Messy Elections: Can We Trust the Results?

The US Can Be the Greatest Democracy on Earth, but Right Now it is Far From It

For a country that considers itself the “greatest democracy on Earth,” the U.S. sure does run messy elections.

This year about one-third the public is voting early (something Marylanders will be voting on in a referendum on Election Day), as a result we are seeing election meltdowns in slow motion. Here is a sample of what is occurring:

* Long lines. In many states people are waiting hours – some report as long as six hours to vote in early voting. A lot of the delay has been due to the move to touchscreen voting machines and electronic voter registration lists. These new technologies are slower than paper.

* Machine breakdowns. In West Virginia six counties have reported touchscreen machines switching their vote. Voters attempted to vote for Obama and they saw the screen switch to McCain. There have been similar reports in Tennessee and Texas. In Texas, where people are allowed to select a straight party vote, the switching is occurring from Democrat to Republican. A CNN poll found that 42% of Americans do not trust their votes will be counted accurately.

* More machine breakdowns. It is not just touchscreen machines showing problems, so are optical scan machines. In Florida there were reports that the optical scan could not read the ballots because they were too long.

* Failure to mail absentee ballots. Sequoia Voting Systems failed to send 11,000 absentee ballots to voters who requested them. Sequoia also did not tell the election administration of the oversight.

* Incomplete ballots. Early voters in two Arkansas counties received incomplete ballots. The election administrator is not going to do anything to correct the problem for those voters and just hopes the election is not close so the votes would not have changed the outcome.

* Voter deception. In Florida Democratic voters received calls falsely telling them they could call in their vote and avoid lines. In Philadelphia, fliers warn that people with outstanding tickets, child support payments and warrants will be arrested when they vote. In Texas , people are told if they want to vote for all the Democrats and make sure they vote for Obama, that after they select Democrat they should then select Obama – in fact, that erases the Obama vote.

* Registration fraud. ACORN has gotten a lot of attention for workers who registered the Dallas football team to vote in Utah, Mickey Mouse, telephone-book registration and one person registering dozens of times. It is hard to see how any of these false registrations will result in false votes — will Mickey Mouse actually vote? But there has been a lot of attention on this one.

* More registration fraud. A leader of a Republican registration drive, funded by the McCain campaign has been arrested on massive voter fraud.

* Challenges to registration. Republicans have mounted challenges to the tidal wave of Democratic registrations trying to force election administrators to check the identification of all new registrants. In state-after-state these challenges have been rejected by the courts.

* Voter suppression. Republican party officials in some states have openly talked about challenging voters at the polls. New registrants will be challenged and demanded to prove their identity. Registered voters who have lost their home to foreclosure or been evicted from their apartment are being threatened with voter challenges. Even if these challenges fail they will slow voting down so that some voters give up and go home.

Is any of this acceptable? The U.S. has a lot of serious problems with its democracy when the very basics — registration, voting and vote counting — is filled with flaws. While this election is looking more and more like a likely landslide, after it is over these problems need to be addressed. There are solutions to many of them:

* End registration problems. Universal voter registration for all citizens of legal age would solve many of the problems associated with registration and challenges to registration. If necessary, the Congress could require county boards of election to provide a free voter ID card with a photograph preventing the need for registration drives, challenges to registration and challenges to voters at the polls.

* No more machine voting. A majority of the House voted fro Rep. Rush Holt’s bill to fund paper ballot based voting with audits but it needed a super majority and was not voted on in the senate. The U.S. is close to ending the experiment with touchscreen voting. Elections need to have an independent paper record with the paper ballot verified by the voter. If optical scan machines are used to count the vote there must be a transparent, mandatory audit before the vote becomes official.

* End partisan election administration. Too often the election administrator is a partisan who also serves as the chair of a political campaign. Election administration needs to be divorced from partisanship, turned into a professional civil service and provide strong protection for election fraud whistle blowers. Every phase of election administration should be transparent and open to the public. This would also be an opportunity to end the administration of elections by corporations that provide election equipment.

* Prosecute vote fraud. Illegal voting as well as suppression of the vote needs to be treated as serious crimes. People who falsely vote and are not of legal age and citizenship should be prosecuted. Similarly, threats of arrest and provision of false information needs to be turned into a serious felony. Funds need to be provided to investigate and prosecute these offenses.

