Jewish World Review July 11, 2001 / 20 Tamuz, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Consumer Reports

Finessing election reform

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- YET another study is out on the conduct of the 2000 presidential election telling us what we already know - that outmoded and error-prone voting machinery not only in Florida but around the country produced a result that, to say the least, was open to question as to its accuracy and fairness.

This one, unfortunately, was prepared only by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee, making it suspect in terms of the Democratic cry that the election was stolen from Al Gore in the Sunshine State. But the study goes beyond Florida to indicate that the problems found there in congressional districts of low-income, high-minority populations existed around the country as well. Forty congressional districts in 20 states, and no more than two in any state, were examined, half of them in low-income, high-minority districts and half in higher-income districts with relatively few minority voters.

In most cases, the study found that the districts in the first category had notably higher rates of uncounted or disallowed ballots and that the use of newer, more sophisticated voting machines, more often used in the richer districts, often reduced the error rate.

This result is a no-brainer, whether produced by a Democratic, Republican or joint study, and is only the latest finding to support the case for upgrading voting machinery not only in Florida, where the legislature has already acted, but around the country.

With several solutions available in terms of new technology, the problem comes down to financing the purchase and installation of the new machines to replace the punch-card and other antiquated systems. We're talking many millions of dollars here and many states lack either the funds or the will to move in time for the 2002 congressional elections or even the next presidential election in 2004.

The Democrats say because the problem is clearly a national one, it requires federal funding. Legislation calling for it has been introduced or pending, but there is not a nickel in President Bush's budget to help the states straighten out the terrible mess of which, ironically, he may have been the big beneficiary. Some of the worst allegations of voting rights denial have come from Florida, the critical state he narrowly won with the help of that 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

Back in April, Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, was asked directly at a White House press briefing how election system reforms would be achieved "since there's no money in the budget" for it. Fleischer replied that "not all reforms require money," and he went off into a reprise of election-night Republican complaints about military voters having their absentee votes thrown out and felons being allowed to vote (although the bigger gripe came from Democrats saying honest citizens misidentified as felons were barred).

Fleischer was reminded that House Democrats had sent Bush a letter asking him to provide leadership in the matter of election reform and had received no response. He said the president would be "open-minded" about "those reforms that require money that the president deems meritorious." Since then, the Democrats say, they have heard nothing from him.

You might have thought, considering the cloud under which he entered the White House, that Bush would move quickly and firmly to demonstrate his awareness of public concern - not just among Democrats - about the state of voting in the country. Instead, he risks leaving the impression that since the election turned out OK for him, it really doesn't need fixing.

The junior Bush is not the first son of a president chosen in a contested election. In 1824, John Quincy Adams filled the seat once held by his father, and like the junior Bush he got it as a minority popular winner. Adams ran second to Andrew Jackson not only in the popular vote but in the Electoral vote as well, but nobody had the required Electoral majority so the election went into the House, where Adams finally was selected.

Adams on learning the outcome said that if he could have refused the result, he would gladly have given "an immediate opportunity to the people to form and express with a nearer approach to unanimity the object of their preference," in other words, a chance to vote again. Especially, he said, since Jackson had received a larger vote the first time. This latest son of a president apparently would rather just forget about the whole thing.


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© 2001, TMS