Election Reform Information Network
March, 2001 News Archive
NOTE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a new and "improved" web site where it is impossible to find anything, and now my links to their articles are broken. I'm trying to find a solution to this problem.
03/30/2001 "Residual Votes Attributable to Technology: An Assesment of the Reliablilty Of Existing Voting Equipment" (in Adobe Acrobat format) (a Caltech/MIT joint study)
This is a summary of the findings of a Caltech/MIT joint study, which includes: "The incidence of residual votes is highest for voters in counties using punch cards and electronic machines and is lowest for voters in counties using lever machines, optically scanned paper ballots, and hand-counted paper ballots."
03/30/2001 "Democrats Press for Action on Election Reform" (Reuters)
"Introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, the legislation would also provide a variety of new voter safeguards and create a commission to help better assure that every vote is counted. Conyers called for Judiciary Committee hearings on the bill, dubbed the ``Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act'', after Republican and Democratic leaders failed to reach agreement on creation of a bipartisan panel on electoral reform."
"I hope we all can agree that the 2000 elections exposed irregularities, not just in Florida, but nationwide,'' Conyers added. ``I believe that these irregularities require a federal response.''
03/29/2001 "Ex-felons' vote rights get boost in [Florida] Senate" (Miami Herald)
"The idea of restoring the voting rights of former felons easily cleared a key Senate committee Wednesday, giving momentum to a long-fought cause that both Senate and House committees have now endorsed. ``There are four nations in the world that prevent former felons from voting. They are Third World nations,'' said Sen. Daryl Jones, D-South Dade. ``No other state, no other nation in the world, with the exception of Russia, has more people who cannot vote because of their former crimes.'' It is estimated that about 500,000 ex-convicts cannot vote in Florida, as many as 150,000 of them black men. But significant differences have surfaced between the bills in each chamber, conflicts that make final passage of any legislation more difficult."
03/28/2001 "Voters endorse high-tech balloting" (Miami Herald)
"Florida's voters overwhelmingly approve the idea of shifting to a costly new method of touch-screen computer voting throughout the state, results of a new Herald survey show. Political analysts say the results portray a public eager for election reform. Support for touch-screen voting is strong in both parties: 69 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans."
03/28/2001 "House Leaders Fail to Agree on Reform Panel" (Reuters)
"House leaders said they had failed to agree on the makeup of a proposed bipartisan panel, which was to have tried to remedy the many problems exposed in the 2000 presidential election, such as faulty voting machines and ballots. Gephardt had demanded the panel be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. But Hastert insisted there be one more Republican to reflect his party's House majority. Republicans control the chamber, 220-211 with two independents and two open seats. Hastert and Gephardt said with no select panel, the House judiciary and administration committees would take the lead on election reform in their chamber. There have already been dozens of measures introduced in the House and the Senate to reform the electoral process, a few with limited bipartisan support."
I would prefer the panel be equally divided to ensure it is truly bi-partisan, regardless of who controls the House.
03/27/2001 "LET THE FEC STICK TO ITS KNITTING" (Chicago Tribune)
"States should be allowed to determine what works best for their citizens. They can do so without needless intrusion from Washington." - Then why haven't most states done so? As we've seen, all it takes is one state to screw up the whole election. I think a certain amount of "intrusion" is well justified. See my discussion of state and federal roles.
03/27/2001 "Americans Want Modernized Voting System - Poll " (Reuters)
"Americans think their voting system needs a technological overhaul but draw the line at voting on the Internet, a new study released on Tuesday showed. According to the report, 69 percent of the 1,000 Americans surveyed in early March believed using new technologies for voting would produce more accurate results. An almost equal number -- 61 percent -- said they would approve tax dollars if it was used to improve the existing voting system. "
03/27/2001 "Disabled Gaining on Access to Vote" (New York Tines)
"As Paul W. Schroeder, a spokesman for the American Foundation for the Blind, put it, "The rest of the nation finally experienced what blind people have been experiencing all along: you never know if your vote actually counted."If the Florida situation woke up the rest of the country to weaknesses in the election system, it could prove a boon to the 32 million Americans of voting age who are either blind or disabled, those still agitating for full access to the ballot box. Most of the new bills introduced in Congress that would provide federal money to help states upgrade their voting equipment require that the new equipment be accessible to the disabled."
03/27/2001 "Obstacles mar efforts to install election reforms before 2002" (San Jose Mercury News)
At the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, "[Former President] Carter conceded that the chances are poor for reforms to be enacted in time for next year's elections for Congress and governors. Prospects for the 2004 presidential election are better, he said. One of the main points of disagreement is whether to adopt a uniform system of voting -- statewide or nationwide. Two other points of contention are how much to spend on reform, and who should pay. Some Florida political leaders are balking at paying for all the improvements. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican, is urging a $199 million overhaul. Florida Senate President John McKay, a Republican, called the proposal "ridiculously expensive.''"