* Make voting easy. Continue to expand early voting so voters can vote at their convenience. Turn Election Day into a national holiday. The U.S. should celebrate democracy and make voting as easy as possible.

The basics — registering, voting and vote counting — are only the tip of the iceberg of election problems. Marylanders are the victims of the Electoral College. We already know our electoral votes are going to Obama because Maryland is a one-party state. This is true for forty states. Voters in these states are learning their presidential vote has little impact.

Partisan drawing of election districts makes removal of incumbents almost impossible. Rather than voters picking their candidates, elected officials pick their voters thereby assuring the result they want. Drawing of districts should be turned over to a non-partisan civil service and approved by the courts.

Closed debates have limited the choice of Americans to two parties even though there are six candidates on enough ballots to win the Electoral College vote. The fraudulent National Commission on Presidential Debates, run by the two parties and designed to keep other candidates out, should not be the arbiter of who participates in debates. Voters lost a major opportunity in this time of economic turmoil to hear a broader array of views on how to remake the American economy. The two parties’ present two candidates funded by Wall Street and other big business interests. Their solutions do not challenge those who profit from the status quo economy.

Nearly half of the voters voting for Obama and McCain are voting for the lesser evil. They are trapped by a voting system limited to two choices. It is time for the U.S. to implement ranked choice voting that allows voters to rank their candidates and thereby vote their hopes and dreams and not their fears.

The U.S. can have the greatest democracy in the world, but we are far from it. After the election is time for people to get organized and demand it. On so many issues the U.S. strives to be a “more perfect union,” it has now become more evident that we need to strive to achieve our goal of a real representative democracy.

You can take action now to protect the 2008 election by visiting www.TrueVote.US and visiting our take action page. Details about all of the incidents described above are included in the TrueVote.US site, which is updated throughout the each day.

Kevin Zeese co-directs Popular Resistance and is on the coordinating council for the Maryland Green Party. Read other articles by Kevin, or visit Kevin's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 28th, 2008 at 2:13pm #

    i do not meanto be sassy but can we expect in oneparty system also honest count of the balloting?

  2. lichen said on October 28th, 2008 at 8:46pm #

    The voting age must also be lowered to 16, at least.

  3. brian said on October 29th, 2008 at 12:17am #

    The US can never be the ‘greatest’ democracy’ on earth, if only because the US was never set up to be a democracy; and because the multitude of americans contain some disturbing types like the born again christians…Even if th people did matter, many of the people are decidely sociopathic or worse.

    People assume that ‘democracy’ is good, without first taking a closer look at their fellow voters…

  4. Hue Longer said on October 29th, 2008 at 2:07am #

    Everyone in Empire should get a vote as well…from Japan to Greenland

  5. Ramsefall said on October 29th, 2008 at 6:48am #


    if we lower the voting age to 16, then just as many kids who are consumed by XBox and TV, and who know very little about politics and/or history, will vote as their parents and mentors do. It would result in the same analogy as religion; little Billy or Sally are Catholic because that´s the way their parents raised them. This perpetuates a structured and sculpted belief system, not one based on free or critical thinking, it would be even more corrupt than today. In time, which ever party affiliates have more progeny, that party would retain hegemony.

    It´s not the legal voting age that needs to be lowered, for in a non-transparent one-party business system it is corruption that needs to be eliminated.

    I appreciate your wanting to spread voting rights, but that proposal seems to move in the wrong direction, not toward a truly functional system.

    Best to you.

  6. lichen said on October 29th, 2008 at 3:24pm #

    No, Ramsefall, what you say is ageist, and is not the case in countries where the voting age has been lowered to 16. That process is always aided by a concurrent schooling in civic engagement at high school. I also see that you must be quite out of touch yourself – I hardly knew anyone at 16 who agreed with their parent’s right wing politics, and your stupid stereotype of young people as being uninformed people glued to screens equally applies to adults. You should notice that I included the word ALSO, meaning I intend for it to be included in such reforms as proportional representation, run-off voting, full public funding of elections, automatic voter registration, equal media time given to all candidates, open and serious debates, paper ballots, election day being a national holiday…

    In Austria and other places where the voting age was lowered to 16, it has revitalized democracy.

