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Do Americans Get the Election System We Deserve? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Mary Howe Kiraly   
July 30, 2006
This article appeared on It is reposted here with permission of the author.
How Should We Respond to Concerns About Election Integrity? The simple answer to this question is: By becoming involved in securing and verifying our election system. It is, of course, more complicated than that. We have varying degrees of understanding of how the election system works and we have limited hours to devote to this effort. Most activists agree that Congressman Rush Holt's bill in the House of Representatives, HR550, would provide an important first step. It would mandate (1) that election systems provide a paper record of our ballots and (2) that an automatic audit, of a certain percentage of precincts in each county, be preformed to verify that the paper count and the machine count agree. Each of us can contact our member of Congress to insist that HR 550 be moved out of the House Administration Committee, where it has languished, for a floor vote. If the 2006 mid-term election results in a number of high profile, disputed outcomes, count on national attention to focus on this legislation.

One of the complicating factors in this national effort is the constitutional stipulation that states administer elections. So we will always have a variety of voting systems in use. On the other hand, because election integrity is a local issue, we can each affect the security of the election system in our state. The Secretary of State, in each state, is the politician responsible for elections. We all recall the role that Katherine Harris played in Florida in 2000, and that Ken Blackwell played in Ohio in 2004- and will again this year. Your Secretary of State is responsible to you, and all citizens of your state, for managing a secure, accurate, verifiable, and open election process. Demand that she/he does.

Your state also has a state agency, staffed by civil servants, led by an appointed Board, that overseas the details of election administration. Most states have sunshine laws that require that the regularly scheduled meetings of the State Board of Elections, and each county Board, be open to the public. You, along with your neighbors and friends, can attend these meetings to demonstrate your interest and oversight of election processes. If there are problems arising around the administration of an election, it will become apparent at your local BoE meeting. These agencies are listed in the Blue Pages of your phone book. Call and see when their next public Board meeting will be held.

Every jurisdiction in the nation is desperate for volunteer election judges, sometimes called "poll workers." If you can devote Election Day to working at the polls, please volunteer to be an election judge. You will be trained and receive a small stipend. People with computer experience are especially valuable now that nearly all Americans will vote on electronic voting systems. If you cannot devote the whole day to election activities, volunteer to be a "poll watcher" for an hour or two. You may need to volunteer as a poll watcher for a political party or candidate to gain admission to the polls. There cannot be too many eyes and ears monitoring this process. Ask to be present when the polls are shut down for the day and the initial machine counts occur. Ask questions if you have concerns (the simpler the better). Black Box has suggestions for what election observers should note and comment upon. Our democracy depends on citizen activists being informed and involved. Election integrity is crucial to the American democratic system. The process will be as open as we demand it be.

Mary Howe Kiraly is a voting activist who resides in Maryland.
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