Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Protect the Vote Locally"

Paul Rogat Loeb:
Just as cities have adopted environmental and wage laws that exceed federal standards, maybe it's time for local initiatives protecting the integrity of the vote. We've been seeing electoral abuses and manipulations since the Bush Administration took power. So we need to insure the Democrats make national electoral protection a priority. But we can also act on a local level.
To prevent similar future abuses, Illinois Senator Barack Obama's Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act would make it a felony to deliberately give misleading information on the time, date or location of elections, or about voter eligibility. New Jersey Congressman and former Princeton physicist Rush Holt has offered the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which mandates a verifiable paper trail for all election machines, requires random audits to insure ballots are properly counted and bans wireless connections to make machines less vulnerable to hacking. Holt's bill had the support of a majority of House members even before the midterm election, and should have an irrefutable additional argument with the meltdown of the machines in the Jennings/Buchanan race--not to mention the inability of Republicans to do comprehensive recounts in states like Virginia, where most machines lacked a paper trail. An even stronger alternative would be Dennis Kucinich's HB 6200, which would require paper ballots to be hand-counted at the precinct level.
But just as local minimum wage and environmental ordinances often surpass federal standards, local election standards can be made stronger than national efforts to protect the vote. Because most of the areas targeted by voter suppression attempts are urban and minority communities, Democratic mayors, county executives and governors already control many of the key jurisdictions. They just need to act on the power that they have.
Passing tough new local laws to protect the vote could create an immediate check against voter suppression in a situation where the Bush Administration is unlikely to prosecute its own political allies. If such laws were enacted before 2008, they could prove a major deterrent to the abuses we've seen in the past several elections, insuring their perpetrators could be prosecuted no matter who won at the national level. We still need strong national laws to safeguard elections in Republican-controlled states--Florida, for instance, has continued its voter purges and has instituted draconian procedures and penalties that have made it virtually impossible for groups like the League of Women Voters to begin major registration drives.

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