Something's got to give. Another election is just around the corner. What's it going to be? Another opportunity to document election “irregularities” and computer “glitches”? Another chance to analyze mysterious exit polls? Another exercise in frustration? Another charade.
Democrats will need a mighty good reason to go back to the polls. Many believe that our elections are rigged. And they have good reason. Republicans own the voting machine companies that count 80% of the votes. Congress and the courts are unlikely to change that. And the Democratic leadership has hardly made it an issue.
So, let's do something different. We'll go to Plan B. We'll organize our own “Parallel Elections”.
A Parallel Election would be held in tandem with the official election. It could be organized on a precinct, county, or statewide basis. And anyone could do it. It's simple. On Election Day, “parallel election poll workers” (PEPs) would position themselves outside the polls. They would provide voters with “parallel ballots” to mark and a ballot box in which to cast them. At the end of the day, PEPs would compare their tallies with the official election returns. If the tallies don't match, the election can be challenged.
But, the really big deal is this... voters would be asked to print their names and addresses and sign their ballots. What's the point? To provide proof. Candidates need hard evidence in order to challenge election results. A signed ballot would act as a voter's affidavit -- as direct evidence of the voter's intent.
Exit polls and audits provide circumstantial evidence, at best. We need much more.
During the 2004 election, tens of thousands of voting rights activists worked the polls. They documented tens of thousands of election irregularities. But, all that documentation didn't provide any direct evidence of how people actually voted. Even when recounts were conducted, as in Ohio, election officials managed to sabotage the process.
The original goal of the secret ballot was to minimize vote selling and voter intimidation. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But, that time has passed. The secret ballot has become the refuge of scoundrels and unscrupulous election officials. It provides perfect cover for vote fraud and system failure.
A signed ballot is not such a farfetched idea. In the 1700’s and 1800's, “There was no right to a secret ballot; having sworn in as a voter, the voter may have simply called out his choices to the election clerks who sit... behind the judge tallying the vote,” writes University of Iowa professor Douglas W. Jones.
In some parts of Switzerland, citizens still follow the ancient custom of electing their government by an open show of hands on the last Sunday morning of every April.
Think about it. The U.S. Congress, state assemblies, and even town councils, all vote in public. Why should our votes be kept secret? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid we'd lose our jobs if our employers knew how we voted? That ship has sailed -- quite literally. Millions of jobs in America have already been outsourced to foreign countries. It's only going to get worse if we can't boot these lunatics out of office. Are we afraid that some voters will sell their votes? Oh, you mean like our legislators already do? Listen. I wouldn't make vote selling legal, but I wouldn't get my shorts in a twist over it, either. Or, are we afraid to disappoint our friends and family? It's more important not to disappoint yourself.
A Parallel Election serves three purposes. First, it introduces authentic voting to American citizens. Second, it asserts local control over the voting process. And third, it provides a platform from which to seriously challenge election results.
So, what do you think? Does a Parallel Election make sense? Does it stand a chance? Will people respond? I certainly hope so, because otherwise we're left with some pretty dismal choices, all framed in a negative context. I think this is a positive project that's worth a try. I'm game. If you're interested, send me an e-mail at: email@example.com.
Let's show our machine-made politicians that we will stand up and be counted.
Lynn Landes is one of the nation's leading journalists on voting technology and democracy issues. Readers can find her articles at EcoTalk.org. Lynn is a former news reporter for DUTV and commentator for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org / (215) 629-3553.
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