Jimmy Carter, the man who many of us consider the most credible voice on whether an election is fair and accurate, had a few things to say on NPR Monday night. He was being interviewed about his observation team's impressions of the Nicaraguan elections, conducted on this week. His comments were full of compliments like these, "the officials are so meticulous and careful," there were only "minor problems," "the Supreme Electoral Council has corrected almost all the problems," and "I think this present election is very likely to be much better than we've seen in the past."
After a lengthy interview about the extensive work he has been done in that Latin American country, the former president was asked a question about the very hotly contested election we are currently conducting here. His analysis was nowhere near as positive as his previous remarks, in fact he called our electoral system "severely troubled." He went on to chastise America in a way he has several times before, suggesting that tomorrow's election "would not qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center in observing."
Actually, let me just add his entire answer:
"But there's no doubt in my mind that the United States electoral system is severely troubled and has many faults in it. It would not qualify at all for instance for participation by the Carter Center in observing. We require for instance that there be uniform voting procedures throughout an entire nation. In the United States you've got not only fragmented from one state to another but also from one county to another. There is no central election commission in the United States that can make final judgment. It's a cacophony of voices that come in after the election is over with, thousands or hundreds of lawyers contending with each other. There's no uniformity in the nation at all. There's no doubt that that there's severe discrimination against poor people because of the quality of voting procedures presented to them. Another thing in the United States that we wouldn't permit in a country other than the United States is that we require that every candidate in a country in which we monitor the elections have equal access to the major news media, regardless of how much money they have. In the United States, as you know, it's how much advertising you can by on television and radio. And so the richest candidates prevail, and unless a candidate can raise sometimes hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, they can't even hope to mount a campaign, so the United States has a very inadequate election procedure."
Of course, Jimmy Carter is not alone in criticizing our election procedures, but, let's face it, his is a very credible voice to remind everyone who cares about the election outcome that these problems can't be ignored. While the focus is directed towards spending another million on last minute attack adds or diverting more resources into getting all the targeted voters to the polls -- the fact is that there could be elections lost everywhere because we are not focusing enough effort on all of the problems with our voting system -- from electronic voting machines with no audibility and recount capacity or allowing our elections to be overseen by partisan elected officials (remember Ken Blackwell and Katherine Harris) who can (and do) decide which precincts will get the most voting machines, who's provisional ballots will get counted and how they feel like interpreting all of the new draconian voter identification laws that are sprouting up everywhere around the country.
Even Robin Carnahan -- the Democratic Secretary of State in Missouri had to fight with a poll worker to convince her that she was eligible to vote. Are progressives going to keep arguing that it will all be fine if there are more Democratic secretaries of state or is it time to set about the business of repairing our broken elections. It is a sorry state of affairs when Nicaragua is conducting more fair and democratic elections than America......
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