Friday, January 07, 2005

The Election's Last Gasp

The New York Times
January 7, 2005

The Election's Last Gasp

Congressional Democrats staged an unusual protest yesterday when Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio objected to certifying the results of the 2004 election. Supporters of the defeated (and absent) John Kerry then spent two hours making speeches, most of which began with the declaration that George W. Bush had definitely won.

It could not have been a totally satisfactory afternoon for the president's angry supporters or for the conspiracy theorists who still believe that Bush operatives managed to steal Ohio's electoral votes. The final count showed that Mr. Bush had won the state by more than 100,000 votes, and the Democrats who rose to complain about the process prefaced their remarks by saying things like "the irregularities in Ohio would not have overturned the results."

But the Democrats were right to call attention to the defects in the system. Our elections need to do more than produce a legitimate winner. They need to do it through a process that seems fair to all reasonable citizens. On that count, the United States has a way to go.

Electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper trail that can be rechecked in contested elections create worries that a contest could be stolen by computer hacking or by tampering with the machine software. Those concerns seem to have been unfounded in the last election, but it did not require paranoia to think that such things might happen.

It is not illegal to require voters to stand in lines so long that they wind up being forced to give up or to skip work, but it is unfair - particularly when such delays happen mainly in poor and minority neighborhoods. It is not illegal to leave election operations in the hands of a partisan elected official, but such a situation will make the system seem biased to voters from the other side of the political divide. That is what happened in Ohio, where the secretary of state was also a co-chairman of the Bush campaign in that state.

Democrats were obviously most vocal about the sloppy and highhanded way the election was run in many places, but the Republicans should also object. Mr. Bush won the most votes, but he has been deprived of universal confidence in the way they were counted.