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The Right Kind of Election Reform

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Everybody in every place intuitively and innately longs for community attachment. When parents hold their school boards accountable, when teenagers unite to demand a community meeting place, when neighborhood crime-watch coalitions are formed, when all people have equal access to influence their elected representatives, only then can we attain the necessary elements of transparency, accountability, and checks and balances that sustain and nourish our cherished democracy.

What Kind of Election Reform Should We Fight For?

In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election a stunned American populace witnessed the brazen insider violation of every essential process in a "real" election. The insiders perpetrating these crimes included e-voting industrialists, election officials, the Supreme Court and the Congress. In response a new election reform movement was borne. Since then the movement has sought and lobbied for legislative reforms. But these reforms both proposed and - in the case of the "Help America Vote Act", enacted - have almost universally promised to protect and expand rather than eliminate fraudulent election systems.

Why would the election reform movement and its leaders get behind such harmful legislation? It's simple. They have forgotten, or are simply afraid, to ask for what is really needed.

As long as today's election reformers focus on technology or industry reforms ("better" technology, industry standards, spot checks on machines, and the like) they miss the real target: public elections. This error has caused the movement and its leaders to spin its wheels; at best today's election reformers are stuck and at worst they are expanding the damage.

Real Election Reform Supports Real Elections

The only election reform voting rights advocates should lobby for is that which will protect real elections by ensuring what Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting calls "the essential public processes":

  • Who can vote (the public "voters list")
  • Who did vote (the public polling place roster)
  • Whether the votes cast were the same ones that were counted (public chain of custody)
  • Whether the counting was accurate (public counting)

To this end, election reform efforts must have a laser-sharp focus. The legislation itself must be clearly written and very simple, just like the U.S. Constitution! Here are some initial guidelines to ensure that election reform legislation asks for the right thing:

  • It must be rider-less; it can not contain any tacked on riders that can dilute or subvert its intention.
  • It must be written in plain and concise English.
  • It must address a single issue in any given bill to avoid being diluted or subverted through complexities with intended or unintended consequences.
  • It must enforce public vs. concealed vote counting.
  • It must enforce public vs. privatized elections.
  • It must enforce public vs. concealed election records.
  • It must enforce rules governing conflict of interest for all election officials at all levels of government.
  • It must enforce voter access to the voting system.
  • It must enforce ballot access for "third" parties.
  • It must enforce ballot simplification to enable public hand counts and understandable ballots and election results.

In March 2010 the Town of Lyndeborough, New Hampshire passed a very simple little law that demonstrates these principles. The town law focused on the right to public vote counts and public elections. In the Town Meeting, Lyndeborough citizens overwhelmingly voted "Aye" to the following question:

Shall the Town of Lyndeborough prohibit vote counting concealed from the human eye by method of computers or otherwise, and require that all methods used for sorting and counting the votes in an election be publicly observable for full citizen oversight of the entire voting system (with the exception of the voter's casting of the secret ballot)?

In stark contrast to this piece of election reform, look at the focus of the following law passed by the New Hampshire House of Representatives. This bill was endorsed and supported by election reform activists serving in the NH House:

This bill requires the secretary of state to establish an electronic ballot counting device advisory committee. The committee shall facilitate the design of an electronic ballot counting device for use at future elections in New Hampshire. The committee shall also research the upgrades that are available for voting machines currently used in New Hampshire and recommend which upgrades should be required for the continued use of the machines by cities and towns.

This NH legislation passed by the NH House and Senate did nothing more than establish an evoting committee designed to cement into place the unconstitutional and fraud-friendly evoting system. It was written under the direction of the NH Secretary of State, with Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan's consultation and advice, to replace the previous language of the bill which in fact called for transparent vote counting processes.

The bill passed because even those state legislators who believed there was a real problem with the evoting machines used in the state were afraid to ask for what was really needed.

It's time for election reformers to ask for, or really to demand, what is really needed for our nation. It's not a popular stance, and it may take a long time, but the only way out of this mess.

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Nancy Tobi is best known as a national leader in the voting rights movement for her seminal work exposing the dangers and fallacies in various election reform efforts past, present and future. Nancy is co-founder and former Chair of Democracy for (more...)

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