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Take my ballot away out of my cold, dead hands
October 23, 2004 2:01 PM   Subscribe

160 observers couldn't monitor the election in Bexar County Texas, let alone the whole US. -- National Journal's Charlie Cook. A hundred and sixty, though, isn't the half of it. [plenty more inside]
posted by dhartung (13 comments total)

 
After a request by US lawmakers (rebuffed earlier in making an informal request to the UN), the US State Department formally
requested
the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send election observers, under a longstanding commitment by members to monitor each other's elections, who have arrived and fanned out to plan their activities before, during, and after the election. Necessarily limited in their mandate to presenting a report to the next President, whomever that will be, Cook's point stands. They won't be everywhere by a long shot; there are tens, probably hundreds, of thousands of individual polling places. But OSCE has a well-developed education program for election observers.

International election monitors raise eyebrows among some and hackles among others. Ollie North calls them an "embarassment", at some level a reasonable assessment, and the National Review has called them a necessary shaming -- but you have to consider that within the Republican context of vote fraud as the primary threat. Many on the left think otherwise -- indeed, the Global Exchange activist group has invited independent "democracy experts" to observe our elections, even though their standing will be minimal.

Following Florida, the parties both realized that if the 2004 election were at all close -- they would need to gird for another Bush v. Gore. Polling places will be rife, in some districts, with election monitors. The Democrats have an Election Protection legal team who will be standing by in key cities and states to handle legal challenges. (They learned in 2000 -- the cause of a key strategic delay -- that Tallahassee law firms were reluctant to get involved.) This one isn't headed by statesman Christopher, but by former prosecutors such as Eric Holder. For more general involvement of the rank and file, the Dems established a Voting Rights Institute which will organize election monitors (including a goal of mobilizing 10,000 lawyers). And Democrats will be watching closely for familiar disenfranchisement maneuvers (don't they get it? we know all these plays, from the big civil rights bowl).

The GOP has tried a few alternative tacks, such as proposing bipartisan monitors (on top of any security precautions in the event of terrorism or other threatened disruptions). But so far, they seem to be concentrating on age-old voter suppression tactics, but in some cases I'll grant them the benefit of the doubt.

Finally, there will be non-partisan groups independent of any party or political campaign fielding their own monitors. Some of the best known are Vote Watch, an affiliate of Common Cause; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights; and Election Protection 2004, an affiliate of People for the American Way. (Please note that while a common criticism of "non-partisan" groups is that they lean one way or another, it is a formal legal term which denotes separate funding sources and management. They cannot coordinate with parties or campaigns. They are not prohibited from favoring one side or the other. Also, despite the similar name, Election Protection 2004 is not connected to the DNC Election Protection efforts.) Although certification deadlines have closed in some states (such as Ohio), these groups still need volunteers.

Vote Watch 2004 is keeping track of both monitoring efforts and suppression and fraud reports. There's also the DailyKos Voter Registration Fraud Clearinghouse (on their wiki).
posted by dhartung at 2:13 PM on October 23, 2004


Christ that's a lot of links. It's like a wiki.
posted by smackfu at 2:34 PM on October 23, 2004


Good post, dhartung. Very interesting.

While perhaps it is easy to view election observers as an embarrassing reaction to the problems of the last presidential election, I think it would be better to welcome international help in spotting problems. The observers aren't there to tell the Americans how they should run things, but to tell the Americans if the rules and laws they themselves have created are followed.

As an outsider, what strikes me the most about the U.S. election system is its complexity (at least in some states). This, I think, is a significant hurdle, especially for first-time voters, and part of the answer to the comparatively very low voter turnout in the U.S.A.

Americans are rightfully proud of their democratic process, because it was the first true modern democracy, but this doesn't mean it cannot evolve as problems appear and new solutions become available. In any country, the election system is, however, probably the most difficult thing to change, because the incumbent politicians usually prefer the system that got them their representation, and don't want to change it and risk that suddenly the opposition gains the advantage or that they lose their seat themselves. One thing, I believe, is worthy of consideration is changing the vote to a majoritarian system, that is a system where you need more than 50% of the votes to win the election. Many different majoritarian systems are used all over the world all with different advantages and disadvantages, but it is still, arguably, a step forward from the plurality system, because it lessens vote wast and allows third party candidates a much better chance.
posted by cx at 2:59 PM on October 23, 2004


if cooperating with allies and building coalitions is "ceding america's defense to foreigners", then i just can't wait to hear what opinion lil' adolph's anti-american party of faux family values holds regarding foreign election observers!
posted by quonsar at 3:39 PM on October 23, 2004


'Get your own blog fuckwit!'

Good stuff Dan. Not that many would notice but there have been some major elections taking place this year including India (biggest democracy), Indonesia (first ever directly elected President and largest muslim population democracy), Sri Lanka (yet again) & Malaysia (another Muslim democracy - funny how they never get a mention). If the US can't sort it out this time...

________

I'll take issue with cx's statement that the US ...was the first true modern democracy... and put up New Zealand instead based on the fact that it had universal sufferage from 1893 altho' Finland & Norway have some claim due to 'certain irregularities' with Maori votes in NZ.

Altho' some US states (starting in NJ in for women 'with property' and following with Wyoming, Utah et al) allowed women the vote, it wasn't until 1965 that the US had true universal sufferage. [ref]
posted by i_cola at 3:41 PM on October 23, 2004


i_cola: Granted. Still, democracy has never implied that every subject to its laws has the right to vote. This is never so.
posted by cx at 3:54 PM on October 23, 2004


Dan - what graces Metafilter with your presence ? (also thanks, re : Woolsey ) :

On preview , that looks like a very scrupulous attempt to parse the 2004 election voting controversies, one which seems to transcend partisanship ( a rather difficult bar to clear these days ). I don't have a clue who you are voting for in this upcoming election, nor do I care to know - and that's the key point : there is a (relative) fact of the matter, and many countries outside the US have transcended these sorts of puerile voting controversies and instituted truly transparent voting mechanisms which now put their US analogues to shame .

Thank you.
posted by troutfishing at 7:55 PM on October 23, 2004


Oh, and - this post deserves X 10 the comments it's had, at least.
posted by troutfishing at 7:57 PM on October 23, 2004


it will take me awhile to get through all these links, but just wanted to pipe up with a *thanks* for a great post.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:03 PM on October 23, 2004


Mad props yo, as the kids say. Man, what a dense post.
posted by mwhybark at 8:37 PM on October 23, 2004


Back when I lived in Texas, I heard joking references to "Bexar County, where all the dead people vote in alphabetical order as many times as necessary."
posted by alumshubby at 10:26 AM on October 24, 2004


Wonderful job as always, Dan.
posted by Vidiot at 11:38 AM on October 24, 2004


Thanks, Dan.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 PM on October 24, 2004


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