  7. Ramsefall said on October 29th, 2008 at 5:28pm #


    while those positive results occur in Austria and other places, they are built on different cultural value systems. Statistics conclusively reveal the amount of time kids spend on TV and video games, it’s an unfortunate and lamentable status quo. Take a trip around different communities and sample the environment, it’s not Austria or anywhere else.

    With the apparent increase in awareness around the nation, perhaps that’s a possibility for the future. Contrary to what my words might indicate, I hold no prejudices against younger people. But at this point in time, I don’t see kids of 16 or younger being that savvy in the realms of politics or history.

    I may be wrong.

    Best to you.

  8. lichen said on October 29th, 2008 at 6:46pm #

    No, like those who protested against extending the vote to African Americans and women, the arguments against 16 year olds voting come from the idea that democracy is about your own ignorant prejudices and views of other people, as opposed to the inalienable rights of those people. You can watch tv, play video games, go to clubs, and an endless amount of other activities and still be politically active; just like earlier generations had their own activities as opposed to focusing solely on politics. Further, looking on at young people through a prejudiced, outsider lens does not tell you anything. The fact that you are older and didn’t do these things means that you are necessarily not in a place to judge them and what they have to do with politics, statistics or not. And I will add, again, that in concert with the other reforms named, and in concert with how such voting age lowering has factually worked in the functioning examples are already existent in the world, it also makes young people more informed. It is not hypothetical, it is proven.

  9. Ramsefall said on October 29th, 2008 at 9:28pm #


    Indeed it may be proven elsewhere, but it is NOT proven in the U.S. As that society is quickly closing, it’s doubtful the opportunity will be presented any time soon.

    But this argument isn’t racial or sexual, now it’s just borderline comical.

    Tell you what, let’s just permit that ALL the kids go out and vote, age is irrelevant. Then they, like their parents, can waste their time together imagining that they are making a difference in their fake, corporate democracy.

    You see, it’s the “at least” part which really causes the footing to come loose.

    What do you think about UNICEF, impartial? They ranked the U.S. 18 of 24 in educational effectiveness. Surprise, Austria finished higher! Plus, their Ministry keeps the system well funded and ahead of the curve having focused on a social approach since after WWII — 60 years of experience under their belt. So, I suppose if you can convince which ever corporate candidate who replaces the old one to cut funding from the military for educational purposes, and then prepare for a few decades, it just might work.


    I’m not trying to burst your bubble, for what’s been going on in other nations educationally is fantastic, it’d be great to see it in the U.S., I’m sure the whole world would agree. However, the climate for cultivating that kind of system isn’t represented in the U.S., sorry to inform you.

    I guess a person is entitled to hope, though.

    Best to you.

  10. lichen said on October 30th, 2008 at 2:45pm #

    Please read this part of my post: “You should notice that I included the word ALSO, meaning I intend for it to be included in such reforms as proportional representation, run-off voting, full public funding of elections, automatic voter registration, equal media time given to all candidates, open and serious debates, paper ballots, election day being a national holiday…”

    You, therefore, are placing up a straw man in your arguments with me, while I have never argued that everything should stay as it is now, but with the only difference being 16 year olds being able to vote. In fact, I go farther than my statements above in preferring direct, participatory democracy going from the community level upward. I see you are very invested authoritarian education systems; my views of children’s rights also transcend that, to schools democratically run by the students where they are free to pursue their own curriculum. I think one of the worst aspects of American education right now is not the funding, but the fact that in 14 or so states, children, especially boys, are still beaten at public schools. There are as many politically active, informed 19 year olds as there are 16 year olds, and they should all be allowed to vote, and vote on more than just which wealth-serving imperialists should get power.

  11. Ramsefall said on October 31st, 2008 at 5:03am #


    the need for extreme reforms are what’s needed, I agree completely especially if the nation wants to begin moving in a direction of noticeable and radical change. These changes are going to take time, and perhaps with time the education system can become more productive and effective.

    But once again, the social climate at present is far from able to offer the admirable vision you present, and which I support. It’s a matter of time, however, the nation isn’t ready for students to devise and pursue their own curriculum yet. Once the corporate reps are out of the picture, the country can begin to move toward what you describe. That would be welcome.

    Best to you.