Reforming Elections By Winning Elections
by cos, Mon Jun 19, 2006 at 10:59:21 PM EDT
Matt and Chris have invited me to cover election reform and voting rights on MyDD - issues I have bloggedabout here already. By way of introduction, I want to address the biggest political problem I've seen plaguing the election-reform netroots. On Daily Kos and MyDD, on the Democratic Underground Election Reform forum, on the email lists of local and regional Democracy for America and Progressive Democrats of America groups, I see this cry repeatedly:
What good does it do to support candidates? With those Diebold machines, they can steal any election. It's pointless to compete in elections when the votes won't be counted.I understand the concern. I've been organizing and campaigning against computer voting machines for several years. I've collected signatures for verified voting petitions and helped organize a press conference, successfully lobbied Representatives to support Rush Holt's audit bill, and seen Bev Harris' 2 hour presentation in person and stayed for the Q&A. On election day, 2004, I was at the Election Protection coalition's call center in Broward County, Florida, as VerifiedVoting.org's TechWatch volunteer, taking calls from voters and poll watchers about touchscreen voting machine problems. I left Fort Lauderdale that night with a queasy feeling, and no confidence that the votes would be accurately counted. So I'm somewhat familiar with this issue, and it does concern and disturb me.
The problem I have with the attitude I see from some election reform advocates - the attitude I paraphrased above - is that, in its extreme absolutism, it is deeply cynical. It is nihilistic. Rather than challenge us to work to solve the problem, it calls on us to throw up our hands in despair, to eschew the most powerful tool we have, and to cry out to the wilderness, "why won't anyone pay attention?"
In the past few years, I've volunteered and worked on a number of progressive campaigns. I've canvassed, been a poll watcher, been a precinct captain, and ran a citywide get out the vote operation. I've participated in a hand recount, and seen an election for Democratic State Committee go to a tie because several precincts didn't count write-in votes. In another election, college students were challenged at the polls, and the number of legitimate voters turned away were almost enough to swing the election. And I've learned something: There is nothing, not even money, that candidates and elected officials fear or respect more than votes.
Electoral politics is the strategy through which we pursue change in this country. Just because the voting machines being used are unreliable or buggy, doesn't mean they'll throw every election, or even most elections. Just because they have poor security and can be hacked, doesn't mean all, or even most elections, will be stolen. If you run for Democratic State Committee or county committee, will Republicans sweep in to steal the election? I've seen state representative elections decided by 93 votes, by 64 votes - and it is exactly these local and state officials who can solve the sort of mundane problems I observed.
That same election day in 2004, just to the north of me, incumbent Palm Beach County supervisor of elections Therese LePore was defeated by challenger Arthur Anderson, who campaigned against paperless voting. He won 91,134 to 85,601, a margin of victory of 5,533 votes.
If we want to reform elections, we need to elect reformers to run our elections. John Nichols' recent article in The Nation, Fighting for a Fair Vote, highlights a new crop of "Champions of Democracy" running to do just that: Mark Ritchie in Minnesota, Debra Bowen in California, Jennifer Brunner in Ohio, and John Bonifaz in Massachusetts, all running for secretary of state. If the state of our elections disturbs you, don't throw up your hands and cry, "what's the use?". Support reformers like these, and get them elected.
Me? I'm working for John Bonifaz as his campaign blogger.