In the November 20 edition of The Nation, Katrina Vanden Heuvel gives a list of ten things we should consider to strengthen our democracy here at home. With voters being dropped from the rolls with no notice, machines counting votes that can never be verified and voters staying home in record numbers it is obvious we have a problem in this country.
Many of her ideas have already been discussed here in the pages of BlueNC. I think these are discussions we should continue, especially with the elections over and problems we might have encountered fresh on our minds.
The piece by Katrina is subscription only, but I don't think she will mind if I list all ten of her suggestions to help guide our discussions. Also, for those subscribers, here is a link. I'm not sure I agree with everything she says, but the piece and the subsequent letters to the editor printed in this past week's edition give a great starting place for those of us who follow elections.
Please follow below the fold...
Here is the list. Can you think of anything else? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?
1. Establish an election day holiday.
I know that at one point Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools had a holiday on election day and that made it more convenient for voters to get in and out during busy times of the day. Vanden Heuvel believes that making election day a national holiday would increase turnout.
What is the downside? Obviously, not everyone is exempt from working on a national holiday. If children are out of school, parents must juggle daycare and/or pay a fee for a full day at afterschool. Now that I am over this stage, I have to say it's easy to look at it and think this is a small price to pay for strengthening our democracy.
What about the fact that not everyone gets the day off on a national holiday? Should we change Veteran's Day or exchange Veteran's Day for Voter's Day as some Nation readers suggested?
2. Establish national standards for elections. As voting rights activist Steven Hill points out, "Election management in the United States amounts to a decentralized hodgepodge of over 3,000 counties and 9,000 townships with few national standards to guide them." We need to set standards for all aspects of our elections, from voting machines, to provisional ballots, to paper trails, to poll worker training, to voter protection.
Would national standards work in every community? Would it put an undue burden on small counties? What would these standards be? Where are we already falling short?
I know that one area might be in setting standards for how a recount will be handled. During the Kissell recount in Mecklenburg County one observer has reported that he was not allowed to see the tape before, during or after it was counted. Officials claimed it would infringe on voter privacy. This is not a valid claim since voter identity is not disclosed on the tape.
Another problem in Mecklenburg County was that the tapes were counted by humans until the tally matched that of the machine count with officials claiming there was no way for a machine to be wrong. Maybe not, but there is a way for it to be programmed to count a certain way.
3. Promote and protect the right to vote. An MIT/CalTech study in 2001 estimated that 3 million voters were disenfranchised because of registration problems. One good solution is Election Day Registration.
Election day registration is certainly something we've discussed here. That post from February 2006 can be found here.
I like it. People aren't allowed to register without properly identifying themselves. You can find out more about the proposal in North Carolina by visiting Democracy North Carolina.
4. Require reliable voting machines and a paper trail.
This pretty much says it all, but as is evidenced by what I wrote above about the recount in Mecklenburg County, just having a paper trail doesn't ensure a valid count. I think having set standards for recounts will go a long way toward reassuring voters that their votes will be counted.
Vanden Heuvel also notes that independent analysts should be able to assess the software for quality assurance.
5. Require nonpartisan election management.
One example in the article comes from Florida and one from Ohio. Does anyone else find that in the least bit surprising? Kathleen Harris oversaw the recount in 2000 when she was co-chair of Bush's Florida campaign committee and Ken Blackwell oversaw elections this year in Ohio while running for Governor.
Should we make provisions for the Secretary of State to turn over elections oversight to someone else or to a committee of people while running for office?
There are five other suggestions to cover and I will put them up either tomorrow or Friday. If any of our readers are involved in efforts through Democracy North Carolina, please help us develop an action plan.
This past year our government worked hard to make sure Iraqis living in the United States could vote in Iraq's elections. They didn't work quite as hard to make sure Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina could vote in elections in their home states. That is simply unacceptable.
Whether we are protecting, rebuilding or reinventing our democracy, it's obvious we have work to do before the 2008 elections. What's our next step?