It's great to see that paper face the fact--based on a new study from MIT, and reported last week in the New York Times--that millions of Americans were disenfranchised on Election Day, and great that they're upset about it, and want Congress to address the problem.
And yet this editorial could do more harm than good. First of all, and typically, it paints a ludicrously rosy picture of "last year's historic election," by asserting that "electronic machines overall performed well." In fact, those "electronic machines"--whether DRE's or op-scans--performed just as badly as they always have, with glitches, freezes, crashes and miscounts from coast to coast. To say that they "performed well" is, at best, a chirp of wishful thinking, based on no awareness whatsoever of what voters (and/or would-be voters) really went through on Election Day.
Well, no. At fault here is no dated mechanism or procedure, which inadvertently blocked voters, but--on the contrary--the GOP's deliberate drive to keep as many non-Republicans as possible from casting ballots; and their methods certainly have not been "antiquated" but are wholly up-to-date. The use of electronic voter rolls, for instance, has enabled partisan officials nationwide to drop the names of countless citizens at will; and then there's all the vote-flipping, and other electronic ways to do, invisibly, and with
extreme efficiency, what Klansmen used to have to do in person, at some (little) risk of getting caught.
Moreover, many of those voters thwarted in this last election had been purged by Bush & Co.'s DoJ, whose highly partisan attorneys had, for several years, been doing all they could to narrow the franchise, for the sake of John McCain and Sarah Palin and a lot of House and Senate candidates. That sort of thing is surely "antiquated" in the sense that it recalls the South c. 1884, but it is certainly not "antiquated" in the sense intended by the WashPost's editors.
For they conclude, absurdly, that the problem here is "the cumbersome, paper-based system of voter registration," which, they assert, "needs to be overhauled." This means "using technology and existing databases (such as tax records and motor vehicle lists) to build a permanen roster." Apparently, the Post has failed to notice that the databases and technology now out there are the problem--by design, as they were largely put in place by HAVA.
And what exactly was the pretext used by the Republicans (and swallowed by the Democrats) to justify that catastrophic stroke of faux-reform? It was essentially the same one now repeated by the Post--i.e., that the problem with the last election (2000) was the cumbersome, paper-based system that they'd used in Florida. It was that "antiquated" process which, said the Republicans, created all the problems there; and, they said repeatedly, it "needs to be overhauled."
This week, under the leadership of Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on "the lessons of the 2008 election." Maybe that will help the Post, and other bastions of "the liberal media," to learn a little more about what really happened then, and what we need to do to stop it's ever happening again.
And if the Post et al. don't get it, we must pay attention, spread the word, and, finally, fight to make the necessary change.
Shut Out at the Polls
A registration system that disenfranchises millions needs judicious repair.
Monday, March 16, 2009; Page A16
NONE OF the fears that preceded last year's historic election were realized. There was no widespread fraudulent voting, electronic machines overall performed well and the vote was not too close to call. Nonetheless, the election was marred because millions of Americans were not able to cast ballots for candidates of their choice. At fault is the antiquated way voters are
registered. Congress must work with the states to fix the problems that end up disenfranchising far too many citizens.
According to a study by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, an estimated 4 million eligible voters couldn't cast ballots in the 2008 presidential election because they encountered problems with their registrations. Another 4 million to 5 million people reported administrative procedures as the reason for not registering. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) recounted at a recent hearing how people were unable to vote through no fault of their own: a man whose name was mistakenly confused with that of an ineligible convicted felon; a woman whose registration was never turned in by a third-party registration organization; a serviceman who was moved from base to base and couldn't meet the deadline to register. Many never received the absentee ballots they requested.
It is clear from the study as well as from the testimony of other experts that the cumbersome, paper-based system of voter registration needs to be overhauled. Not only is it the prime reason that many voters are blocked from casting ballots, but it diverts local election officials from more critical tasks such as training poll workers or processing absentee ballots. Voting rights advocates make a strong case for shifting the onus for registration from voters to the state, using technology and existing databases (such as tax records and motor vehicle lists) to build a permanent roster.
Voters should have a convenient way of verifying that they are properly registered, and there is no reason that they should lose their right to vote simply because they move to another block or state or change their names.
The Rules Committee hearing was billed as just a start in laying out the issues. Congress is right to tread carefully in coming up with effective solutions. But, by the same token, it shouldn't allow another election in which so many citizens are shut out.