Wednesday, December 15, 2004

"Lost" Voters?

Michael Powell (not that Michael Powell) and Peter Slevin of the Washington Post wrote a great article Tuesday titled ‘Several Factors Contributed to ‘Lost’ Voters in Ohio.’

Not to put too fine a point on it, Mike, but voters are not ‘lost’ as are arctic explorers or climbers of Everest. They are disenfranchised, manipulated, discouraged, discriminated against and otherwise mishandled, but never lost, Pete. Their ballots are often destroyed or ignored and then claimed to have been lost, but when the facts are known, misplacement is the least of the misdeeds. And we treat this fact as if it were the newest of electoral sins uncovered only in the recent elections of 2000 and 2004.

Goodness folks, along with the invention of the ballot came manipulation of the ballot. In this country it’s a foundation of our democratic principles that the sanctity of the secret ballot is held above all other rights of man. It’s only after that freedom has been defended to the last drop of blood that we’re comfortable with rigging the result. One man, one vote means many things, depending upon the particular state, county, or precinct in which the words are uttered. Generally, our history has shown Democrats to be slightly more skilled than Republicans in the fine art of smoothing electoral rough edges, but the GOP is a quick learner. Vote fraud is truly an equal opportunity employer.

No need to go into the specifics in Ohio as Powell (not that Powell) and Slevin have done an elegant job of it.

The proper work of the federal government is to do for the country what the states are unable to do and the states are all over the map on their ability to run free and fair elections. I vote from Montana these days, as squeaky-clean a little state as you could find, but I used to vote in Illinois and Chicago probably voted more cemeteries than Montana’s entire population. We have federal armed services because state militias just couldn’t handle the higher and higher quality wars we found interesting. Our federal highway program stepped into the gap when the states were unable to provide the necessary off-ramps for fast-food  access. The civil rights movement required a federal push and (occasionally) federal troops). What right is more civil than the right to have one’s vote even-handedly manipulated?

So, that’s it---all in favor say ‘Aye.’

The feds will provide standards to assure that all states are, at the most, slightly varying shades of purple and tinkering with the ballots, be they hand-marked or touch-screen, will become a federal offense instead of a rolled eye. At least some small degree of order and similarity may prevail---a federal standard of what defines an eligible voter, a semblance of clarity over where voting will be conducted and how long the polls must remain open, uniformity in the number of booths per thousand voters, guarantees of paper backup to electronic ballots, maybe even posted federal phone numbers to call when all goes wrong. That’d be a start, you can add your own pet peeve about election commissioners who also head the campaigns of this or that candidate and all such similar nonsense.

For years, voter apathy was the enemy. Now that we’ve finally whipped up some interest in national elections, it’s imperative that we put in place all possible safeguards before the electorate drifts back off to dreamland once again.

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