Demand Election Reform, But Only If You Mean It
by Chris Bowers, Thu Jun 01, 2006 at 08:30:54 PM EDT
Wherein I tell those people who demand election reform to stop looking to others to solve the problem and to solve it themselves.
Let me be elliptical for a moment. Back on May 16th, I joined hundreds of reformers in Philadelphia as I won my first election for Democratic Party office. In fact, I actually won two elections that day, one for local ward Democratic committee, and the other for statewide Democratic committee. It was not easy, and I have blogged about my efforts over at MyDD in detail. Election Day itself was particularly taxing, not just because I had to stand outside my polling place all day or because I had to run around the city helping out people who were volunteering for my campaign. My campaigns were also made difficult by a number of faulty voting machines in Philadelphia on that day.
Along with a half dozen other machines in neighboring divisions (precincts), both of the machines in my division were unable to accept write-in votes from the moment the polls opened. I called the board of elections six times that day. In a few divisions, the machines did not work altogether, and everyone who voted was forced into using provisional ballots. Needless to say, this was a complete disaster for my write-in campaign, which was centered around a dozen or so precincts in my neighborhood. I spent much of the day calling the board of elections to complain about the problem and to demand that someone come to our local precincts to fix the problem. In fact, form 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., I called the board of elections more times than I can remember, but usually being told that the problems I was facing were not a high priority. The judge of elections in my division offered up a stop-gap solution, where people wishing to cast a write-in vote would sign a piece of paper and write the names of the people they wished to write-in. We did that for around 16 voters in my division alone, and at the end of the day had the papers notarized.
There were other problems too. At the end of the day, I noticed that many people had written my name differently. Some included my middle initial, some did not. Some wrote my shorter online name "Chris Bowers," instead of my full name, "Christopher J. Bowers." I became worried that not all of the votes would be counted for me. Combine these tow problems with issues surrounding illegibility, and even though around 200 intended to vote for Kevin and I (we only needed 100), and I was more than a little worried that in the end, when the votes were "counted," we would not be certified as new state committee people.
To resolve the problem, on the Friday after the election, I personally went down to the board of elections (which is in a very out of the way place in Philadelphia), and spent a couple of hours waiting in line to ask for permission to be present when all of the votes for my race were counted. I also sought legal advice on the different spelling of my name on the write-in votes. Eventually, I had my time before the board, was granted permission to be around when the votes were counted, and left a detailed note with my contact information and the nature of my campaign.
The next Wednesday, the board of elections had finally reached the point where I could be present at the counting of the ballots. So, once again I went down to the board of elections to review the votes. Because of my previous efforts, I was allowed to sit down with an election worker and--get this--go through the results of every voting machine in my district one by one. That process took about an hour and a half, but at the end both the Board of Elections and I ended up with a detailed record of the votes in the write in campaign Kevin and I were running.
After that was done, I again waited in line to talk with the judge on the board. I made three specific requests. First, I asked that the various spelling of my name and of Kevin's name all be counted for Kevin and myself. Citing the appropriate case law, the judge agreed. Next, I requested that the sixteen votes in my division that were written on unofficial sheet of paper, but were notarized, be counted for both Kevin and I. The judge ruled against his motion, because the vote count I had just conducted with the election worker had revealed that we each had more than 160 votes--well over the amount required. The third motion was for all of the "illegible" votes to be counted for us (another eight votes). Again the judge ruled against, although he said the ruling might be different if the votes were anywhere close to determining the outcome of the election. Since Kevin and I had clearly won anyway, he preferred that the matter be closed.
Why am I blogging about this excruciating, laborious task I went through to make sure that all of the votes in my election were counted properly? Because of this quote from OneCrankyDom's diary:
This is finally being told by a Magazine somewhat in the mainstream.And this one:
I can only hope some of the Big Papers run with this.Is that really the goal--to get the extremely disturbing tale of vote suppression and possible vote fraud in Ohio and elsewhere into the Mainstream? Is the hope that when the Big Papers run with it, then the problem will be solved, because even Republicans in Congress will be shamed into passing good election reform legislation? And why are the "Big Papers" and the "Mainstream" capitalized anyway? Are we supposed to show them some sort of deity-like reverence?
I can sense something really depressing at play here, similar to what I wrote about in my recent dairy Draft Gore--But Only If You Mean It. All of complaints that the Big Bloggers were not writing enough about election reform, the desire to see election reform talked about in the Mainstream Big Papers, the desired hopelessness at play in some "stolen election" threads--I can see where this is all leading now. The mentality surrounding the "stolen election" diaries has the clear stink of looking for someone else to solve the problem for you. There is no sense of "Do It Yourself" grassroots action to fix the problem in these dairies. In the same way that these diaries imply individual voters are being denied by a great outside power of some sort, the same dairies look to a great outside power to solve the problem.
