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OUR VOTING RIGHTS - A State-by-State Analysis

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-- Freedom to register as a voter or run for public office.

-- Freedom of speech for candidates and political parties -- democracies do not restrict candidates or political parties from criticizing the performance of the incumbent.

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-- Numerous opportunities for the electorate to receive objective information from a free press.

-- Freedom to assemble for political rallies and campaigns.

-- Rules that require party representatives to maintain a distance from polling places on election day -- election officials, volunteer poll workers, and international monitors may assist voters with the voting process but not the voting choice.

-- An impartial or balanced system of conducting elections and verifying election results -- trained election officials must either be politically independent or those overseeing elections should be representative of the parties in the election.

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-- Accessible polling places, private voting space, secure ballot boxes, and transparent ballot counting. 

-- Secret ballots -- voting by secret ballot ensures that an individual's choice of party or candidate cannot be used against him or her.

-- Legal prohibitions against election fraud -- enforceable laws must exist to prevent vote tampering (e.g. double counting, ghost voting).

-- Recount and contestation procedures -- legal mechanisms and processes to review election processes must be established to ensure that elections were conducted properly.

Many states could learn a lot from the State Department.  Only 44% of Americans can claim that Free and Fair Elections are constitutionally protection by their state. It is ironic that the government Website from which the above information comes contains the following disclaimer: 

"NOTE: The website is no longer being updated."  

Even more ironic is the fact that when the Carter Center was once asked if they would monitor elections here they declined because we didn't meet the integrity standards they apply when considering third world country requests. 

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RIGHT TO VOTE BY BALLOT -- There are many ways to vote, of course.  You can have a show of hands or call for an assembly to shout yea or nay.  You can even draw straws.  In democratic elections we prefer ballots.  They are discrete and unique to each voter. They allow for the possibility of secret voting.  Until recently they were also made of paper, not electrons.  The decision to redefine "ballot" to include patterns of electrons stored on memory cards was never publicly debated. As with all voting processes in this country, we never got to vote on whether we wanted this change.  In the 26 states that guarantee voting by ballot there is no constitutional language defining what is a ballot, so electronic voting cannot be easily challenged on constitutional grounds. 

RIGHT TO SECRET VOTING -  The secrecy of our vote is among our most cherished rights, except it isn't a constitutional right for 146 million American's.  Secret voting prevents voter intimidation.  It assures us that how we vote can not be used against us later on.  Only 21 states guarantee secrecy in voting.  Several other states guarantee the right to vote in private, but that's not quite the same thing, is it? 

RIGHT TO PUBLIC VOTE COUNTING -- Josef Stalin is credited with saying, "The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything."  This speaks volumes for why all vote counting should be conducted in public view.  This is especially true when ballots are cast in secret on electronic storage devices. Ballot boxes were once transported in chain of custody fashion by representatives from each party.  Now electronic vote totals are stored in storage devices collected by private couriers or sent directly over the internet, often to third party companies before being tabulated.  In many locations the public is bared from observing how the votes are being counted. It is shocking that only three states constitutionally protect the right of the public to observe the vote counting process. 

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Brian Lynch is a retired social worker who worked in the areas of adult mental health and child protection for many years. His work brought him into direct contact with all the major social issues of the day and many of our basic social (more...)

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