election reform won’t happen unless we act now

The members of the Congressional Black Caucus were among the only people who stood up against both the war in Iraq and what happened in Florida in 2000. Now, it looks as though they’re the only ones willing to stand up and champion the election reforms which, given what we’ve just seen in Ohio, are absolutely necessary if we want to keep this country a democracy. As you may already know, the only way the 2004 voting irregularities will be looked into and acted on, however, is if a member (just one member) of the U.S. Senate joins John Conyers and his associates in the House. John Conyers is ready to make the case, and all he needs is one courageous Senator to open the door. If you haven’t done so yet, please write to your Senators (you have two, and you can find them at the Senate website) and urge them to be that one person out of one hundred who stands up and says what we all know to be true — all people should have equal access to polling places, all votes should leave an audit trail, and partisan businesses should not be running the process… And here, in case I wasn’t persuasive enough, is a column by Jesse Jackson from the Chicago Sun Times.

This Thursday in Washington Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the senior minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, will formally object to the counting of the Ohio electoral vote in the 2004 presidential election. If any senator joins him, the counting of the vote is suspended and the House and the Senate must convene separately to hear the objections filed, and to vote on whether to accept them.

The grounds for the objections are clear: The irregularities in the Ohio vote and vote count are widespread and blatant. If the Ohio election were held in the Ukraine, it would not have been certified by the international community.

In Ohio, the gulf between exit polls and counted votes is vast and glaring. Blatant discrimination in the distribution of voting machines ensured long lines in inner-city and working-class precincts that favored John Kerry, while the exurban districts that favored President Bush had no similar problems.

Systematic efforts were made to suppress and challenge the new voters in Kerry precincts, whether students or African Americans. Some precincts were certified with more votes than the number registered; others were certified with preposterously low turnouts. Voting machines, produced by a company headed by a vowed Bush supporter, provide no paper record. Ohio’s secretary of state, the inappropriately partisan head of the state’s Bush campaign, has resisted any systematic recount of the ballots.

The systematic bias and potential for fraud is unmistakable. An in-depth investigation is vital — and the partisan secretary of state has opposed it every step of the way. In this context, Conyers and his colleagues in the House are serving the nation’s best interests in demanding an investigation of the irregularities in Ohio, and objecting to business as usual in counting the vote.

If Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, has any sense, he will lead members of the caucus to support their colleagues from the House and demand a debate that will expose the irregularities in Ohio. If Kerry wants to establish his continued leadership, he will stand first to join with Conyers and demand a debate.

Will the debate overturn the outcome of the election? That is doubtful, although the irregularities in Ohio suggest that Kerry may well have won if a true count could be had. But the debate is vital anyway. This country’s elections, each run with different standards by different states, with partisan tricks, racial bias, and too often widespread incompetence, are an open scandal.

We need national standards to ensure that we get an honest count across the country. National standards, accompanied by a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans, will be passed only if leaders in the Congress refuse to close their eyes to the scandal, and instead stop business as usual.

Conyers, Reid and Kerry will face harsh criticism for violating what might be called the Nixon precedent. When Kennedy beat Nixon by a few thousand votes in an election marked by irregularities in Illinois and Texas, Nixon chose not to challenge the result. Gore essentially followed that rule after the gang of five in the Supreme Court disgraced themselves by stopping the vote count in Florida. But the effect of the Nixon precedent is to provide those who would cheat with essentially a free pass. Particularly when the state officials are partisans, they can put in the fix with little fear of exposure so long as they win.

So Conyers will step up, accompanied by other courageous members of the House. They will object to the count and demand a debate. To force that debate, they need only one member of the Senate to join them. Reid should lead the entire caucus to join them. Kerry should stand alone if necessary to demand clean elections in America.

If America is to be a champion of democracy abroad, it must clean up its elections at home. If it is to complain of fraudulent and dishonest election practices abroad, it cannot condone them at home. But more important, if our own elections are to be legitimate, then they must be honest, open, with high national standards.

The time has come to stand up for clean elections, and to let it be known that massive irregularities will not go unchallenged.

Again, this isn’t about changing the outcome of the last election. This is about maintaining the integrity of our system, and ensuring that we leave a real, working democracy for our children. If you haven’t yet, please read up on the election irregularities in Ohio, and ask yourself if this is something that we should allow to keep happening in America… And then, please write to your Senators. (Or, if you can’t do that, at least buy the new U2 album from my Amazon store.)