This laziness cannot stand. Over the past year, I have been involved in what Jerome first termed "the silent revolution," the national effort by grassroots democrats to retake the Democratic Party by running for local and statewide Democratic Party office. The term "silent" for this effort is important to note, because while thousands of progressive activists have won Democratic Party office in this campaign, it has received virtually no press coverage whatsoever. This revolution is so silent that I wonder how many people here are aware that it has already completely succeeded in five states--Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina and Oregon--and is on the brink of succeeding in several more (most notably, Texas). This is a massive nationwide movement involving tens of thousands of activists, but the Big Papers, the Mainstream, and even most Big Bloggers have hardly covered it at all. That, however, has not stopped the revolution form taking place. In fact, I'm not even sure what a lot of mainstream coverage would do to help the movement. Would editorials help more people find their local Democratic committee meeting times'? Would they help form new grassroots organizations to recruit and network new committeepeople? I am going to go with "no" on both counts. This is a revolution that does not need press in order to succeed.
The thing is, any real election reform movement would be carried out in precisely the same fashion as the silent revolution is being carried out. People interested in election reform and worried about stolen elections need to become judges of elections in precincts and counties all around the nation. They would go down to their local board of election, as I did, and go through every single result from ever single voting machine in whatever district was in question. Before Election Day, they would inspect the voting machines in every precinct in their neighborhood, as me and my fellow committee people did. On Election Day, if there were any problems, they would spend all day on the phone with the Board of Elections, demanding someone come fix the problem and making sure their complaints were on the record. In short, a real movement for election reform would not give tow shits whether or not the Mainstream, the Big Papers, of the Big Bloggers were writing about their concerns. A real election reform movement would be actively taking control of the voting infrastructure throughout the nation, just as real grassroots Democrats are actively taking control of the party infrastructure nationwide.
That, however, is not happening. What we have instead in a culture that blames a Big, Outside Power for the problems in our election system, and look to another Big, Outside Power to solve the problem. People need to wake up and realize that is not going to happen. If you want election reform, then have the guts and the willingness to get active and take control of your local voting infrastructure. That is the only way anything is ever going to get done. No major problem in this country has ever been solved nationally without first having a nationwide movement to rectify it at the local and statewide level first. For example, women had already secured the right to vote in more than thirty states through more than thirty separate campaigns before their right to vote was finally enshrined into the Constitution in 1920.
I wrote a snarkier diary along these lines eighteen months ago. I'd like to close this diary by quoting from some of the excellent comments people left in that diary. After the 2000 elections, we demanded reform. We got it, Republican-style: it was called HAVA. It was worse than worthless. Now everyone is demanding that we repeat the process. Don't look to the media to fix the problem--look to yourself.
Reform is great, though I tend to agree with Chris. We can't come up with a "total" plan and march it up to the front door; we have to take back the process one chunk at a time and from different, multiple angles than congress. Gorilla reform. Insurgent activists.Don't look to Congress to fix the problem--look to yourself.
The GOP Congress wants nothing more than an excuse to rig the vote even more by PRIVATIZING the damn thing and the Democrats are stupid enough to say, 'uh...see...we did something!' This is pretty much what happened with that pathetic HAVA from 2001.Don't look to Republicans to fix the problem--look to yourself.
Real change in election reform has to happen at the state and county levels, which is good for us because Democrats still hold significant power at the state and county level - even in the South.
Somewhere along the road, we've gotten into our heads that we can shame the GOP into acting responsibly. Somewhere, we figured they'd somehow see the light of day and work everything out in the interests of equity and representative government.Don't' look to Big Outside Powers to fix this problem--look to yourself. If you want election reform, then take control of your local voting infrastructure, the way so many grassroots Democrats have taken control of their local party infrastructure. If you are looking for someone else to solve the problem through editorials in the Washington Post and so called "moderate" Republicans in Congress, you have already lost. Don't look to someone else to solve the problem--look to yourself. Don't just thrill at your identity being validated by RFK Jr. in Rolling Stone--take control of your local electoral infrastructure. For God's sake, realize that you have the power.
If we've learned anything in the last 4 years, it should be that the GOP will lie, grab, shove, and do anything they damn well please, in whatever manner they (or their special interests) please.