If democracy were a religion, voting would be the sacrament.
I grew up in what I call "The First Free-Range Organic Christian Church of Homer." Sundays brought a message, fellowship, and a line of repentant souls taking communion-a remembrance of sacrifice.
The first time I cast my vote, it struck me as similar. The blood shed for my right to stand at a flag draped table and make my choice part of the collective wasn't lost on me. I had one of those "Come to Jesus" moments and in 20 years I haven't missed an opportunity to vote. Unlike Christ, the idea of democracy has never shed a drop of blood; patriots did. The same can be said of the suffragettes. Unlike the sacrament celebrated in religious ritual, elections should not be faith-based. The framers never intended our government to be run on trust; hence the myriad of checks and balances. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Election integrity is not about restoring faith in the system. Checks and balances are. When we vote, the agreement we all make is we cast our ballots for candidates who may not be the victor. We know that. Taking the risk of voting for a loser only works if you have confidence the process is beyond reproach. It is equally vital the winning candidate have an agreement the citizenry will follow their lead. Leadership can only be ordained if the people know their votes counted.
The past eight years have shown us the result of questioned elections. After election disasters in Florida and Ohio, a good portion of the country didn't agree George W. Bush was legitimate. I know people who refused to call him President Bush because of the suspected election fraud.
Alaska has a rich history of questionable elections. 2008 has been no different. Anomalies prompt people to scratch their heads and watch just a little closer. From some reactions, you would have thought asking a question was "unpatriotic." After reporting on the 2004 Election tampering, and knowing full well it was questionable, I wondered what this year's ballots would tell us. Apparently, Alaskans have completely changed their "voting habits" to include: a mail-in preference, cross-ballot voting, and finally, registering to vote and then not showing up. Alaska headlines are screaming "record turnout!" But in truth, our percentage of voter turnout is still lower than our average historical Presidential election records show. So what? Does that mean we shouldn't ask questions and get answers about reconciliation? As Americans we pledge to hold our leaders accountable; why wouldn't we start by holding the process of elections to the highest levels of integrity.
The day after the election I was in contact with both the Begich and Berkowitz campaigns. I've been in very close contact with the Alaska Democratic Party which has filed Public Records Requests. Experts from around the country are more than happy to answer questions or to mull over possible explanations to the election anomalies. People much smarter than I are paying attention, and are asking their own questions. A reporter I've bumped into for several years called today. He wanted to know if I thought the current vote count in Alaska was still "stinky." Another local asked if I thought the process was now legitimized since Begich was now leading Stevens. ARE YOU SERIOUS??? That my questions would hinge on partisanship is insulting and indicates a complete lack of understanding. Anyone who thinks we don't need a more transparent election process because their candidate is in the lead is a pathetic partisan hack. Anyone who believes election integrity is a "fringe" issue mocks those who have died to either earn the right to vote or protect it. I became a voter registrar in February of this year. To want to count only votes cast for my party of choice is vulgar. Not watching the referee calls when your team is winning is to invalidate the game.
So do I still smell the mudflats? Yes. Do I know what the source of stench is? No. Could it be the late wafts coming off the 2004 election? Possibly. What I know most certainly is this: voting is a sacred right; a remembrance of those who fought hard and shed blood for a bulletproof idea. Guarding the integrity of elections is essential to our democracy and anything less is blasphemy.
Show up. Ask questions.
Every vote counts.