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  1. Tony Buttons
    Posted January 5, 2005 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I just got the following letter from Senator Kerry-

    No American citizen should wake up the morning after the election and worry their vote wasn’t counted. No citizen should be denied at the polls if they are eligible to vote. And, as the greatest, wealthiest nation on earth, our citizens should never be forced to vote on old, unaccountable and non transparent voting machines from companies controlled by partisan activists.

    Tomorrow, members of Congress will meet to certify the results of the 2004 presidential election. I will not be taking part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors.

    Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

    But, that does not mean we should abandon our commitment to addressing those problems that happened in Ohio. We must act today to make sure they never happen again.

    I urge you to join me in using this occasion to highlight our demand that Congress commit itself this year to reforming the electoral system. A Presidential election is a national federal election but we have different standards in different states for casting and counting votes. We need a national federal standard to solve the problems that occurred in the 2004 election. I will propose legislation to help achieve this.

    Florida 2000 was a wake up call. But the Republicans who control Congress ignored it. Will they now ignore what happened in 2004?

    There are nearly 3,000,000 of you receiving this email. We accomplished so much together during the campaign. Now let’s use our power to make sure that at least one good thing comes from the voting rights problems of the 2004 election. If we want to force real action on election reform, we’ve got to demand that congressional leaders hold full hearings. Make sure they hear from you and help hold them accountable.

    Speaker Dennis Hastert: 1-202-225-0600
    Leader Bill Frist: 1-202-224-3135

    And please report that you’ve made your call right here:

    I want every vote counted because Americans have to know that the votes they stood in line for, fought for, and strived so hard to cast in an election, are counted. We must make sure there are no questions or doubts in future elections. It’s critical to our democracy that we investigate and act to prevent voting irregularities and voter intimidation across the country. We can’t stand still as Congressional leaders seek to sweep well-founded voter concerns under the rug.

    Please join with me in calling Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist and telling them that you want action on election reform now.

    A recent report from Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) reveals very troubling questions that have not yet been answered by Ohio election officials. I commend the Democratic National Committee for its announcement this week that the DNC will be investing resources and reaching out to non-partisan academics in a long term study of Ohio voting irregularities. I am only sorry that we haven’t seen the same from Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell and GOP officials.

    Congress must play a positive, proactive role on this issue. That’s why I will soon introduce legislation to reform our election system, ensuring transparency and accountability in our voting system and that all Americans have an opportunity to vote and have their vote counted.

    Please remember to let us know that you made your call when you’re done. We’re hoping to ensure House and Senate leaders’ offices hear our demand for action on election reform in meaningful way. Please take a moment to let us know you have made your call here: http://www.johnkerry.com/signup/electoral_reform.php

    Thank you,

    John Kerry

    P.S. Thanks to all those who participated in our USO “phone home” campaign last week. The totals are coming in from the USO, and they are thrilled with your generosity and support for our brave men and women in uniform. We will send you totals as we get them.

  2. DD
    Posted January 5, 2005 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Kerry won’t be there for the vote tomorrow though, as he’s conveniently in Iraq.

  3. Posted January 5, 2005 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    “Despite widespread reports of irregularities, questionable practices by some election officials and instances of lawful voters being denied the right to vote, our legal teams on the ground have found no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.”
    Is this really his reason? Wouldn’t supporting Conyers get the situation in Ohio more out in the open–a great way to initiate some real change? Does he not want to look bad so that he can build a political future? What kind of message is he sending to John Conyers and disenfranchised voters? Is he sidestepping the issue with his election reform agenda–which likely will wind up in the graveyard next so many other sensible governmental reforms that have died?

    “We need a national federal standard to solve the problems that occurred in the 2004 election.”
    I’m thinking Republicans will continue to push for decentralization and privatization. The free market is their answer to everything. Oh, and it doesn’t work–except for the privileged. I don’t see how his reform idea would pass when they have control of our government. It will be watered down like McCain-Feingold. This is the way a Democratic presidential candidacy ends–not with a bang but a whimper.

  4. mark
    Posted January 5, 2005 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I can kind of understand why Kerry doesn’t want to be present for the session tomorrow. He doesn’t want to be seen as a sore loser, and that’s exactly how they’d paint it if he helped Conyers to contest the election. As almost everyone thinks he’d still lose, even if the votes were all recounted, he doesn’t have much to gain by it

  5. mark
    Posted January 5, 2005 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    You can now download a PDF of the Conyers report.

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