Bill Grant Columnn November 04, 2008

Restoring voter confidence in elections is essential to Democratic process

Recalling “Dewey Defeats Truman,” I make no predictions on this Election Day, but my hope is that by tonight the country will know with certainty who our next president will be. After the questions about the outcome of the past two elections, we need an unambiguous result to restore confidence in our most fundamental democratic ritual.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case. Record numbers are expected at the polls, and many states are unprepared for this historic turnout. In some early voting states, lines have stretched for blocks and required hours of waiting. Election Day voters will likely exceed these numbers. For many citizens, voting will be an exercise in frustration. To make matters worse, partisan operatives are circling the polling places like sharks to make it even more difficult to cast a ballot.

But even if everything that could go wrong on this Election Day doesn’t, we are unlikely to have an unchallenged result. Both sides are already gathering phalanxes of lawyers in battleground states to contest or defend the outcome at the polls. In Florida, for example, almost 5,000 Democratic lawyers are mobilized to monitor polling sites, assist voters who are turned away at the polls, or go into court for resolution of issues that cannot be resolved outside the courts.

The Republicans, according to The New York Times, “declined to say how many lawyers they had enlisted,” but the RNC’s chief counsel said, “We will have enough lawyers to respond to any contingency. We have a great nationwide volunteer core of lawyers ready to help. On Election Day, we will be engaged at every level.”

Already almost every battleground state has seen partisan efforts to challenge newly registered voters, curtail early voting and invalidate absentee ballots. Both parties have challenged directives from state party and elected officials that would hamper citizens’ efforts to vote.

Colorado has not been immune to voter suppression. Republican Secretary of State Mike Coffman has been prevented by court order from purging 20,000 new voters from the rolls. Even after the ruling, Coffman was chastised by the judge for purging another 149 voters.

According to non-partisan Just Vote Colorado, “This year’s election will be high-profile and draw greater attention than many elections in years past.” It would be naive to think that plans do not include lawyers for both sides prepared to exploit any opportunity to challenge results not to their liking. In a very close election, Colorado could become the next Florida.

It is not sufficient to dismiss criticisms of recent elections as “sour grapes” by sore losers. Both major parties are complicit in undermining the checks and balances essential to a reliable election system. The win-at-all-costs mentality of contemporary politics is incompatible with a self-regulating democratic process.

Like the financial system, the electoral system depends equally on confidence and substance. Even if the vote count is accurate, but voters lack confidence that it reflects a fair process, the corrosion of doubt will undermine the foundations of our democracy.

Our new president will face great challenges both at home and abroad, but one of the most critical issues before the nation is restoration of confidence in our national elections. Failure to address this problem could be a major failure of the next administration.

Tinkering is not enough. Fundamental reforms to ensure integrity and accountability consistent with the highest international standards for fair elections are the minimum we should accept. A good beginning would be to take control of the electoral process out of the hands of elected or other party officials.

If you have not voted yet, vote today. The best assurance your candidate has of success is a clear mandate that cannot be challenged in court. Then, after the inauguration, insist that he appoint a non-partisan Elections Commission to draft new rules for 21st century elections. This would be a first step toward restoring pride in American elections, and making them again an example for the world to follow.

Bill Grant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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