With the election less than two weeks away, many are wondering who will secure the presidency of the United States, but few are discussing how this seat may be procured. Past elections have shown us that a combination of tricks can be utilized to assure one’s ascendancy, yet these easily strung-together facts are rarely aggregated. What follows is a list of five prominent tricks and proposals to sanctify voting in America.
Just in case we forgot, voter purges played a large role in the 2000 presidential election. Back then, Choice Point (via Database Technologies) effectively purged nearly 60,000 voters from the Florida voting list. They did this by taking lists of Florida Voters (acquired through Texas) and removing names that had extremely weak links to those of known felons. We should recall that ‘extremely weak links,’ means if a felon had the name “Darnel Thomas,” nearly everyone on the list with the first name “Darnel” would be removed. In addition, anyone with the name “Thomas Darnel” would also be stricken. The result was when eligible voters arrived at their polling place, they were told they were not on the voting list – ineligible to vote. In the end, the alleged margin for George W. Bush in Florida was 537 votes and this time around purging is being utilized with increased vigor.
Out of all of the disenfranchisement tactics, intimidation is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Whether physical or psychological, they can nullify significant numbers of eligible voters. In the past, voters have received phone calls by persons masquerading as election officials espousing disinformation and have been intimidated by police under the rubric of “ongoing investigations.” And this election is no different. Areas have already been visited by fictitious flyers disseminating tales designed to scare people away from the polls. And a target=”new”showdown over what attire is acceptable within the polling place currently being waged in Pennsylvania could open the door to looser interpretations of local election regulations.
Now lets move on to a few new things. For one, in a number of states it is now law that voters provide identification in order to vote (oftentimes this is still applicable regarding absentee ballots, in which case a photocopy must be included in the envelope). On the face of it, this may seem prudent (although we should ask ourselves why this has suddenly become such a huge concern), but, believe it or not, there actually are people in our country who do not have a driver’s license. For example, 78% of black men ages 18-24 do not have a valid drivers license and it is estimated that 10% of all eligible voters do not have one as well (in light of US census data, that could be about 115,000 voters).
Electronic voting machines rank high up in terms of the most effective way to hijack an election. Firstly, their source code is “proprietary”. How this is acceptable in a democratic society is mind-boggling. It is legitimate for a company providing voting machines to be worried that a “competitor” might lift their code, but if this happened the thief in question should simply have legal action taken against them. The most important thing is for voting machine code to be transparent and preferably handed over to the open source community for peer revision. Additionally, voting machines have no paper trail which essentially grants the last link on the vote-tallying chain veritable vote-changing impunity.
Lastly, if you don’t want a certain subgroup to vote, simply don’t give them enough resources. The most visible incarnation of this tactic was in Ohio in 2004 where a long line of voters spilled outside of the voting precinct leaving citizens in the pouring rain for multiple hours. As precinct-level statistics reveal the number of voters that typically come out to vote, who they vote for and how long it takes them to cast a ballot with a voting machine, it is simple math to figure out how many machines should be in service – or conversely, how many machines a community should be short changed. Data shows that this resource issue frequently occurs in poor Latino and Black areas where voters overwhelmingly cast democratic ballots.
Although the extent of voter disenfranchisement can quickly become dizzying, there are solutions. To start, all purges made to voting lists should be made public (via local newspapers, public television, government websites, etc.) and there should be an effort made to contact the purged individual (by phone, postal mail, email, etc.). This would give the voter an opportunity to challenge the purge and would introduce transparency to the purging system.
To combat intimidation, a rigorous fact-providing campaign should be conducted by the federal government. This campaign should target all voters and be available via government website(s), local newspapers, radio, television and postal mail. Unfortunately, this would be difficult as voting rules change from place to place, but this should be changed as well. We don’t live in Afghanistan and don’t need local tribal warlords or precinct-level voting czars controlling the rules governing our elections. As such, our elections should be based off a national standard. All citizens should be able to vote, regardless of sex, race, religion, socio-economic status or if one was formerly incarcerated.
These proposals may shake the way some citizens perceive voting, but that is precisely what we need – a tremendous shake. For example, in order to ensure the greatest ease for citizens, presidential elections should be a national holiday. Additionally, it makes no sense for us to think the voting and counting process should be all said and done within twenty-four hours. Instead we should expect the process to be finished within something closer to seven to ten days (and only if there are no enormous problems). This extended time-frame would allow all votes to be counted, including absentee ballots coming from citizens abroad. And, this would provide enough time to follow up on allegations of fraud, conduct recounts and possibly provide citizens a re-vote within areas that were proven to suffer severe disenfranchisement.
In terms of providing adequate resources, Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has the right idea; there should be enough paper ballots available to service at least 25% of the anticipated number of voters for an election. This way the burden of equipment failures can be offset, and voters who do not wish to use electronic voting systems may do so with no questions asked.
Finally, because of the sheer amount of citizens who do not have a driver’s license or other form of government identification, other forms of ID should be accepted at the polling place (which would also call for a uniform standard). This could be a social security card or recent bill with the voters address. If that isn’t acceptable, voters without the funds or time to time available to acquire ID, could have identification cards made on location – if Hugo Chavez can accomplish this, I believe our country should muster the will to do so as well.