Free and fair elections

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(Host) Commentator Madeline Kunin joins us today with her thoughts on fair and free elections in the United States.

(Kunin) In 1990 I co-chaired an international election monitoring team for the first free democratic elections in Bulgaria. We went to polling places to see that voters were not intimidated, that ballots were secret and secure, and that they were counted fairly. The Bulgarians were thrilled to vote freely and with a few exceptions, we concluded the election was fair.

How strange it is that today, voters in the United States must question whether our election will be fair.

Voter fraud and outright carelessness in American elections are not new. I recall when I was as newly elected legislator in 1974 our committee had to decide some contested elections. One town clerk had decided to take the ballots home and count them in her kitchen, with the help of the Republican town chairman.

Laws were changed, ballot boxes were sealed and we fixed the problem. If we can get it right in Vermont, why can’t the rest of the country?

Two fears mark this election-voter fraud and vote suppression. One is as bad as the other. Republicans are quick to cry voter fraud as they question whether all the newly registered voters are eligible. Democrats fear that intimidation; legal challenges and long delays will prevent people from voting.

The most blatant voter suppression occurred before the civil rights movement when blacks were kept off the voter lists by the poll tax, tough questions and fear.
Those days are over – almost. Florida proved otherwise.

In today’s election fear has been expressed that partisan election officials and electronic voting will discourage new voters who tend to be young people, immigrants, and minorities. Whether the voter rolls are padded or striped election reform is critical.

The big question is why hasn’t it happened after the bitter experiences of the 2000 election? Early voting in many states, and provisional ballots, are a start, but much more is needed. At the very least, we should require a standard, simple ballot that would leave a paper trail, and make Election Day a holiday for working people.

Today, November 2, we are facing the essential test of any democracy-whether we can hold free and fair elections. Dictatorships like the former Soviet Union did not. Totalitarian regimes everywhere, rig elections. The United States has been a model to the newly emerging democracies of how to conduct honest elections. That model, and the very heart of our democratic system, is what we must defend today.

This is Madeline May Kunin.

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