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Election reform chatter

Monday, August 13th, 2007

There has been lots of chatter about election reform over the last week or so, including calls for reform in Kentucky, a call to action for New Mexican Native Americans, and problems with voting machines at last weekend’s Iowa Straw Poll. My attempt at digesting it all (and a great cartoon) is after the jump.

• Saturday, Jennifer Steinhauer wrote a piece for the New York Times about election reform efforts throughout the country. She focuses on the partisan effort in California to award electoral votes by congressional district, which we reported here last week.

Frustrated by a system that has marginalized many states in the presidential election process, or seeking partisan advantage, state lawmakers, political party leaders and voting rights advocates across the country are stepping up efforts to change the rules of the game, even as the presidential campaign advances.


“We have discovered what our founding fathers learned as well, which is that you can manipulate election outcomes by setting those rules,” said Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

• Andrew Gumbel, author of the book Steal This Vote: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America, tells the story (in LA CityBeat) of how California Secretary of State Debra Bowen came to her decision to decertify certain electronic voting machines. This cartoon ran alongside his article:

Illustration by Johnny Ryan for LA CityBeat

• In Southern California’s Daily Breeze newspaper, author Tom Elias writes in an op-ed that he thinks the recent decision by California Secretary of State Bowen to decertify some voting machines has exposed “dozens of county voting registrars… as careless at best, irresponsible at worst.”

• Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo called on the electronic voting machine companies singled out by California Secretary of State Bowen to implement the same security upgrades for their voting machines as those being performed for California.

• Turns out there’s a radio program in Philly called Voice of the Voters. Dennis Kucinich was a recent guest according to the Brad Blog, which reports that Kucinich “says legal action may need to be taken against voting machine companies.” You can find the audio of his appearance on the Brad Blog.

• In Iowa, the scene of this weekend’s Republican Straw Poll, the decision of California’s secretary of state reverberated throughout 71 Iowa counties (which use the same voting technology. As the Straw Poll approached, a judge upheld the use of Diebold machines, against the wishes of a group of Iowans, an Ohioan, a New Yorker and a Connetican who had filed a complaint. Nevertheless, a voting machine malfunction caused a delay in tabulating the vote. The machines at the Straw Poll, according to the Des Moines Register, were owned by Story County. The Washington Post also reported on the “mishaps.”

• An AP story, run widely in Florida, reports that “flaws in optical scan voting machines that could have allowed poll workers to alter election results have been fixed,” according to Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.

• Electronic voting machine maker “Diebold’s revenue recognition problems seem to be mounting,” according to a story written by Stephen Taub at CFO.com.

• Lawrence Norden of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice and Timothy B. Lee of the Cato Institute write that “if our elected officials don’t move quickly, millions of Americans will make their choice for the next president on unreliable electronic voting machines without any paper record of their vote.” The full essay is on Cato’s website.

• With the opposing view, Jon Fortier of the American Enterprise Institute writes that “there is no way to implement nationwide paper trails by the 2008 elections, nor by 2010.” He calls for a six-year plan in order to transition to paper trails on all electronic voting machines.

• In New Mexico, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District is asking for input from American Indian pueblos regarding election reform.

• Hugh Hewitt posts the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which deems “vote swapping” legal. Vote swapping is a tactical agreement between voters to subvert the electoral college and have their vote cast in an area in which it will “count” for their preferred candidate. If the national popular vote were the way we select our president, vote swapping wouldn’t be necessary.

CampusProgress.org tells the story of Kenyon College student Matthew Segal and his classmates who foundedStudent Association for Voter Empowerment. The group is focusing – much like Why Tuesday? – on removing barriers to voting and encouraging civics education.

And Finally

• BBC columnist Bill Thompson – a professional computer programmer – writes for BBC News that he is skeptical of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s conditional recertification of the voting machines she called out for not meeting security standards.

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