03/23/2001 "SAFEGUARDING AGAINST VOTING ERRORS" by Lee A. Daniels, Illinois House Republican leader (Chicago Tribune)
"We [Illinois House Republicans] believe that every polling place in Illinois should use optical scanning. Using a No. 2 pencil or other marking device, voters select the chosen candidates by simply filling in a small oval--like many of us have done on standardized tests starting in the 3rd grade. The voter then inserts the ballot into an optical scanner. If marked correctly, the vote is tabulated. Errors are instantly identified, and voters have the prerogative to change their ballots. Although the optical system must be universal, individual counties should not be burdened by the cost of conversion. Accordingly, House Republicans will ask for state grant funds totaling $57.5 million to ensure that voters from Chicago to Cairo will know that their most cherished freedom--the right to vote--will be protected and preserved." - On-site error detection is the key point that needs to be emphasized. Otherwise, some studies have shown, optical scan may be even worse than punch cards.
03/22/2001 "Strengthening the Heart of Democracy" By Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Howard Baker and Lloyd Cutler (Washington Post)
"We strongly endorse efforts to achieve genuine campaign finance reform. Yet we also hope Congress will not entangle this problem with the separate challenge of federal election reform. Later this year, after they have dealt with the issue of campaign finance, we hope the nation's elected leaders will turn their attention to the election process itself. We have joined together to form the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which began its work this month and will report our recommendations in September, in time to inform the work of this session of the 107th Congress."
03/21/2001 "OFFICIAL URGES HIGH-TECH NEW VOTING SYSTEM FOR FLORIDA" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
"Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, wants lawmakers to invest in a state-of-the-art election system that key legislators say may be too pricey. Recalling how Florida was "ridiculed and criticized" as almost comically inept at electing a president, Harris said the state should stop using punch card ballots, switch to precinct-based optical scanners for the 2002 election and develop an elaborate, high-tech voting system by 2004."
"The first phase of Harris' election package calls for spending $20 million to lease precinct-based optical scanners statewide for the 2002 elections. Only Oklahoma has a similar system statewide, although a number of Florida counties use the scanners already."
""It is the right thing to do," she said, and it would help Florida comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that counties cannot have different voting standards."
"On top of the $20 million for leasing optical scanners, Harris proposed that lawmakers spend $29 million this year, $50 million next year and $100 million the following year to develop a "voter-freedom-technology" system for 2004 that would let voters cast ballots anywhere in Florida."
However, neither Democrat nor Republican lawmakers seem to be jumping on the election reform bandwagon, citing concern over the high costs. I had thought that, after having been the laughing stock of the nation, Florida would be enthusiastic about election reform. I guess I was wrong. This is why I believe the Federal government needs to play a signifigant role in ensuring that the states clean up their act, and soon.
03/18/2001 "Conflicting studies hamper search for better voting machines" (CNN)
"The answer, clearly, is to find machines that confuse the fewest voters. But that isn't so simple, as state legislatures and Congress are learning in their search for a more trustworthy election system. It's hard to pick one voting system over another because little analysis of voting technology exists, and the reports that are available often conflict. Modernization is the new watchword. But some studies have found low-tech voting methods -- mechanical levers and paper ballots -- work better than state-of-the-art systems."
"Optical scan technology, where voters darken circles as in standardized school tests, has support in Florida, Illinois, Arizona and more. But a Georgia study of optical scan voting found places with large minority populations had much higher numbers of uncounted votes than the rest of the state. Some think computers are the answer. But the latest ATM-style electronic machines turned out errors nearly as often as the punch-cards at the center of the Florida recount, according to a statistical review of the past four presidential elections."
However, this article fails to point out studies have shown that with on-site scanning for errors, optical scan is the most accurate, but without it - i.e. in jurisdictions where ballots are scanned only after they are taken to a central office - optical scan produces the highest error rates.
03/14/2001 "BALLOT MISTAKES RIDDLED CITY VOTING" (Chicago Tribune)
"According to a new study of balloting during last November's election, anywhere from 12.8 percent to 36.7 percent of voters in 125 precincts spread across Chicago either failed to register a vote for president or spoiled their ballots by voting for more than one candidate."
