Today’s output from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute’s state-of-the-art HEMMED (High-Energy Meta Mojo Elucidation Detector) machine is a hanging chad … to remind us of the 2000 election … how far we have come in election reform but how far we still need to go.

Democracy is hard…voting doesn’t have to be

Before everyone forgets about the 2010 midterm elections (as if!), I wanted to take some time to talk about what we need to do to fix the elections.

First, there are a few meanings for the word “fix”. From the definition of “fixed” (adjective):
5. mended, sorted, repaired, put right, in working order (The vehicle was fixed).
6. (Informal) rigged, framed, put-up, manipulated, packed (Some races are fixed).

A lot has been written about the role of money in elections and, in particular, the DISCLOSE Act now pending before the lame duck session of Congress. While requiring those entities who want to buy a congresscritter or two to disclose who they are would go a long way towards making our elections more fair, I want to concentrate on the act of voting itself.

Because if more of us (We The People) vote, the less influence the corporate money has on our elections. It is when less than half of us choose our government that astro turf organizations and shadow groups can kill our democracy.

And make no mistake: the goal of the tea party GOP is to rig the elections because they know they cannot win when the American people vote. And that small d democracy in America (the kind they are desperate to crush) dies when we stop having fair elections.

2000 Election and HAVA

As painful as this may be, think back to the 2000 election. After the ghastly sight of election officials holding punch cards up to the light to determine voter intent and the even more ghastly sight of our Supreme Court deciding that “counting every vote” was not good for America, Congress created the Help America Vote Act of 2002. HAVA‘s purpose was to update voting machines and other procedures to help insure that elections would be conducted in such a way that every vote is counted and that we have fair Federal elections.

The act provided money to replace old fashioned punched card voting machines and lever machines with optical scanners and electronic voting devices.

While HAVA improved the machinery of voting it did not solve one of the biggest problems: getting people to the polls to cast their votes.

Many states allow for absentee ballots that can be mailed in. Most of those states do not require that you have a specific reason to vote absentee. You simply need to request that ballot. Many states now allow early voting where you go to a place, quite often the city clerk’s office, and vote when it is convenient for you.

Why is this important? What struck me as I was doing phone banking for this past election is this:
1. People have jobs and families
2. People wth jobs and families have a hard time finding time to vote
3. People with jobs and families who have a hard time finding time to vote are more likely to be people like me
4. People like me vote for Democrats

The Oregon Experience

In Oregon, the state uses mail-in ballots. Other states allow some vote by mail and, as I mentioned, many states allow no-excuse voting by mail but Oregon requires it for the entire election. Every election.

Here is how it works (from votesmart.org):

OREGON VOTE-BY-MAIL
What is Vote-by-Mail?
Instead of using traditional polling places where voters go to cast ballots on election day, a ballot is mailed to each registered voter. The ballot is then filled out and returned to the County Election Office to be counted.

Who can Vote-by-Mail?
Vote-by-Mail is available to all registered voters.

When are the ballots mailed to the voters?
In Oregon, ballots will be mailed out any time between the 14th and 18th days before an election.

I will be out of town when ballots are mailed. How do I get a ballot?
Absentee ballots are available 45 days before the election. You may request an early absentee ballot from your County Election official either in person, by mail, or by fax. Pieces of verification information you will need to include are: your name, residence address and, if different, your mailing address.

How do I vote?
If your registration is current, your ballot packet will automatically be mailed to you. Inside the packet you will find the ballot, a secrecy envelope and a return envelope. Once you vote the ballot, place it in the secrecy envelope and seal it in the pre-addressed return envelope. Be sure to sign the return envelope on the appropriate line. After verifying that the return envelope has your name and current address, simply return the ballot either by mail or at a designated drop site.

When must the voted ballot be returned?
The ballot may be mailed or hand-delivered to the County Election Office. In order to be counted, the ballot must be received by the County Election Office no later than 8:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Can I vote early?
Early voting is available to all registered voters. Voters can choose to receive their ballots 45 days before an election and vote early by following the absentee ballot process. All other voters are permitted to vote as soon as their ballots are received (14-18 days before election).

How can I verify my vote was received?
You may call your county election office and ask if they received your ballot. A record is kept showing each voter whose ballot has been returned.

Can I get time off to vote?
Oregon state law does not require employers to grant time off to vote for employees.

Are there polling places available?
If you need a private, secure place to mark you ballot, contact your county election office. Every county provides privacy booths where you can mark your ballot. Usually, you can drop off your completed ballot at the same location.

Vote By Mail works and works well

Bill Bradbury, the Oregon Secretary of State, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in December 2004 explaining how the process works and what the results were Vote-by-Mail: The Real Winner Is Democracy:

While many states were embroiled in fights over touch-screen voting machines and provisional ballots and struggling to find enough people to staff polling places, Oregon once again quietly conducted a presidential election with record turnout and little strife.

Oregon’s vote-by-mail system has proved reliable and popular. Critics said that vote-by-mail is prone to fraud. But signature verification of every voter before a ballot is counted is an effective safeguard against fraud.

Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate contended that vote-by-mail would suppress voter participation. But record numbers of Oregonians registered to vote, and almost 87 percent of them cast ballots.

Oregonians receive ballots in the mail two weeks before Election Day, allowing ample time to research issues, review and mark the ballot, and eliminating the need to stand in long lines waiting for a polling booth. Voters are busy, but voting fits their schedule if they may return their ballot at any time during those two weeks and up until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Voters may mail their ballots or save a stamp by dropping them off in person at any of the official sites located throughout the state. The earlier that ballots come in, the more time election officials have to check for any problems and to process the ballots to ensure that every vote counts. With a large number of ballots received before Election Day, the first tally released on election night contained nearly 50 percent of the vote and proved to be an accurate predictor of the final numbers.

From Bradbury’s piece, here are some more direct benefits:
1. Voter-friendly resulting in high turnout
2. Voting fits voters schedules
3. Automatic paper trail
4. Elimination of polling places saves money (cost of vote by mail is 30% less than the cost of a polling place election)
5. Centralized supervision and control of ballot processing to insure uniformity and strict compliance

He concludes:

The answer to the nation’s voting anxiety is not a national standard that imposes new rules on an outdated system of polling places. The answer is a low-tech, low-cost, reliable and convenient system that makes it easier to vote and easier to count votes. The answer is vote-by-mail.

One important thing to note about Voting By Mail is that we have a model that we can roll out to the other 49 states. We can learn from Oregon’s mistakes and their successes.

National Vote by Mail is the best and most sensible solution to fixing our elections

Which brings me to the other meaning of fixed. Since voting rules are controlled by the states (within certain Federal guidelines — which have to be litigated), there is a strong likelihood that many of the states who turned from Blue to Red in 2010 will work to make voting more difficult.

In Wisconsin, where we currently have same day registration and the rules for identification are not an impossible hurdle, rumors are that one of the first things on the GOP’s legislative agenda is to remove same day registration and to require a state ID card in order to vote. Because for the tea party republicans, more people voting is bad for them and good for Democrats.

My recommendation is to push back and push back hard.

The tea party “wave” of 2010 was less a wave than an undertow…the direct result of the real wave that occurred in 2008. If enough of us require our legislators, of both parties, to keep our elections honest and open, they will have to listen.

.

Happy Thursday to everyone and fist bumps!

The BPI Campus Progressive agenda:
1. People matter more than profits.
2. The earth is our home, not our trash can.
3. We need good government for both #1 and #2.

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