Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Preserving Democracy

The Fight Continues and The People Have the Power

by John Conyers Jr.

As a veteran of struggles for civil rights legislation for the last four decades, I know that the legislative process is always very slow, especially when it comes to passing a law of any import, especially when it comes to doing it right. In this political climate, where Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House, the outlook is murky for election reform legislation to pass. I am also concerned that in a Republican congress, election reform legislation could become a trojan horse for schemes to take away the voting rights of Americans. Indeed, Senate Republicans have already sent the clear signal that they will do just that they will do just that.

I continue to press for my election reform bill, the Voter Act, and receive valuable input about it. At the same time, one has to wonder whether a political party, the one that controls the federal government for now, that has benefited so much from the current disrepair of our election systems and civil rights laws, is really interested in fixing it.

It is also unfortunate that, as is frequently the case in politics, the issue of election reform has become a bit diffuse as lawmakers push for their own competing and complimentary bills. The periods and commas in every bill are of vital importance when a bill actually moves through the legislative process. But, for a bill to move at all, we must have unity of purpose.

Where does that leave us? Do we have to settle for another questionable election where many of us doubt that the official results reflect the true will of the voters?

No. Not if the political movement that brought about the challenge to Ohio's electors has anything to say about it. The activists over at VelvetRevolution want action now in their "Divestiture for Democracy" campaign. Today, I am formally endorsing this campaign and have sent letters to every single voting machine company asking for their support of this effort.

The idea behind this campaign is to urge the voting machine companies, recipients of large sums of our tax dollars, to do the right thing -- voter verified paper ballots on every voting machine, open source code, and refraining from partisan political activity. I hope they do.

But what if they don't? As they say, there is an easy way and a hard way. If a voting machine company refuses to take these fundamental steps, it is my position and the position of the divestiture campaign that they should not receive another dime of public money.

Just as it was with the Ohio challenge, this will be a citizens movement. We will take this fight to the Congress, to the States, to State Ballot Initiatives, and to the voting machine companies. Collectively, I have no doubt that in the end we will prevail.

The following is the text of the letter I have sent to every major voting machine company (including Advanced Voting Solutions, Danaher-Guardian Voting Systems, Diebold, ES&S, HartInterCivic, MicroVote, Sequoia, Triad and Unilect):

"Dear [CEO of Voting Machine Company]:

I have introduced legislation to require electoral reform in order to make our elections the model for the free world. Specifically, my bill seeks to require voter verified paper ballots for all votes cast (coupled with at least one machine that provides an extra layer of verification, in addition to a mandatory paper ballot, for the disabled), open source code, no partisan involvement in elections by CEOs, uniform standards throughout the country, manual audit of ballots, and other provisions dealing with registration and provisional and absentee ballots. Similar bills have been introduced by both Senators and Representatives from both parties reflecting broad support for these changes.

I am also aware that a coalition of grassroots activists, under the banner of VelvetRevolution.us, has decided that this issue simply cannot wait for Congressional action in a questionable political environment. To avoid another election cycle where there is not widespread confidence in the outcome, they have initiated a “Divestiture for Democracy” campaign which specifically asks your company to take many of the above steps voluntarily because the American people should not have to wait for legislation to feel confident that their vote is counted. I agree with that position and urge you to implement the recommendations that they have recently made to your company. They are essential to our democracy.

Your company has an obligation to take these actions now. Congress has funded the(“HAVA”) with taxpayer money to buy vote counting machines from companies such as yours. Moreover, your company is performing a purely governmental function by counting the vote. Therefore, you have a duty to all Americans to act in a fully transparent way just as would any government entity. It is time for your company to demonstrate good corporate leadership in this area by announcing that you will take these vital steps. It is my position that only companies that take these actions deserve to be funded under HAVA and I will urge my colleagues to support legislation to that effect. I look forward to hearing from you."

I also sent the following letter to Brad Friedman, the Director of VelvetRevolution (who was recently interviewed by Raw Story about this campaign):

"Dear Mr. Friedman:

I want to thank you for your strong commitment to electoral reform. It is because of the activism of the netroots and grassroots and organizations, such as VelvetRevolution.us, that Congress and the American people are moving forward to ensure that all future elections are the model for the free world.

Today, I have joined your campaign for a transparent, accountable, and trustworthy election system. I have written to the nine major vote machine companies asking that they quickly adopt the steps your organization has requested in your February 21,2005, “Divestiturefor Democracy” letter to them. While I have introduced legislation to implement these changes, the political outlook in this Congress for any election reform legislation is uncertain, and the legislative process is invariably slow. Therefore, I agree that these companies should voluntarily and unilaterally take these actions because Americans should not have to wait any longer for comprehensive electoral reform.

In my letter, I stated that only companies that step up and move forward on these initiatives should be allowed to receive taxpayer funds under the Help America Vote Act. I believe that this is a position that many of my colleagues in Congress will support. I am considering legislation that would deny HAVA funds to companies that refuse to take these steps. First, however, we need to give them the opportunity to respond to our requests.

I look forward to working with you on this important issue, please keep up the good work that your organization is doing on behalf of the best interests of our country."
-- J.C.

1 Comments:

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3:53 AM  

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