"Aside from education, officials believe the biggest promise lies in the use of the new error-detection equipment. When an error is detected, the election judge advises the voter of the nature of the possible error and offers the opportunity to cast a new ballot. If the voter declines, the judge presses a button that permits the ballot to drop into a sealed box. The hardware was used for the first time in Chicago in the Feb. 27 special aldermanic election. In the 37th Ward, the error rate in the aldermanic race was slightly more than 1 percent, down from last November's 12 percent-plus. Results were similar in the 17th Ward on the South Side, where the error rate declined to less than 1 percent from more than 9 percent in November."
03/14/2001 "Senate holding hearings on improving election system" (AP / CNN)
"Correcting the election system flaws made evident by the Florida presidential vote may take billions of dollars and an updating of fundamental voter rights laws, advocates of change say. Wednesday [3/14], they bring their ideas before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee which begins two days of hearings on how to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election, where thousands of Florida voters say faulty machines or voting procedures cost them a say in the closest election in modern times."
03/13/2001 "Report: The Scope of Congressional Authority in Election Administration" (United States General Accounting Office) (Adobe Acrobat format)
"In summary, the constitutional framework for elections contemplates both state and federal roles. States are responsible for the administration of both their own elections and federal elections. States regulate various phases of the elections process and in turn incur the costs associated with these activities. Notwithstanding the state role in elections, Congress has authority to affect the administration of elections in certain ways."
03/13/2001 "Democrats offer broad U.S. voting reform measure" (Reuters / CNN)
"The new Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001 would require states to establish uniform standards for voting machines by 2004 and outlaw what proponents of the measure denounce as outdated punch-card ballots. The legislation would also provide a variety of new voter safeguards and create a commission to help better assure that every vote is counted." - Introduced by two Demecrats, with no Republican support.
03/12/2001 "Punch Drunk" (The American Prospect)
"Some Democrats have argued that punch-card systems need to be replaced by optical scanners, but the Illinois results demonstrate that what really matters is not how votes are entered, but whether there is error correction. ...Some reformers have focused on a different technological fix--direct-recording electronic devices that have touch screens. But these may not even be preferable to punch cards. ...To conclude: In many areas of the country, the best solution may be to add error correction to existing systems, as Chicago did, rather than buy the fanciest technology."
"When two political scientists, Stephen Knack and Martha Kropf, surveyed existing voter technology to see whether the least accurate machinery is concentrated among minorities and the poor, they found that Florida, where punch-card technology was concentrated among minority voters, was the exception rather than the rule. Knack and Kropf discovered that, nationwide, 31.9 percent of whites and 31.4 percent of blacks live in counties using punch-card technology, and that punch cards are more likely to be found in wealthier counties than in poorer ones--in other words, the very opposite of what many Democrats assume."
03/12/2001 "The Voter Fraud Iceberg" (Wall Street Journal)
"This country doesn't just have a voting-machine problem; it's rife with incompetent or nefarious practices that make U.S. election procedures "the sloppiest in the industrialized world," according to noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham."
"Attorney General Ashcroft's apparent intention to clean up election procedures all over the country should be commended. But a lot more work needs to be done to ensure an accurate and fraud-free voter count in places where clean elections are simply no longer part of local traditions. We trust that the Justice Department's new counsel on election reform will strive to look beyond Florida, and we trust that the complainers about the Florida count will be right alongside, cleaning up balloting across America."
03/12/2001 "2 Florida Counties Show Election Day's Inequities" (Los Angeles Times)
This is a tale of two counties - physically separated only by a river - but worlds apart in the accuracy of their elections. West of the Ochlockonee River, in Gadsden County, one in eight ballots were rejected last November. Across the river in Leon County, fewer than one in 500 were not counted - and "nearly all were undervotes from people who intentionally abstained in the presidential race." How could such radically different results be achieved in neighboring counties? This is a tale of technology, of ballot design and of voter education. But most of all, this is about incompetence and indifference.
Gadsden County is mostly poor and black. Leon County is wealthier and whiter. But a voting machine can't tell if a voter is white or black. It's the election officials who made the difference:
03/11/2001 "Commentary: Casting about for ideas, we hit some duds" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Judy Taylor, Democrat Election Director for St. Louis County, wrote this piece opposing early voting, on the grounds that it would make elections more difficult to administer. "The election process is fragile", she writes. "The key to restoring confidence in the integrity of the voting system is setting high standards for the administrative side of the election process."
I believe the real key to restoring public confidence, is to strengthen our "fragile" election process. We need voting systems that will prevent voters from spoiling their ballots, so voters can be confident that their ballots will indeed be counted. We need uniform rules for recounts in advance, rather that making them up as we go along. We need more convenient voting times and shorter lines and many other reforms to restore voter confidence. On the other hand, if the priority continues to be making elections as cheap as possible, the erosion of public confidence will be justified and accelerated.
