Mock the Vote

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Common Dreams

Mock the Vote

Some people just have no respect for the law these days. Unfortunately, they happen to be in charge of our elections.

Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and New Mexico's Democratic Governor Bill Richardson are two elected officials who seem to care little for the laws governing elections or the people who put them in office. Both Ohio and New Mexico had more than their share of problems on Election Day--problems with electronic voting machines, problems with provisional and absentee ballots and, in Ohio, numerous allegations of racially-based voter suppression and intimidation. That's why Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb has demanded a recount in these two states.

You'd think that public servants--responsible for administering elections and sworn to uphold the law--would want to get to the bottom of these allegations.

You'd be wrong.

While much attention has been focused on Mr. Blackwell, as the Katharine Harris clone of 2004, Governor Richardson has also done his utmost to delay and obstruct the initiation of a duly requested recount in New Mexico. The fate of the New Mexico recount is now up in the air after that state's Supreme Court declined to force Richardson and the state canvassing board to follow New Mexico law and get the recount started immediately.

Though the recount is nearly completed in Ohio, it has been fraught with as much confusion and inconsistency as the actual underlying vote.

Cobb and Libertarian Michael Badnarik formally requested the Ohio recount on November 19. At that time, about half of Ohio's 88 counties had already completed their initial canvass of the vote. Blackwell and the county election directors refused to start the recount. Cobb and Badnarik sued in federal court to expedite the recount process so it could be completed prior to the meeting of the presidential electors. Although the judge ruled that Cobb and Badnarik had a right to a recount, he found that these two candidates did not have a right to have one conducted before the presidential electors cast their votes because they didn't have a reasonable possibility of winning the election. The judge left the door wide open for one candidate to walk through and request that the recount begin immediately. That never happened.

Therefore, the Ohio recount began on December 13, the very same day that the presidential electors convened under a cloud of suspicion. It took the partisan Secretary of State of Ohio six weeks to start the recount--the same amount of time it took Washington State to complete one statewide recount and start a second.

Operating under ambiguous state law and without uniform standards for the conduct of a recount, Ohio's county-by-county examination of the presidential voting process has been a balkanized mess. Although counties are supposed to randomly test precincts for examination, official recount witnesses have shown up for the recount to find that the precincts have already been selected in a process that has been anything but random.

That's like being asked to play poker with strangers but finding that when you get to the table, you've already been dealt your hand.

In addition, the Ohio recount has been marred by a lack of security for ballots and voting machines, thousands of ballots which won't be examined and uncooperative election officials who have made ridiculous and illegal demands of certified recount observers. (A list of reports filed by official Green Party recount witnesses can be found at www.votecobb.org).

It's time to break the cycle of questionable elections and meaningless recounts. Our country needs to establish uniform standards for both processes and enact a constitutional right to vote so that challenges to flawed elections can be addressed meaningfully by the courts. Also, voting machines which use secret software and don't produce a paper receipt for the voter have no place in what should be an accountable and transparent process. And it is crucial that elections be administered by independent, non-partisan officials who are accountable to the voters and not to party bosses.

Instead of obstructing the recounts, our elected officials should welcome them. They provide us with an opportunity to review and improve the most essential component of our democracy: the right to vote and the right to have our votes counted.

Blair Bobier

Blair Bobier is an attorney and author who has spent several decades advocating for democracy in the U.S.  You can follow him on Twitter @BlairBobier.

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