Commentary: Under the Guise Of Democracy

Friday November 12, 2004

Enough already! The election was not rigged! I do not want to hear another conspiracy theory about what did or did not happen in Ohio or anyplace else. Conspiracy theories are about as useful at this juncture as holding another debate. 

Rather than fueling innuendo and claims of tampering, we the people need to take a step back and analyze our democratic system as a whole, not question its latest outcome. 

The slogan of that system is “one person, one vote.” The record turnout a little over a week ago suggests that registered voters believed, at least for a day, that every vote does indeed count. 

While the long lines at polling booths across the nation were incredibly heartening, the stories of malfunctioning voting machines were, simply put, demoralizing. These stories, which can’t all be false, suggest that this belief may not reflect reality; every vote may not count equally after all. 

I thought we passed the Help America Vote Act and purchased all those expensive electronic machines in order to avoid a debacle similar to what occurred in Florida in 2000. And yet, an electronic voting system in Columbus, Ohio reported that Bush received 4,258 votes, while Kerry received 260 votes in a precinct where records show only 638 voters cast ballots. A machine in North Carolina squandered over 4,500 votes due to a false assumption about the memory capacity of a computer. 

These structural failures are not partisan issues. Truth be told, both sides probably benefited in one way or another from a democratic process that is fraught with error. The sad irony is that it appears this country, the self-proclaimed paragon of democracy for the rest of the world, cannot run a clean election. 

Exacerbating matters, the limitations of our electoral system seem to rear their ugly head even before voters step into the voting booths. Prior to the election, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Republican state senators from Texas managed, with the aid of partisan lawyers, to redistrict key voting areas in that state so that certain votes counted more than others. While Democrats cried foul over this move, we must not forget that it was House Democrat Martin Frost who designed the state’s districts in his party’s favor in the first place. These patent abuses of power have no place in a system where the people, regardless of party affiliation, are supposed to have the authority to elect whom they want in office. 

If this country has people who can predict with scientific precision which counties, cities, and even neighborhoods will be battleground areas, surely it has others who can figure out how to ensure the sanctity and longevity of “one person, one vote.” Before another electoral result ends up in the hands of the courts, before a hanging chad or error-prone machine discounts another vote, and before lawyers duke it out over my or your voting district, it is time to call on our leaders to make fundamental changes to the system in the name of democracy. 


Ryan Macy-Hurley is a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. ›