The mainstream media in its instant analysis has proclaimed the election system worked surprisingly well in 2006. While it is true that no single catastrophe of election administration grabbed headlines this year, it is quite dangerous to suggest that the problems voters encountered on Election Day were not serious. As over 25,000 callers from across the country to the 866-OUR-VOTE voter information and protection hotline confirm, these problems led to thousands of eligible Americans being denied the opportunity to cast a ballot.
There’s a sense that the book is already closed on the 2006 election. But despite the nation’s attention now turning to the seismic political shift in Washington, several House races remain undecided. In Ohio, two of the races hinge on thousands of provisional ballots that likely were cast by legitimate voters but because of misguided and confusing election rules, will be thrown out, clearly affecting who wins the race. In Florida, it is likely that problems with electronic voting machines caused far more votes to be lost than the current margin of victory.
While the case should not be overstated, it is critical that as we immediately enter the 2008 presidential election cycle, we undertake a more honest assessment of what happened in this election so we can concentrate on ensuring real, meaningful reform before the next federal election cycle. Only if we understand the problems that voters reported in 2006 can we enact real solutions that will move us toward a more fair and accurate system of elections.
These problems underscore the importance of fair and effective protocols for matching voter registration information and the elimination of rules requiring an “exact match”; the abolition of rules requiring proof of citizenship in order to register, when voters already must swear an oath under penalty of a felony that they are a citizen; and only reasonable rules governing third party voter registration drives, not rules that are meant to shut such worthy and essential services down.
Of course, Americans deserve better than what many thousands of them experienced on Election Day 2006. The infrastructure that supports our voting system should be strong and responsive to the will of the voters. Our democratic values demand that issues around election reform be considered outside of politics and the campaign cycle. In short, Congress and the states must move forward on meaningful reforms that strengthen citizen confidence in the system and expand access to all eligible Americans, as well as the resources necessary to make our democracy the model for the world.
Rolling Stone version: "Missing Votes? Who Cares? We Have a Winner."