With midterm elections days away, public concern is growing over potential problems with the technology used to count the overwhelming majority of American votes cast in county, state and federal races. Further fueling worries about a hijacked electoral system, tonight at 9 p.m. ET HBO will air "Hacking Democracy, its new documentary about Bev Harris, a Seattle-based writer and founder of BlackBoxVoting.org, a nonprofit watchdog that has documented computer problems that make widely used voting systems vulnerable to tampering. The film has been garnering praise, as in this review from today's New York Times:
Rigged voting in Louisiana? Say it ain't so. But it's not shocked-shocked you feel watching this; it's genuine shock. As the drama proceeds, adducing more evidence for the unreliability of the voting machines than can possibly be explored here, you might also feel flattened. Computers count around 80 percent of votes in America. The marketing director for Diebold, Mark Radke, who defends both the company and its chief executive ... talks in maddening doublespeak and wears the arched-eyebrow expression of a silent-movie fiend. His Nixon-era nondenial denials turn the stomach.
But even if not a single thing goes wrong with America's voting machines on Tuesday, the elections will still be skewed -- by gerrymandering.
A report released yesterday by the Campaign Legal Center, the Council for Excellence in Government and the League of Women Voters calls for a national redistricting reform movement and offers guidance for state-level redistricting reform efforts. "Building A National Redistricting Reform Movement" reports on the deliberations of a diverse group of representatives from nonpartisan organizations at a conference held earlier this year in Salt Lake City. As the report's introduction observes:
The nation's political landscape has endured more than the usual partisan turmoil since the years following the 2000 Census. During the congressional redistricting process, officeholders and allied partisan operatives employed a variety of practices to gain partisan advantage or reached bi-partisan compromise that protected each major party's interests and incumbents. Their success in the creation of politically "safe" districts has contributed to a marked decline in electoral competition and turnover, and now barely ten percent of congressional elections are competitive.
When legislators have the sole authority to craft political boundaries, fundamental democratic values of popular sovereignty and officeholder accountability are put at risk. We see legislators using the redistricting process to choose their constituents, overwhelming the voters' right to choose their representatives. The contentious and unprecedented mid-decade redistricting in Texas (2003) and Georgia (2005) have added another dimension to partisan manipulation.
(As you'll recall, the redistricting debacle in Texas led to the 2005 grand jury indictment of then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned from Congress in June and withdrew from the election. But DeLay's name remains on the ballot in a race that, ironically enough, "may tilt the political balance in the House in favor of the Democratic Party," as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes.)
Warning that redistricting reform presents a "daunting task" that will take "planning, resources, time, and dedication," the report offers recommendations to make the task easier, such as timing reform efforts "to take advantage of political opportunities presented by scandals or gross redistricting abuses." It also identifies the states where reform would be most likely to succeed, with the South well-represented on a list that includes California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.