03/11/2001 "Caught in the middle on the road to reform" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"State and local officialdom is most vehemently represented, so far, by the secretaries of state, who do have the major say, almost everywhere, on all aspects of elections, from the kinds of equipment and ballots to the conduct of recounts and all steps in between. Their collective message to Congress: "Just send money. We'll decide how to use it.""
"On the congressional side, from members who are well positioned to play a role in the matter, comes the response. "Yes, we'd really like to give you some money. But you better believe it's going to come with rules and standards attached.""
The author goes on to suggest a 90% federal matching program modeled after the interstate highway program.
"The commission has not completed its report but wanted to share its preliminary findings before the state Legislature ends its eight-week session. The Legislature opened Tuesday. The commission alleged numerous problems, including mistakes in purges of voting rolls, complicated or confusing ballots, early closing of polling places, relocation of polls without notice and inadequate training of poll workers."
03/10/2001 "Legal group asks U.S. to investigate November election in city" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"A Kansas City-based legal group has asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation into Election Day activities in St. Louis on Nov. 7 that the group says appeared to violate federal law. The Landmark Legal Foundation, a nonprofit group, cites the Democratic effort to keep the city polls open an extra three hours and "voter registration and balloting irregularities" that the group says are "apparent violations of the Voting Rights Act."
03/08/2001 "Both parties support a quick fix for voting problems as seen in Florida" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Republicans and Democrats alike called Wednesday for speedy action to modernize voting machinery and fix the flaws exposed in Florida and other states last year. Resurrecting the specter of hanging and pregnant chads from punch card ballots in November's protracted presidential election, the Senate Commerce Committee debated a number of proposals aimed at making voting more accessible and tallying more accurate."
"McCain, who has also sponsored an election reform bill, said he hoped Congress would provide the states with money and guidance to fix systems but not to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. "We must modernize our voting machinery and improve our voting process without barraging the states and local governments with excessive rules and regulations," McCain said."
"Several state election officials applauded Congress' efforts, while also cautioning lawmakers against rushing to embrace untested or faulty technology. For example, Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox told the panel that in her state, the newer optical scan ballots were not necessarily better than the antiquated punch cards. She said there was a higher percentage of "undervotes" in predominantly African-American precincts that used optical scan machines than in similar precincts that used punch cards."
03/07/2001 "Senators hear election system called antiquated" (AP) (CNN)
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee - formally the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee - have begun hearings on the American election system. "Witnesses who testified before the Commerce Committee on Wednesday referred often to the Florida situation but attempted to put it into a larger perspective, saying that had the conflicts there not occurred, hundreds and perhaps thousands of irregularities in other parts of the country would not have come to light."
"Antiquated machines such as the punch card "Votomatic" were found in predominantly minority voting districts in many states and optical scanners and other more modern technologies were dispersed within areas that are more affluent." - However, as reported in other articles I have posted on this site, the unpleasant fact is that optical scan technology is not inherently superior to punch cards. My fear is that if we make punch cards the scapegoat, and simply replace punch cards with optical scan ballots, we will have wasted this opportunity for reform and will be no better off than we are now.
"Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he is drafting a bill with the aid of Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, that would solidify elections rules he said are too riddled with holes. Conyers said his legislation would implement a system of checks and balances to benefit the individual voter, including an allowance for a voter to check his vote before casting his ballot, protections against so-called over- and under-votes; the creation records of votes cast by precinct that can be audited, the improvement of the accessibility of polling places to disabled voters, and the design of ballots that are understandable to voters and elections workers alike."
"House Democrat Carrie Meek of Florida, who is African-American, brought the committee back to her home state when she said that what happened to blacks in her state on November 7 was nothing short of "outrageous." She said she did not want to see legislation; she wanted action." - But what happended to blacks on November 7 is the same thing that happened to blacks the previous two elections, but since Clinton/Gore won those elections, I guess it wasn't "outrageous" then.
03/07/2001 "Ashcroft announces initiative to improve voter access" (CNN)
"Citing "recent voting irregularities," Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a new federal initiative Wednesday to guarantee equal access to the polls and cut down on potential electoral abuses. At a news conference, Ashcroft said the Justice Department would beef up monitoring of local and state elections, hire more lawyers to specialize in voting cases and appoint a senior counsel for voting rights who would work with states on the issue."
03/06/2001 "Report: Web voting at home, work not the answer" (AP) (CNN)
"Voters should not be allowed to cast ballots through the Internet from home or the workplace because significant questions about security, reliability and social effects remain, says a report commissioned by the National Science Foundation. The report urged elections officials to resist pressures to embrace "remote Internet voting systems" as the technological cure for the problems that afflicted the presidential election in November, such as faulty voting systems and inconsistent standards for ballot counting."
