Political Science 215
University of Phoenix
Mr. Shabbir Karim
October 14, 2002
Looking back over the past couple of years, American voters have been confronted with the problems of the 2000 election as well as the current problem with the recent Democratic primary election in the state of Florida, where Janet Reno conceded the Democratic nomination for governor. Exploring the topic of voting errors and miscounts brought up several questions. Has this ever been an issue in the past? Are their any possible solutions on the prospect? Can technology move us ahead or will it cause us even more problems in the future? People tend to believe that their votes do not count but as we have seen in the last two elections they do. This is a huge issue and it needs to be addressed now or voter turnout may continue to decrease in a time when literacy in America is at its peak. A recent statement by Janet Reno supports this. During her concession speech she said, "But as a private citizen, I want to do everything in my power to see that the people of the state of Florida have the right to vote, the right to vote in a timely way, the right to vote for the candidate of their choice, the right to have their vote counted in an accurate and timely fashion." I believe in this with all my heart, because it is at the foundation of our democracy, it is what we hold dear, and we cannot take it for granted (renoforflorida.com)." Perhaps this was just a string of bad luck in the past few years or maybe the tight election results caused the public to take a second look at how voting is conducted. Regardless, the people and the government need to ensure that the integrity of the entire process is not compromised. Whatever the case may be, solutions are needed to guarantee that each American can go to the polls knowing that their vote will count and be counted correctly.
September 10, 2002 held the spotlight pointed directly at the state of Florida. With millions of dollars worth of new, multi-lingual, computerized voting machines; this was the day of the gubernatorial primary election in many states but the most closely watched was Florida. It is quite likely that most people do not need to ask why because it is all too clear in their memories if they think back, two years prior.
Whether it was to be blamed on flaws in technology, ignorance of voters, or scandal; the drawn-out debates of the processes used during the Presidential election of 2000 – in Florida – kept the people of the United States in the dark. For weeks, it was unclear as to who would be their incumbent President. The Sunshine State was the soup bone at the bottom of a boiling cauldron of controversy during the 2000 presidential elections because of a few heavily urban areas with voters who identify themselves as Democrats could not properly fill out the ballot for their candidate and subsequently accused that their votes were uncounted due to a Republican conspiracy (McCollum, 2002).
Two years later and Florida had another voting mess on their hands. This time it was not a presidential election, but a same-party (Democratic) primary race for governor. Once again, however, it was the voters who were blamed after complaining that the new voting machines malfunctioned. The phrase "history has a way of repeating itself" could possibly not have had any clearer meaning than these two incidents, yet one stayed hidden that might make someone gasp.
There are several ways that are being looked at to solve the problems associated with elections. Laws on the books are constantly changing as different states try to get a handle on the problems and find solutions, and the Federal Government has stepped into the mix with its own ideas and rules. On October 4th, 2002, Election Reform legislation was announced by a dual-house committee. The resolution was introduced on October 7th in both the House and the Senate and if passed, will go on to President Bush who has pledged to sign it. The original House bill (HR 3295) passed through the House on December 21, 2001. It will be interesting to see the new joint legislation next week. The legislation enacts several immediate effects.
Washington State is also enacting laws and changing regulations to create election reform. Washington State Secretary of State Sam Reed has posted a list of Election Reforms on his website. Here is a list of reforms that are in process:
In a further effort to combat this problem, Senator Charles Schumer of New York has plans to introduce a bill in January to fund a comprehensive study by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The bill being put forth will allow a study of the reliability of alternate methods of voting, including Internet voting, voting by mail, computerized voting machines, and expanded voting hours and accessibility.
Florida passed the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001 (FERA, Senate Bill sb1118er) in 2001, making the following major changes to the law in the state of Florida:
One of the major changes that is making the future of elections different from the past is the level of new technology that is being developed and utilized. There are three main companies that are developing and selling election technology are Election Systems and Software, Sequoia Voting Systems and Voting Technologies International. Each of these companies is trying to sell their equipment to the state and county government agencies that control the elections, and each has had success in various parts of the country. Election Systems and Software sold the machines that caused the confusion in the 2002 Florida Primary, and the company put out the word that their equipment had worked flawlessly. The same company sold similar equipment to Snohomish County, who used it in several precincts successfully. The new laws will make the competition of these companies the source of much needed innovation in the technology and distribution methods.
Regardless of the voting method, poll workers need the proper training and support to be able to make the entire process worthwhile. Several articles came out after the 2002 Florida Primary claiming that most of the problems that came up were the result of the poll worker’s not having the training they needed to be able to use the new equipment, or that the workers themselves were unsuited for the process in general. Poll workers have traditionally been senior volunteers, and most of the people in this demographic group do not have the needed experience with computers, or according to the article don’t have the necessary discipline to handle all the new procedures and requirements that are being forced on them by the election reform laws being passed. The new federal legislation has provisions and standards for training poll workers, as do many of the state and local regulations that are being drawn up. Several counties use federal workers to fill in, and those counties using the new computerized equipment actually have the county IT department on call to travel to the poll stations to set up the stations and help deal with problems.
Few people realized prior to this election just how error-prone elements of our voting process really were. News reports have guessed that perhaps as many as 3 million out of more than 100 million votes were thrown out – an error rate of 3%. With a presidential race so close and with Congress nearly evenly divided, an error rate that high is just unacceptable. The question on everyone’s mind is; what can we do to improve and prevent future recounts and the alarming amount of errors in our voting process?
