Despite high profile vote-counting controversies in Ohio in 2004, provisional ballot data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission shows that the worst place to vote that year was the Northeast: the region had the second highest percentage of provisional ballots cast as a percentage of voter registration, 1.34, but reported the lowest rate of counting those ballots, 42.8 percent. The worst state was New York, with a whopping 2.21 percent of registered voters casting provisional ballots, yet only 40 percent of those ballots being counted. That means the percentage of people who were denied a vote in New York was .88 percentor more than the .79 percent margin that decided the presidential election that year in New Mexico.
Provisional ballots, which were required for the first time in 2004 by the Help America Vote Act, aren't the only measures of election fairness, but a large number of provisional ballots cast and then invalidated most likely means: 1) Voters are uneducated about registration rules, or 2) Elections officials are excluding people who should be eligibleneither of which is good news.
So how are things going this year in the Empire State? The Albany Times-Unionreports on phone calls, some automated and some allegedly made by people who live nowhere near New York, that are raising complaints on both sides of the aisle of unfair campaign tactics: "Republicans claimed Democrats were misdirecting voters to the wrong polling places -- an allegation Democrats chalked up to honest errors."
If you've read Mother Jones' recent story on 11 sneaky vote suppression tactics, you might think you know every trick in the bag. But just in case you aren't already feeling paranoid, more concerns have been brought to light in Cast Out, a new report by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice:
Wireless Technology in Voting Machines
A year-long Brennan Center study, completed in June, found many voting machines include wireless components that could be infiltrated by a Trojan horse virus using technology as simple as a palm pilot. Only Minnesota, New York and California ban machines with wireless components. The report found the machines "pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state and local elections."
The Help America Vote Act Inverted
Passed by Congress in 2002 to improve access to the polls, the Help America Vote Act requires all states to create computerized databases of registered voters by January 1, 2006. "For the first time we are seeing virtually every state with a centralized voter list," says Cast Out author Wendy Weiser. The databases are supposed to be more reliable and easily updated than paper versions, but, as they come online, many states are cross-checking them against databases maintained by other state agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and purging any names that don't match up. According to Weiser, these cross-checks can improperly reject up to 20 percent of voters from the rolls. Voters may have no way of knowing they've been booted until the show up at the polls on election day.
And Don't Bother Registering Either
Some states are also using DMV and Social Security databases to reject voter registration applications as soon as they arrive. Challenged in a lawsuit, Washington State and Pennsylvania abandoned the practice but Florida, North Carolina, South Dakota and Iowa still use it.
Aiming to get around the sort of he-said-she-said disputes over election irregularities that plagued Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004disputes that may well have decided the fate of the last two presidential electionstwo different groups will use the text and video capabilities of cell phones this year to monitor the polls.
Video the Vote, a project of independent filmmaker Jim Ennis and elections activist James Rucker, began six weeks ago with the launch of a popular video by the same name on YouTube (see below). Drawing more than 100,000 page views, the film ended with a pitch to participate in a project that combines citizen journalism with something akin to a flash mob. The 670 people who have signed on as volunteers will receive text messages on election day and will rush to polling places where irregularities have been reported and document them with digital video cameras. They will then download the footage and make it available to the public and the media. Rucker says the project was motivated by a perceived lack of media coverage of election irregularities in years past. "It's all for making sure these stories actually happen," he told me, "instead of kind of happening a few days later."
A similar effort was launched today by Veeker (as in video + peek), a web startup that aims to be the YouTube of cell phone videos. Founded by Silicon Valley heavyweights Roger Raderman, creator of iFilm, and Alex Kelly, the former head of new media for 21st Century Fox, Veeker is promoting itself with the activist set through the website veekthevote.com. Cell phone users can email their videos into a searchable database on the site that will serve as a source for election footage. The site has partnered with Youth Noise, a networking group for socially minded young people with 115,000 members, some of whom have volunteered to film any irregularities at the polls with their phones. The goal, says spokesperson Vijay Chattha, is to "get more of a realistic picture of what's happing out there."
Countering the Republican National Committee's now-infamous TV ad quoting Osama bin Laden, Democrats today began airing a television spot arguing that the Iraq occupation has spread the military too thin, increased terrorism and diverted attention from seeking bin Laden's capture. It features arguments by three Iraq veteransone of them an amputeeand retired General Wesley Clark, each of whom repeat the words, "because of Iraq."
The 30-second ad comes 11 days after Republicans began showing a 60-second spot suggesting the GOP was the only party capable of combating terrorism. To the sound of a ticking clock it featured a sepia-toned montage of terrorist leaders and their underlings carrying weapons, burning things and kicking people. It concluded: "These are the stakes." (The ad mirrored President Lyndon Baines Johnson's Cold-War-era "Daisy" ad, which helped re-elect him during the Vietnam War. That ad juxtaposed a girl plucking a daisy against an exploding nuclear bomb, saying, "These are the stakes to make a world in which all God's children can live or go into the dark.")
Sponsored by the VoteVets PAC, today's Democratic retort builds on the party's efforts to decouple the Iraq war from the War on Terror. It closes with Clark standing in front of a replay of the bin Laden ad like a well-dressed schoolteacher. "So, if you see commercials, telling you to be afraid of terrorism," he says, "remember, it's because of Iraq."
Meanwhile, the RNC moved on to more fertile national security terrain today, replacing the bin Laden ad on the front page of its website with a new spot calling on Sen. John Kerry to apologize for his comment yesterday that a poor education leads "you (to) get stuck in Iraq." Kerry said he'd meant to imply that Bush was uneducated, but the Republican ad suggested he was impugning rank-and-file soldiersit juxtaposed the comment with quotes from Republicans lauding the troops.
For years, Dell Computer Corp. was known as one of the tech industry's environmental slackers; in 2003, green groups gave it an "F" on a "clean computer" report card. Today, Dell has a program to recycle almost all of its PCs, has purged new products of six toxic substances, and is working to remove other hazardous materials.
But Dell didn't get religion on its own: Its conversion was prompted by a tough new set of European Union regulations that is transforming American business in a way no U.S. law has in recent years. Last summer, the Europeans began enforcing new restrictions on lead, mercury, and four other hazardous substances, flat-out banning violators from selling to Britain and the Continent. Palm had to stop shipping its Treo 650 (a move that sent its share price plunging), and Apple admitted that it had "withdrawn a few products from sale in Europe," though it wouldn't say which ones. In all, 75 percent of U.S. tech companies have eliminated the banned substances from their products. "It has just caused an enormous amount of teeth-gnashing and a lot of reactive scrambling," says Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, a consulting firm.