""E-voting requires a much greater level of security than e-commerce -- it's not like buying a book over the Internet," said C.D. Mote Jr., chairman of the committee that studied the issue and president of the University of Maryland. "Remote Internet voting technology will not be able to meet this standard for years to come." The report also cautioned that Internet-based voting registration poses "a risk to the integrity of the voting process and should not be implemented in the foreseeable future.""
03/07/2001 "Jeb Bush Outlines Budget Plans" (AP) (Los Angeles Times)
"Election reform only received a brief mention in Gov. Jeb Bush's annual State of the State speech to Florida lawmakers, dismaying Democrats. Instead, Tuesday's talk emphasized education, elderly care and tax cuts. Election reform, an issue Bush and lawmakers have billed as a top priority in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election, came up only at the end. "I ask that we dedicate the resources that are needed to modernize our voting systems and move forward with confidence into the next election cycle," Bush said. "The people of this state want us to do this. We need to pause and get it done right." Democrats were upset the governor didn't put more priority on the election issue."
03/06/2001 "Jeb Bush Urges End to Punch-Card Ballot" (Los Angeles Times)
"Gov. Jeb Bush urged state lawmakers in Tallahassee to set up uniform ballots and help counties upgrade voting machines in the wake of glitches in the state's election process that had left the U.S. presidency in the balance for more than a month. The governor, the younger brother of President Bush, recommended eliminating punch-card ballots and establishing a uniform system for recounts, as well as standardizing procedures for absentee and overseas ballots and providing provisional ballots for voters whose eligibility is in question."
03/06/2001 "Toward Chad-Free Elections" (New York Times)
"The Florida task force's call for a uniform statewide system is particularly bold when compared with what other states are prepared to do. The statewide approach is in keeping with last December's decision by the United States Supreme Court that a lack of uniform standards for a manual recount offended the Constitution's Equal Protection clause. To ensure that citizens' votes are not weighed differently according to their precincts' voting technology, the task force recommended that the entire state adopt the optical-scanner system already used in about half the counties."
"Other states are being distressingly timid about addressing their electoral deficiencies. Last month a task force of the National Association of Secretaries of State adopted a set of guidelines that failed to condemn the continued use of the punch-card systems."
03/05/2001 "Modernizing New York Elections" (New York Times)
"It is distressing that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, once highly critical about the obstacles New Yorkers face in order to vote, has begun to sound strangely resigned to the dismal status quo. In a very uncharacteristic comment recently, Mr. Giuliani said he was no longer certain about the wisdom of appointing a city panel to study the Board of Elections, as he had promised, and added that "I really don't have much hope that they are going to change the system." That will not do."
03/05/2001 "Fraud and disenfranchisements" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"The Missouri Legislature should give top priority to election reform proposals by Secretary of State Matt Blunt. One of Mr. Blunt's more interesting proposals would allow people to vote in the two weeks before election day, a plan that might avoid the confusion that occurred in St. Louis on election day."
03/04/2001 "Election Reform, Meet Politics" (New York Times)
"The intractable nature of these political positions - and the incredible minutiae involved - has some elections experts already predicting that election reform will go the way of redistricting and the census. Those issues have an enormous effect on the voting franchise, but they are of far more interest to politicians, party hacks and numbers freaks than to the public." - Let's hope she's wrong. Better yet, let's work to make it otherwise!
03/03/2001 "Mountain of election ideas as nation seeks to avoid another Florida" (AP) (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Local election officials, though glad to get money for improvements long neglected in state and county budgets, are cautious about federal strings tied to the money. They don't want to give Washington too much say. "The U.S. Constitution gives states the rights to do elections," says Doug Lewis, who runs the Election Center, a Houston-based organization of election officials. "In practice, it always went to locals." The National Association of Secretaries of State pointedly shied away from endorsing any uniform national standard last month when it endorsed post-election recommendations."
03/03/2001 "Kissing the Chad Goodbye" (editorial) (Los Angeles Times)
"In their zeal to avoid another vote-counting fiasco like Florida's last year, some federal reformers are talking about adopting a uniform national voting system. This federalization would not only usurp a long-held state power, it would not even guarantee an accurate vote count. The U.S. Constitution gives the states responsibility for conducting elections, and that's where it should stay."
"The Florida Count: What went wrong..." (Miami Herald)
"The Herald is reviewing about 60,000 so-called undervotes in all 67 Florida counties, looking into voting irregularities to help explain what went wrong on Election Day." This is a continuing series of articles examining the presidential election controversy in Florida.