According to a 1998 survey of all 3,140 U.S. counties, here is what was used to cast a vote:
Due to the fiascos in Florida, attention has been turned to PC-based voting, both at the polling places and at home over the Internet. Advantages for PC voting include no chads, easy confirmation of voting choices, no over-votes, and nearly-instant recounts. After this year’s election, these advantages seem pretty substantial and elections officials have recently indicated that they are now especially interested.
Election reform is not just a problem in the United States. With democratic principles being used in more and more countries, international companies are coming together in a move to ensure that countries using elections have faster and error-free ballot counting systems. National Semiconductor Corp. and Unisys Corp. have announced that they will team up and provide 52,000 "state-of-the-art" electronic voting machines for Brazil's national elections this fall. With the new machines they hope to see dramatic and timely results.
There are many practical solutions to solving this problem, from moving to online voting, to rebuilding and making a more error free computer system, but as a group we came up with a few ideas of our own. These ideas – as outlandish as they may seem – just may be what the government is looking for to solve the current voting issues. It was pointed out that the people running the voting machines where less than stellar on the technology front and that maybe just bringing in a group more technology savvy would correct the problem. We also discussed the possibility of cutting the workday short so people could help work the polls and not be penalized at work. The idea that made the most sense to our group was the idea of setting up the working at voting station much like our Jury duty is set up. Each individual would be mailed a card with his or her date on it and they would be paid on that day to work for the government. These ideas are to address the issue of how can we find more qualified people to run our polling stations and reduce the margin of error.
As a group, we spent some time discussing and debating new ideas that might help the elections succeed. One idea was to continue to update the election systems and eventually have the entire voting system move toward becoming electronic, perhaps even on the Internet. But not all citizens have the Internet readily available, and many do not trust the networks for business transactions. Asking them to trust Internet Voting might be even more difficult. Another alternative would be to have the American public run the voting booths in a way similar to how citizens are selected randomly for jury duty. The importance of having poll workers trained and prepared might make this solution unacceptable. We need people handling the voting systems to be experienced. Another solution could be to hire permanent employees and train them properly to ensure the voting process runs smoothly every Election Day. But few precincts could afford to have staff on the payroll that only work a few days per year. Whatever the outcome, it is almost certain that technology will play an intricate part in the voting process. With our society increasingly utilizing the advances made in technology, having the voting system go electronic seems merely a small step away.
In our research on the subject, we discovered that the 2000 Presidential election and the 2002 governor race were not the first voting disasters in Florida. The 1876 Presidential election between Rutherford Hayes and Samuel Tilden also pointed to the Sunshine state. There was a significant dispute in the electoral votes of the 1876 presidential election. For the first time since before the Civil War, the Democrats had polled a majority of the popular vote (britannica.com). Tilden (D-New York) had 184 of the 185 preliminary votes needed to win, while Hayes (R-Ohio) had only 165. Three states were in question: Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida. There were 19 votes among these three states. Just as Hayes was about to concede, a party leader identified that if Hayes won all of the remaining electoral votes, he would defeat Tilden 185-184. Both parties claimed victories in all three states but Congress was responsible for resolving the conflict.
The deadlock continued more than six weeks with actual threats including civil war. Finally, on January 29, 1877, Congress created an Electoral Commission to resolve the disputes. The Commission would include five members from the House, five from the Senate, and four members from the Supreme Court. These members would be divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans and the four court members would name a fifth member but implicitly it was to be the independent from Illinois, David Davis. He declined the position.
The four justices then chose their colleague, Republican Joseph Bradley. Bradley leaned toward Tilden’s convincing claim to the Florida vote, the Commission’s first action, but Republican pressures swayed him and the Florida tally went to Hayes (britannica.com). Accordingly, all votes followed Florida. It was not until March 1 that the final electoral vote was counted and it was declared Rutherford Hayes elected and he was sworn in the following day.
Throughout this ordeal, allies of Hayes engaged in covert compromise with the Southern Democrats, winning votes for Hayes with the promise of having federal troops removed from the former Confederate States. By the end of April, 1877, Hayes fulfilled his promise, hence ending Reconstruction and the political, social, and financial problems encountered with the readmission of the 11 Confederate states to the Union. Additionally, even with the South becoming more and more dominantly Democratic; Hayes appointed several Southerners to federal positions. While gaining the trust of the Democrats, he was creating distance with his own party.
There seems to be more distance between the two parties after the 2000 election disaster than there was 125 years ago. As a nation, people for the most part do not condone bribery or secret promises to attain votes but the results that Hayes achieved, whilst including members from both parties, could remain something to be desired today, with President Bush in office. There is no reason that everyone, or even better stated – One Nation – cannot work together instead of constantly against one another.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Electoral Commission. Retrieved October 6, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=32826
McCollum, S. (2002, September 11). Florida’s election scandal redux: the computerized voting didn’t help. World Tech Tribune. Retrieved September 24, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.worldtechtribune.com/worldtechtribune/asparticles/buzz/bz09112002.asp
Reno, J. (2002, September). Janet Reno’s concession speech. Retrieved September 28, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://renoforflorida.com/
House Bill 3295, The Help America Vote act of 2001. Reviewed from http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.R.3295:
Election Systems and Software website. http://www.essvote.com/
Sequoia Voting Systems. http://www.sequoiavote.com/index.htm
Snohomish County Successfully Concludes the First Countywide Touch Screen Election in the Pacific Northwest. Press Release from Sequoia Voting Systems, retrieved on October 7th, 2002 from http://www.sequoiavote.com/html_files/news_updates.htm
Voting Technologies International. http://www.vtintl.com/