or Voting Woes....to come.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is one of the most famous French analysis of the American political system, so much so that it has become a classic for anyone even remotely interested in American political or social sciences.
While Tocqueville praised American democracy, he also mentioned a great number of possible threats to it: the tyranny of the majority, slavery, the absence of intellectual freedom, etc… but never could he have guessed a modern plight: the problem of the voting machines. No, he couldn’t have… so ridiculous is the whole issue.

Yet, it seems that since we mentioned this problem last month, the situation has only worsened, and we are now less than 20 days away from the mid-term elections, on Nov. 7. Even the serious NYTimes had a piece on the issue yeserday.

And the irony is that the problem has been made worse by the federal Help America Vote Act passed in 2002 which required to create computerized statewide voter registration rolls. Now, dozens of states are trying to enforce the new law. As you can see on the following graph, that’s a lot of districts.

According to The Brad Blog, the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) chair Rev. DeForest Soaries, who was appointed by president Bush and resigned from the commission in April of 2005 said in an unaired interview, conducted last August, that Congress and the White House "made things worse through the passage of the Help America Vote Act."

"[T]he states were forced to comply and they were asking us for guidance. We were ill-equipped to provide guidance. We didn’t begin our work until January 2004 and we spent the first three months of our work looking for office space. Here we were, the first federal commission, responsible for implementing federal law in the area of election administration and for the first three months we didn’t even have an address. And we physically had to walk around Washington DC looking for office space. This was a travesty. I was basically deceived by the leaders of the House, the Senate and the White House."

So here is yet another Bush appointee who feels deceived.

The are many problems with the changes in the voting machines :

  • vote tampering of course (given the fluidity of electronic data) but also..
  • a shortage of technicians,
  • delays in the delivery of machines and...
  • a shortage of poll workers who are often retirees who have no clue about new technology stuff.

According to the NYTimes :

Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania are among the states considered most likely to experience difficulties, according to voting experts who have been tracking the technology and other election changes.

“We’ve got new laws, new technology, heightened partisanship and a growing involvement of lawyers in the voting process,” said Tova Wang, who studies elections for the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. “We also have the greatest potential for problems in more places next month than in any voting season before.”

Meanwhile, votes in about half of the 45 most competitive Congressional races, including contests in Florida, Georgia and Indiana, will be cast on electronic machines that provide no independent means of verification.

Except for rudimentary federal rules on voting age, federal financing for states and counties, and protections for minorities and the disabled, elections are shaped by a variety of local laws, conflicting court rulings and technological choices.

NOTES: According to The Brad Blog, the NY Times article's original headline was "New Laws and Machines May Spell Voting Chaos" but was later softened into "New Laws and Machines May Spell Voting Woes". Interesting...


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