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Elections Official Calls 2006 Vote a 'Success'









 

Elections Official Calls 2006 Vote a “Success”

Paul DeGregorio, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, said that new wrinkles in the electoral process are difficult, but not impossible to deal with.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert
By Janet Sassi

Election reform in America is “the topic of the day,” said Paul DeGregorio, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), at a seminar, Making Sure Every Vote Was Counted: Evaluating Election Administration in the 2006 Elections, on Dec. 4 at the Lincoln Center campus. DeGregorio, who was appointed to the EAC in December 2003 by President George W. Bush, said that nationwide changes under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) helped smooth the most recent elections, but admitted there is still much room for improvement.

“Since the 2000 election and the passage of HAVA, the nation has experienced more election reform than in the previous 200 years,” he said. “Is America better off for all this change? You bet. Is the system free from errors, fraud and intimidation? Certainly not.”

The seminar was sponsored by Fordham’s Center for Electoral Politics and the Elections and Campaign Management program, directed by Costas Panagopoulos, Ph.D., who commended the EAC’s efforts in helping to “sustain Americans’ confidence in the electoral process and in the overall legitimacy of the political system.

“These efforts represent the first time in United States history that the federal government has provided such significant assistance to the states to improve the conduct of elections,” Panagopoulos said.

DeGregorio said that in the November election one-third of the nation’s voters cast ballots on new machines–a circumstance that led to both mechanical and to human glitches. Even so, he said that only 39 out of 6,700 jurisdictions reported problems, and that only one court challenge was filed, in the 13th Congressional District in Sarasota, Florida, where just 379 ballots separated the two candidates.

“When you try something for the first time,” DeGregorio said, “it’s best not to try it in a big election. Elections are about managing the details. There is no substitute for training and experience. In 2007, at least 25 percent of our election officials will be brand new.”

The EAC functions as a national clearinghouse for HAVA, reviewing federal elections and making procedural improvements. Among HAVA’s mandates is a provision that all states must require a “manual audit” paper trail for all voting systems in case of a recount. The paper trial requirement has drawn flak from voter advocacy groups who claim HAVA has allowed for watered-down language on the requirement.

“The paper trail is a difficult issue. Touch screen verification wasn’t an issue until 2004, so 2006 was our first experience with this, and we have to do better. The federal government is going to mandate the paper trail for the whole country, and if so they should help pay for it,” DeGregrio said.

The future of voting, DeGregorio said, belongs to the Internet. Such systems are already in place in Estonia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain, he said. He described a pilot program tried by the Department of Defense in 2004, to help overseas service personnel cast ballots–traditionally a difficult task because of sluggish mail service to and from foreign countries. The program was unpopular and was subsequently shut down for security reasons.

“I recognize we have to settle the issue of security,” he said, “but in 10 years this [younger] generation is going to demand Internet voting.”


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