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Reforming the American Electoral Process

By Larry Sakin  Posted by Joan Brunwasser (about the submitter)     Permalink
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One of the critical features of the 2004 general elections was the overwhelming numbers of citizens in many states who were left out of the voting process. Hundreds of Ohioans were left standing in line as the polls closed; elderly minority citizens in Florida were threatened by party operatives in Florida, and thousands of parolees in several states were not informed that their voting rights could be restored by filling out a simple state form. In other states, provisional ballots made mandatory by the 2002 Help America Vote Act were found in trash cans and in some cases, voter registrations were declined because the registration form did not meet state size regulations.

Hundreds of reports have been generated on the 2004 election debacle as well as a panel of electoral reform experts and a congressional inquiry. While little has been proved, some made charges against state officials, the most notorious being Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell became the new Kathleen Harris, the Florida Secretary of State who dominated the 2000 presidential election recount effort. Not surprisingly, the federal government has taken no action on the voting messes of 2000 and 2004, leaving it to the states to clean their electoral houses.

And that they have. Twenty-one states have passed laws requiring voter-verified paper ballots. The legislation has passed muster in three additional states but awaits gubernatorial action; and legislation is pending in another fourteen and the District of Columbia. The elections of 2000 and 2004 thoroughly embarrassed state voting officials all over the country and several of them have joined activists in calling for voter-verified ballots.

It remains to be seen exactly what difference voter-verification will make. Those who 've decried fraud on the part of Republican Party supporters during these elections may be disappointed by the results of these reforms because it 's possible that paperless voting was not the culprit in these elections, and that district gerrymandering is. Since the republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 1994, republican congressmen and their operatives have quietly overseen the re-drawing of voter districts in their states. Districts that were once flush with powerful democrat voters were shifted into tiny portions of the states, while republicans were given huge majorities. In some states, the re-drawing of these districts blatantly violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which specifically designates years the US Census is taken as the proper time to re-draw voting districts. The US Supreme Court just recently heard arguments in several cases against Texas Governor Rick Perry which involve redistricting, gerrymandering, minority vote dilution, equal protection, the First Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act. This particular case has a huge impact on the elections process because a number of states adopted similar redistricting strategies to the ones used in Texas. If SCOTUS rules against Perry in these cases, the floodgates will open for more rulings down the line.

In the meantime, the electoral reform process remains viable. At the federal level, Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, re-introduced his bill from last year as H.R. 550, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005. Republican Representative Jim Gibbons of Nevada introduced H.R. 704, the Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2005. Gibbons Senate colleague John Ensign also introduced a companion bill in the Senate. No action has been taken on any of these bills in either house. However, as more states pass electoral reform legislation, federal legislators will move to match those reforms, especially if the Supreme Court 's decision bashes the practice of illegal re-districting.

Larry Sakin is a former music executive and medical non-profit administrator. He has published a number of articles in both fields and is currently writing a book about coping with loss. More of his work can be found on www.blogcritics.org, www.changeforamerica.com, and Charlotte 's Other Web.


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