Messy Elections: Can We Trust the Results?

‘By Kevin Zeese

For a country that considers itself the “greatest democracy on Earth,” the U.S. sure does run messy elections.

This year about one-third the public is voting early (something Marylanders will be voting on in a referendum on Election Day), as a result we are seeing election meltdowns in slow motion.  Here is a sample of what is occurring:

– Long lines.  In many states people are waiting hours – some report as long as six hours to vote in early voting.  A lot of the delay has been due to the move to touchscreen voting machines and electronic voter registration lists.  These new technologies are slower than paper.

– Machine breakdowns.  In West Virginia six counties have reported touchscreen machines switching their vote.  Voters attempted to vote for Obama and they saw the screen switch to McCain.  There have been similar reports in Tennessee and Texas. In Texas, where people are allowed to select a straight party vote, the switching is occurring from Democrat to Republican. A CNN poll found that 42% of Americans do not trust their votes will be counted accurately.

– More machine breakdowns.  It is not just touchscreen machines showing problems, so are optical scan machines.  In Florida there were reports that the optical scan could not read the ballots because they were too long.

– Failure to mail absentee ballots. Sequoia Voting Systems failed to send 11,000 absentee ballots to voters who requested them.  Sequoia also did not tell the election administration of the oversight.
– Incomplete ballots. Early voters in two Arkansas counties received incomplete ballots.  The election administrator is not going to do anything to correct the problem for those voters and just hopes the election is not close so the votes would not have changed the outcome.

– Voter deception.  In Florida Democratic voters received calls falsely telling them they could call in their vote and avoid lines.  In Philadelphia, fliers warn that people with outstanding tickets, child support payments and warrants will be arrested when they vote.  In Texas, people are told if they want to vote for all the Democrats and make sure they vote for Obama, that after they select Democrat they should then select Obama – in fact, that erases the Obama vote.

– Registration fraud.  ACORN has gotten a lot of attention for workers who registered the Dallas football team to vote in Utah, Mickey Mouse, telephone-book registration and one person registering dozens of times.  It is hard to see how any of these false registrations will result in false votes – will Mickey Mouse actually vote? But there has been a lot of attention on this one.

– More registration fraud. A leader of a Republican registration drive, funded by the McCain campaign has been arrested on massive voter fraud.

– Challenges to registration. Republicans have mounted challenges to the tidal wave of Democratic registrations trying to force election administrators to check the identification of all new registrants. In state-after-state these challenges have been rejected by the courts.

– Voter suppression.  Republican party officials in some states have openly talked about challenging voters at the polls.  New registrants will be challenged and demanded to prove their identity.  Registered voters who have lost their home to foreclosure or been evicted from their apartment are being threatened with voter challenges. Even if these challenges fail they will slow voting down so that some voters give up and go home.

Is any of this acceptable?  The U.S. has a lot of serious problems with its democracy when the very basics – registration, voting and vote counting – is filled with flaws.  While this election is looking more and more like a likely landslide, after it is over these problems need to be addressed.  There are solutions to many of them:

– End registration problems.  Universal voter registration for all citizens of legal age would solve many of the problems associated with registration and challenges to registration.  If necessary, the Congress could require county boards of election to provide a free voter ID card with a photograph preventing the need for registration drives, challenges to registration and challenges to voters at the polls.

– No more machine voting.  A majority of the House voted fro Rep. Rush Holt’s bill to fund paper ballot based voting with audits but it needed a super majority and was not voted on in the senate.  The U.S. is close to ending the experiment with touchscreen voting.  Elections need to have an independent paper record with the paper ballot verified by the voter.  If optical scan machines are used to count the vote there must be a transparent, mandatory audit before the vote becomes official.

– End partisan election administration. Too often the election administrator is a partisan who also serves as the chair of a political campaign.  Election administration needs to be divorced from partisanship, turned into a professional civil service and provide strong protection for election fraud whistle blowers. Every phase of election administration should be transparent and open to the public. This would also be an opportunity to end the administration of elections by corporations that provide election equipment. 

– Prosecute vote fraud.  Illegal voting as well as suppression of the vote need to be treated as serious crimes.  People who falsely vote and are not of legal age and citizenship should be prosecuted.  Similarly, threats of arrest and provision of false information needs to be turned into a serious felony.  Funds need to be provided to investigate and prosecute these offenses.

– Make voting easy. Continue to expand early voting so voters can vote at their convenience. Turn Election Day into a national holiday.  The U.S. should celebrate democracy and make voting as easy as possible.

The basics – registering, voting and vote counting – are only the tip of the iceberg of election problems. Marylanders are the victims of the Electoral College.  We already know our electoral votes are going to Obama because Maryland is a one-party state.  This is true for forty states.  Voters in these states are learning their presidential vote has little impact. 

Partisan drawing of election districts makes removal of incumbents almost impossible.  Rather than voters picking their candidates, elected officials pick their voters thereby assuring the result they want. Drawing of districts should be turned over to a non-partisan civil service and approved by the courts.

Closed debates have limited the choice of Americans to two parties even though there are six candidates on enough ballots to win the Electoral College vote. The fraudulent National Commission on Presidential Debates, run by the two parties and designed to keep other candidates out, should not be the arbiter of who participates in debates. Voters lost a major opportunity in this time of economic turmoil to hear a broader array of views on how to remake the American economy. The two party’s present two candidates funded by Wall Street and other big business interests.  Their solutions do not challenge those who profit from the status quo economy.

Nearly half of the voters voting for Obama and McCain are voting for the lesser evil.  They are trapped by a voting system limited to two choices.  It is time for the U.S. to implement ranked choice voting that allows voters to rank their candidates and thereby vote their hopes and dreams and not their fears.

The U.S. can have the greatest democracy in the world, but we are far from it.  After the election is time for people to get organized and demand it.  On so many issues the U.S. strives to be a “more perfect union,” it has now become more evident that we need to strive to achieve our goal of a real representative democracy.

You can take action now to protect the 2008 election by visiting www.TrueVote.US and visiting our take action page. Details about all of the incidents described above are included in the TrueVote.US site which is updated throughout the each day.

-Kevin Zeese is the executive director of TrueVote.US. He contributed this article to

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