Hurricane Ike has made it clear that paper ballots must be made available for all voters in Ohio and throughout the nation on November 4.
Ike has blown all the way up into the Great Lakes region with devastating impact. Power has been knocked out and airports shut by gale-force winds up to 78 miles per hour. Days later, hundreds of thousands of Midwesterners remain blacked out, and casualties still mount. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland has declared a state of emergency, with up to 2 million Ohioans still without power.
A repeat performance on election day could change the course of US history if paper ballots are not universally ready.
A bitter battle now rages here in the Buckeye State over whether the Secretary of State's office should provide as many paper ballots as voters might want.
Under current arrangements, half or more of Ohio's may show up to the polls and be forced to cast their ballots on electronic touch-screen machines. Of 5.4 million ballots cast in 2004, George W. Bush's official margin of victory was less than 119,000 votes.
Touchscreen machines of the type deployed through Ohio are prone to failure, even without a storm. Diebold has admitted that its software regularly drops votes and cannot be guaranteed to provide a reliable count. That they can be easily rigged has been confirmed by the Carter-Baker Commission, the Brennan Center, the Government Accountability Office, Princeton University, the Conyers Committee, Ohio's officially-sponsored Everest Study and others.
Voter rights organizations throughout Ohio have called on Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to decertify all electronic voting machines and rely strictly on paper ballots. As of now, Brunner plans to allow the machines to be deployed, even though their software is considered "proprietary," and no reliable recount can be done with them.
A Democrat, Brunner has publicly stated a preference for making paper ballots available to any voter who wants one. But the Republican Party, which controls the state legislature, and the conservative Columbus Dispatch editorial board, claim this would cost too much money. So Brunner has caved to pressure and currently plans to provide enough paper ballots for just 25% of the electorate.
Ike makes it clear this could be catastrophic. A similar storm on election day could knock out virtually all the state's touchscreen machines. Without sufficient paper ballots, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans would lose their right to vote. Given Ohio's pivotal role, the entire presidential election could be once again tainted.
Brunner needs to make good on her repeated pledges to administer a full and fair election. The only way to do this is with universal access to paper ballots, which she must now guarantee.
The same must be done throughout the United States. A nation spending its blood and treasure to allegedly bring democracy to Iraq and the world can certainly afford to spend whatever it takes to make sure all Americans can vote on election day, and get their votes reliably counted.