Vote Hope 2008 :3: Mark Ritchie

Where are the opportunities for real change in the 2008 election? To find out, we spoke to some grassroots organizers, national leaders, and elected officials who are working for change.

Vote Hope :: 3 of 6

Protecting Elections


Sarah van Gelder: The integrity of elections has been in some doubt since the 2000 election. What is at stake in 2008?

Mark Ritchie: Some of the problems with voting were shown to be part of larger strategies to affect the outcome of elections, so that's one thing that's at stake.

The second thing at stake is the way elections are administered—whether they encourage everyone to participate or encourage only some people while discouraging others.

Finally, there's the psychological side. If you believe the elections are rigged or your voice is not welcome, you will be less likely to participate. If you feel showing up to vote will subject you to harassment or intimidation, or if you feel that democracy is a sham, you will be less likely to vote. If any of these concerns also affect your willingness to stand as a candidate, to work for a candidate, to help with voter registration, or to be an election judge it will be a negative impact on the elections process and on democracy itself.

Sarah van Gelder: Where is the most promising work going on in this regard?

Mark Ritchie: I think that hope is being restored in many parts of the country, including Florida, Ohio, and California. For example, the newly elected [Republican] governor of Florida stood up and said no more embarrassments. No more discrimination. Get rid of these electronic computerized voting machines and use paper ballots and optical scan systems. He went on to say that discrimination against people who had committed felonies and have served their time is unconscionable, and he pushed through a huge change in the re-enfranchisement of former felons.

Ohio has a new secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, who has been successfully battling corrupt local offi-cials—some of whom have been convicted and sent to prison for tampering with elections. Secretary Brunner will soon be conducting a top-to-bottom review of their election equipment. In California, the new secretary of state, Debra Bowen, did a thorough review of the election system and exposed incredible vulnerabilities, and then she took immediate action.

Sarah van Gelder: Do you think that all the electronic voting systems need to be replaced in order to restore integrity?

Mark Ritchie:In Minnesota, voting on computers is illegal. We've never allowed them in our state. They were proposed once many years ago and people said ‘Are you crazy?' We also have taken a strong position that in elections for president it's not okay to have voting conducted on machines that cannot be properly re-counted or the results verified. So far, we've not seen any computer voting equipment that meets basic standards for security and ability to be recounted.

Sarah van Gelder: Are there other opportunities for improving the election system?

Mark Ritchie:In Minnesota we've had election-day registration for 33 years—you can register when you go to vote on Election Day. We believe that the combination of paper ballots, which instill voter confidence in our system, and election-day registration, which largely removes the biggest barrier to voting, is why Minnesota is the number one state in the nation for turn-out of eligible voters—4 percent above any other state.

Now we're working to improve our system. We're proposing that any time you get a driver's license or other government-issued ID, you are automatically registered to vote, as long as you are legally eligible. You would, of course, be able to opt out if you don't want to be registered.

We believe that this approach will move us towards near-universal registration. Instead of the current paradigm, in which registration is a barrier to voting that each individual must overcome, we're proposing a system that is constantly and consistently updated so that no eligible citizen is ever prevented from voting because their name fails to appear on a list.

Photo of Sarah van Gelder

Read Sarah's full interview with Mark Ritchie in original, transcript form.

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