What you Need To Know

Opinions expressed in my articles are my own, and opinions in the articles and comments section written by others are strictly those of the author or commenter and not me.

Please be civil, it adds nothing to the conversation to engage in name-calling.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

When Are We Going To Fix Our Voting Mess?

Watching the recount in Minnesota this past week has been very interesting to say the least. On the one hand, the optical-scan paper ballots make the recount open and accountable. Minnesota law is also good in that 'if the intent of the voter' can be determined, the ballot counts. On the other hand, there needs to be a limit to the challenges. In one example, the vote was challenged because the vote for the Presidential candidate was of the opposite party as the vote for the Senate candidate. The ballot was correct and clear. The challenge was stupid.

On the other hand - many of the challenged ballots present quite another face. While the Minnesota ballot is a simple 'fill in the circle' style that is very common among optical-scan systems, apparently we still need to do voter education on how to properly mark a ballot - and what to do if you mess up (ask the election official to give you a new one!)

People are always complaining about these voters - they are stupid and shouldn't be allowed to vote, etc. The fact is that almost twenty percent (yes you heard that right) of our adult population is functionally illiterate. These people are bright, intelligent and hard-working individuals who may have a learning disability, or who have left school early for one reason or another and did not learn (or were not taught properly) how to read. They have managed to hold down jobs, raise families, get a drivers license, and are productive members of our society. But they don't know how to read - and our society demeans and belittles people like this with the result that they go to great lengths to hide this fact from everyone - including even their families. As a result, yeah the directions are posted on the wall. So what? They do their best. But elections only come around once every two years - and in some states, there have been different methods of voting for every election since 2000 (Florida is a case in point) so they don't get the process down.

My personal feeling is that there are a number of issues that need to be addressed.

ONE: The federal election system needs to be overhauled and made consistent from one state to the next. This applies only to US House of Representatives, US Senate, and President/Vice President. Congress should mandate one and one only, system of ballots. The design and layout of these ballots should be decided by a NON-partisan election board. Further, the software in the optical scan machines should be open-source, easily verifiable by computer information systems technicians, and in no case, should 'computerized' results be provided to any private firm on election day. The systems should provide results and data breakdown by precinct in an easy-to-understand format that does not require the intervention of any corporate programmers or technicians. While Congress has no authority to mandate state and local elections, states would fall in line with this or face having to maintain two systems, or two separate ballots (that is done in many countries anyway).
Layout of ballots becomes an issue in a lot of instances. The layouts should include 3-6 options with the candidates names in different placements. A code box at the top would tell the scanner which version it was. The reason is that in races that are not publicized well, or where the candidate may not have a large campaign fund, they may remain relatively unknown.
In the most recent election primary in Montana for instance, one of the Democratic candidates announced that he planned on not campaigning, would not accept any campaign funds, and was just going to sit home and wait for the voters to elect him. Another one raised money, campaigned around the state and really made an effort to get his name out there. (This was a race against a very popular Republican Congressman). On all the ballots, the stay-at-home guy was the first name on the list (alphabetical order) and he won. Most election analysts say that is very common when people don't know (or care sometimes) who any of the candidates are they vote for the first one on the list. In this case, it was assumed that it really didn't matter because the Republican incumbent would win anyway. Rotating choices would eliminate this type of 'winning' since it would spread the votes around among all the candidates, and the one who really did have name recognition would then have a slight edge.
TWO: Since voting is supposedly a right, every voter on their eighteenth birthday, should receive a voting card. All males now get a Selective Service Registration card - all adults should get a voter card. If you have a voter card - and some proof of your address - you should be able to vote in the closest precinct to your home. This business of matching registrations, and voter challenges is a major impediment to some groups. Universal voting cards would solve that problem since everyone IS actually entitled to vote. This would clean up the different registration requirements and eliminate registration drives (saving millions) and all the attendant mess that goes along with that.

THREE: I worked as a poll-worker in Florida with the ESS touch-screen voting machines in 2006. Thank goodness they are gone now! But an election judge/poll-worker actually went with each voter to the booth and physically showed them how to use the machine. This should happen with the optical scan ballots. A demonstration ballot should be available at the check-in table with picto-graph instructions, or someone demonstrating how to mark the ballot properly. Each voter should be verbally advised that if they make a mistake or change their mind, to simply come get a new ballot.
Additionally, some states (California is one) provide a sample ballot with pre-election voting materials that looks just like the real one (except it has 'sample ballot' printed in large red letters across the face of it!). That way people can 'practice' and/or mark this sample to bring with them to the polls as an aid in quick voting. This practice is not only allowed, it is encouraged in California since their ballots are usually heavy with propositions, federal, state, county, city, and special district election choices.
A lot of states have already gone to optical-scan ballots. They already have the equipment. The software needs to be changed to meet the above mandates. States who are still using touch-screens must acquire the new equipment.

Those are just some ideas I have. Feel free to add more in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What change?

It has been interesting to me in the (only!) two weeks since the election as Barack Obama begins the process of selecting his top staff and Cabinet members - all the howling and screaming from both sides of the aisle about his choices. And about his responses to the Lieberman thing, and John McCain, and Hillary Clinton. As one pundit complained the other day "There's too much nice going on here."

