recallreed blog

This blog is established to recall Washington State Secretary of State Sam Reed for failure to perform his duty. You may comment and submit information on-line. If you would like to help, contact Linda Jordan, State Coordinator, at People are encouraged to download, print and share the petition text with others but petitions for signature gathering can not be printed until the Attorney General writes the ballot synopsis and the sufficiency of the charges are upheld in Court.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Open election better than alternative

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Every day I read new evidence about Washington's corrupt election process. There's evidence of dead voters, felons who voted, fictional registrations, people who voted twice and registered at phony addresses.

Democracy itself is at stake because "they" stole our election. So there's a pitch for a new election (one that promises somehow, magically, to not be so tainted). Every new allegation is a reminder that no one can defend the election system we have; to do so is to support fraud. This is a narrative with only one side, a clear example of an election gone awry.

But beware of one-sided stories. They are flat -- and often wrong -- and the story is richer when you consider the entire sphere. This one-sided narrative ought to be part of a much larger discussion, part of a long-running debate about who should vote.

Two centuries ago, the founders of the United States feared direct democracy and with universal suffrage, the prospect of a "fraudulent" outcome.

One of the authors of the Constitution -- Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania -- thought voting should be limited to men of property because if the nation gives "the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich, who will be able to buy them."

Even after the Constitution formed a more perfect union, lots of U.S. citizens were denied the right to vote because they were Catholic, female, American Indian, African American, Chinese, couldn't pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test.

Slowly, evolving over two centuries, this country dropped the anti-democratic restrictions. Less than a century ago, in 1910, women won the right to vote in Washington. American Indians won that same right in 1924. It was as late as 1964 that universal suffrage for African Americans supposedly was guaranteed for all with the Voting Rights Act (including a prohibition against the poll tax).

We, the people of Washington state, decided to go further than other states. Through our political process, we reached the philosophical conclusion that it's better to have more people voting, rather than fewer. This is the very premise that's at stake in this demand for a new election. The notion of an open election is not perfect because it means some people will cheat -- it's not ideal because a tiny slice of the population will register and vote illegally. But at least under an open process, every citizen has the opportunity to cast a vote.

Now, consider the alternative course, an election system that is more closed than open. Yes, we could purge the voting rolls. We could demand identification and papers from every citizen who pursues the right to vote. We could make fraud the highest priority, rather than access.

But that premise has consequences, too. In other states where preventing voter fraud is the highest priority, legitimate citizens are denied their right to vote.

Four years ago, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission investigated complaints from those disenfranchised in Florida. The conclusion was a mirror image of Washington's problems today.

"Non-felons were removed from voter registration rolls based upon unreliable information collected in connection with sweeping, state sponsored felony purge policies," the commission found.

Or many African Americans didn't vote because they were assigned polling places without resources to confirm voting eligibility.

The commission said: "Voter disenfranchisement appears to be at the heart of the issue. It is not a question of a recount or even an accurate count, but more pointedly the issue is those whose exclusion from the right to vote amounted to a 'No Count.' "

The disenfranchisement was too much even for the Republican Congress. It quickly passed the Help America Vote Act -- a philosophical stand that an open voting system is better than a closed one.

This is the undercurrent of the drive for a new Washington election. The complaints about voter fraud cite concerns about "legitimate" voters, but what's unsaid is the desire to return an election system that's more closed than open. Fewer, not more.

When Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act, it didn't go as far as the Civil Rights Commission recommended. That body said it's time to get rid of the laws preventing felons from voting because it's difficult to enforce (and expensive). The report said, "The Commission believes that to integrate ex-felons fully into society, they should have their voting rights restored."

The Civil Rights Commission said nearly 4 million Americans have lost their vote because of a felony conviction. And of those, "1.4 million are African American men; 13 percent of the black adult male population are disenfranchised, a rate seven times the national average."

In Washington, the process of voting restoration for felons is not impossible, it's largely process. So why go through it at all? Why not just restore the right to vote when people have completed their debts to society? Save the paperwork -- and the complications.

Yes, there should be a law enforcement review of illegal voting from time to time -- and prosecutions in the most egregious cases.

But I don't think we should give up on open voting, even if that means some people will cheat. It's a better course than disenfranchisement. Our government is based on consent of the governed -- and that principle requires as much participation as possible.

Mark Trahant is editor of the editorial page. E-mail:


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