Members of liberal groups rallied in 19 states yesterday to demand that new electronic voting terminals have paper receipts to ensure accurate election recounts in the November presidential race.
The rallies are part of a movement led in part by MoveOn.org, People for the American Way, Democracy for America and other liberal groups that are aligned with the Democratic Party and who are fearful of another close election as in 2000, when Florida's disputed voting results were thrust into the courts to determine a winner.
The organizations have banded with nonpartisan grass-roots groups, such as the Verified Voting Foundation and TrueMajority.org, which are demanding changes in voting equipment that would avoid faulty methods and their remnants, such as hanging chads, that plagued the last presidential election. But the liberal organizations may be adding a political cast to the debate over how to change the nation's voting equipment.
Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination, now heads Democracy for America and said the groups would work to make electronic voting equipment with paper receipts an issue in the fall campaign.
"Democracy for America supports candidates very actively. We are not interested in supporting candidates who are not vigilant about voting rights," Dean said in a conference call. "We probably are going to end up opposing secretaries of state who are opposing this verified voting project."
Studies of voter errors in Florida in 2000 showed that minorities and Democrats had the highest error rates, indicating that Democrats might benefit most from new electronic equipment that prevents those kinds of mistakes.
While a small percentage of voters mishandled paper punch-card ballots, Dean said, everyone's vote will be called into question if computers do not register votes correctly.
Florida was "an enormous blow to the faith that people have in their democracy," Dean said. "People don't believe that their votes count anymore. . . . We are faced with a potential catastrophe for faith in voting democracy."
Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) has sponsored legislation requiring paper receipts this fall, but the bill is stalled in the Republican-controlled House. In the Senate, Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barbara Boxer of California are sponsoring bills for the paper receipts. Some Democrats have said highlighting the issue could energize party supporters.
Democrats first charged that the electronic voting was being politicized when Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold Election Systems, an electronic voting machine manufacturer, pledged in a Republican fundraising letter last year that he was "committed" to delivering Ohio's electoral votes to President Bush. The company said O'Dell regrets the statement and is no longer involved in fundraising.
Peter Schurman, executive director of MoveOn.org, disagreed that electronic voting has taken on a partisan flavor. He noted that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is sponsoring a bill to require receipts. Focused on recounts since losing a 1998 election by 428 votes, Ensign inserted a paper receipt requirement in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, but it was removed on the floor.
Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said the partisan division is a legacy of the 2000 recount dispute in Florida. Democrats harbor "enormous unease and distrust in the democratic process" because of Bush's election, and they want proof that nothing will happen again. "You've triggered not very latent suspicions and paranoia among Democrats and liberals more than in conservatives," he said.