Too much nice? How can you have too much nice? People all over this country have been saying for years, decades actually, that they dislike the personal attacks, the mud-slinging, the rabid partisanship, and all the rest of the nastiness that has contributed greatly and finally over the past eight years to our complete and totally dysfunctional government. Given that, how would you change that other than start being nice?

So here we have it in a nutshell. Obama promised to change the way we do things in Washington DC. And he is. And this change has been accompanied by criticism, second-guessing, outrage, more criticism, and so on. The left-wing blogosphere is yelling that he has abandoned them. The Republicans can't figure out what is going on so they are going back to the campaign mud-slinging. Every appointment is met by criticism. And people are deciding that his administration is a complete and total failure as far as they are concerned, even though Obama has not even taken office yet!

We voted for change. Change we could believe in. He is delivering. But we're not believing in what he is doing. Maybe we should take a look at why that is. Could it be that we really LIKE screaming and mud-slinging? Or is the idea that change is so uncomfortable and so foreign that we'd really rather stick with the status quo?

Myself, I'd rather not. I think there still is NOT enough nice in Washington. We have a long way to go before that really comes to pass and it becomes standard operating practice. But I am very hopeful. It will continue to come in the form of Obama sitting down with John McCain, a man who by all accounts, actively dislikes Obama. He's entitled to his dislike. But Obama did not let that knowledge and that fact interfere with trying to find some common ground on a few issues they can work together on. And what that does is in some ways, force a grudging respect from McCain. He will probably still not like Obama. And that's okay. But at least he will probably actively work FOR something with Obama at times - instead of actively working against him always.

And I am also hopeful that as Obama sets the tone of reconciliation and 'niceness' in Washington, it will encourage all of us to try to emulate him in our daily lives. As someone once said - if you want world peace, you must first be a truly peaceful person yourself.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We did research things before we moved out here, and Grays Harbor has a Blue history. It really has been a very friendly town, until last night. Republithug signs seemed to dominate early on, especially on local businesses. We were, by our count the second Obama sign in the Twin Harbor back in June. Incumbent Dem Gov and House signs showed up late.

We've gotten favorable comments on our buttons and tee-shirts, and several Trick or Treaters complimented the Barack O'Lantern. And then, coming back from the grocery store we saw this. The sign had been flanked by the local Democratic contenders, and all were fine yesterday afternoon, but they were gone today and this was left alone. Perhaps the folks want to expose this ugliness. I'd get more worked up about the stupidity and ignorance if it hadn't been a day late and a dollar short.

And, this is the best you can do?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What's Next?

Now that the Election is almost over (sigh!) it is time to start thinking about what is next. I know, I know, everyone is exhausted. But we really don't have time to rest on our haunches because now the real heavy lifting begins in earnest.

For all of us who voted for Obama - whether he was our first choice or the lesser of two evils - we need to hold his feet to the fire, push him in a more progressive direction, and demand transparency in his administration. He has said that he needs us to help, and promised to be open and accountable - so let's make it happen.

For everyone who voted for McCain/Palin...sorry this was not your year. But we welcome you to join with us to help. We have so much work to do to get this country back on the right track and we need you too.

What we can do: Take a couple of days off to relax and do some thinking. Then pick one or possibly two progressive issues that you feel very strongly about. Find a group that is already working on that issue and join up. Get involved - as involved as you have been in the campaign. Donate, write letters, make phone calls, not just to your congresscritters but to your friends and neighbors too. Urge them to write and call as well. Most of the agenda will not be accomplished in the White House, but in the halls of Congress so this is the focus for the most part.

All politics is local. Don't forget that this agenda needs to be pushed at the state and local level as well. If the group you support is working at the national level, find out if there are state affiliates as well and join them too. Find out if your city or county government policies resonate with you and if not, get involved at the local level. Attend city councils or county board meetings that pertain to your issue. Research what is going on nationally, and push those issues for your community.

Finally, everything is also personal. Whatever the issue, there is always personal responsibility too. If your issue is war and peace, remember that the best way for peace to break out all over is for each one of us to become truly peaceful persons. No matter what the issue, there is room for improvement in our own lives.

Financial stuff is going to be difficult in the months and possibly for a few years ahead. Learn to live with less. Find joy in simple living, thoughtful purchasing, back to self-sufficiency where ever we can. Paying off our debts and learn to live within our means will help reduce stress for everyone. Buy locally, learn to live with the seasons, get to know your neighbors, join a barter co-op, find new ways to share and cooperate with others.

Back when I lived in California and was going to college (again!) my biology teacher had us all do a paper to see if a large natural disaster happened and the highways were blocked, the electrical grid was down, and emergency services were unavailble, how would we live - and for how long could we sustain ourselves? It was a really good exercise and I suggest that we all look around our homes and see just what resources we already have available. Then take stock and see what you would need to round out the existing supplies and make a plan to add those necessary items to allow survival for more than a day or two.

We can get back to a place where we all look out for one another - another thing that made this country a great place to live, and something we have forgotten over the course of the past few years.

Here's to real communities of people who care!