|HOW WE VOTE|
December 26, 2000
| KWAME HOLMAN: More than 100 million Americans made the
effort to get out to vote on election day but for reasons ranging from
machine malfunction to voter error, somewhere between 1 and 2% of those
votes never were counted. In Palm Beach County, Florida, for example,
the now infamous butterfly ballot apparently caused widespread confusion
and led to the exclusion of some 20,000 ballots.
MAN ON STREET: This ballot was very confusing. It was confusing for me, okay? This is the only county that had this kind of ballot.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some voters said the names of presidential candidates on the ballot didn't align with the punch holes. As a result, they said, they mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore.
OLDER MAN ON STREET: I am not the only one that was confused, and many people probably voted for Buchanan meaning to vote for Gore.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some said they tried to correct their mistake by punching an additional hole, but that simply nullified their ballots. The punch-card ballot itself was at the center of the recount battle in Florida. The punch-card ballot is only one of several methods used for voting in Florida. In fact, Florida's 67 counties, like the rest of the more than 3100 counties nationwide, use a variety of voting systems. According to 1998 statistics, 18% of all counties used punch-card ballots. That includes Montgomery County, Maryland; County Election Administer Stewart Harvey demonstrated the punch-card method.
STEWART HARVEY: The voter approaches the ballot punch and takes the ballot out of the privacy sleeve, slips it into the punch, lays it flat in the punch, votes for the candidates that they want to vote for. When they're done with the ballot card, they put it back in the sleeve and they take it... they leave the ballot punch and they take it over to the ballot box and that's where it's deposited.
KWAME HOLMAN: Montgomery County's neighbor, Prince Georges was among the 15% of counties that use the old lever machines. Elections administrator Robin Downs demonstrated how that system worked.
ROBIN DOWNS: The voter enters the booth and closes the curtain. Then they make their selection. Once a selection has been made for a particular office or a particular question, you cannot pull down another lever. While the voter is in, the voter can change their mind, but it's the opening of the curtain that actually records the vote.
KWAME HOLMAN: 40% of counties used the optical scan system, which requires voters to shade in ovals on a paper ballot. A company called Election Systems and Software designs and manufactures optical scan systems and provided this demonstration video.
VOICE ON TAPE: Completely fill in the oval to the left of the name of the candidate or issue of your choice. Instruct the voter that after marking the ballot, they should insert the ballot into the counter. When the voter inserts the ballot, regardless of direction and orientation, a paper sensor engages the transport drive. The scanner, containing dual contact image sensors, then reads both sides of the ballot simultaneously and deposits it into the locked ballot box.
KWAME HOLMAN: 9% of counties across the country, including Fairfax in Virginia, moved to new fully electronic voting machines. Carlos Kummel is the machine's supervisor for the Fairfax Electoral Board.
CARLOS KUMMEL, Supervisor, Fairfax County (VA) Electoral Board: As the voter steps into the voting booth, the voter will see flashing lights on each one of the offices and make a selection. As the selection is made, the... if he changes his mind, he can push the button again and de-select that candidate. So, you can see I cannot over vote in any one of these offices. Once I've made all my selections, I push the green button and cast my ballot.
KWAME HOLMAN: Only 12% of counties still relied on the paper ballot, marked with a pen or pencil, placed in a sealed box and later counted by hand.
GWEN IFILL: Seeing what's wrong with how we vote is easy, fixing it is hard. Last week I talked with four people about the problems, and the potential solutions.
GWEN IFILL: Cathy Cox is the secretary of state for the state of Georgia.
Deborah Phillips is chairman of the nonprofit Voting Integrity Project.
Kathleen Sullivan is dean of the Stanford University Law School, and
David Baltimore is president of the California Institute of Technology.
DEBORAH PHILLIPS, Voting Integrity Project: There are a lot of problems with this system. America has just received a wake-up call and so it's been quite shocking, this election. But in reality, our problems run the whole gamut -- everything from enfranchisement problems as we saw in Florida and elsewhere, to technology problems. And I don't think that there is a quick fix or a top-down approach that is going to fit.
GWEN IFILL: Cathy Cox, you actually have the hands-on job and the enviable hands-on job of administering these elections. What do you think is wrong?
CATHY COX, Georgia Secretary of State: Well, I agree that there are
a number of problems. Technology is among those. Perhaps one of the
easier to correct because I think the election on November 7 woke up
America to the fact that our current system is very inaccurate, and
that people who believed they were casting a vote are losing that right.
And I am proposing a lot of upgrades in equipment in Georgia.
CATHY COX: Well, Georgia has four different types of voting equipment now. All that you've just seen from paper ballot to optical scan, all of them have opportunities for the voter to make mistake or for the equipment to fail. I would like for Georgia to have a uniform system so that we could say to Georgia residents regardless of where you live, this is the way a ballot will look and this is how you use the equipment. My preference would be to move toward one of the electronic types of voting equipment so that we could lessen the opportunities for a voter mistake, speed up the tabulation, and ultimately allow voters to cast their votes in multiple places around the state not just in a neighborhood precinct.
GWEN IFILL: Kathleen Sullivan, assume for a moment that what Cathy Cox has in mind actually works. Should this be something that should be done on a state-by- state basis or should it be done nationally?
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN, Stanford University: There's a very good argument for fixing this nationally. There are a lot of things that we should allow to be done by local variation but making sure everyone's vote is equally counted is not one of them. The argument for a national solution is that national elections for members of Congress and for the presidency are national elections and ought to have national uniform standards. And we can do that a number of ways. Congress now has the power to tell the states how to run congressional elections. And it has that under Article I. The states set the time, place and manner of elections. But Congress may by regulation alter those regulations. Congress could decide, simply, to mandate one way of voting throughout the nation for congressional elections and hope that the presidential election methods would follow. Alternatively we could amend Article II of the Constitution to say that Congress should have the same power to fix presidential elections as it does to fix congressional elections. But this is an area where you would think it's a matter not just of good policy but constitutional principle to count everybody's votes the same way nationwide if we're to believe that the Supreme Court's decision in Bush V. Gore was not like a train ticket punched for one day and time only, good only for stopping the recounts in Florida, it announced a principle, a constitutional principle that voting should be counted by the same methods county by county across the land.
GWEN IFILL: David Baltimore, is there a technological solution to this?
DAVID BALTIMORE, California Institute of Technology: I think there is. I'm not positive what it is. So along with MIT, we've started a voting project to look at the technology of voting and to see whether there is a voting system that, from our point of view, satisfies the criteria of reliability and security and reasonable costs that have to go into any system.
GWEN IFILL: Do you agree with Kathleen Sullivan that this is a federal role?
DAVID BALTIMORE: I'll leave that to the lawyers to figure out. We're doing this in a way that we feel we can advise any group who has the responsibility to put in voting machines into precincts.
GWEN IFILL: Deborah Phillips, you talked a moment ago about voting rights as being part of the issue at heart here. Do you think that people are being disenfranchised by our current voting system and this is something that is simply making a uniform standard could fix?
DEBORAH PHILLIPS: Well, I think that there is legitimacy to the argument that lack of resources in some of our poorer communities are giving us results such as we saw in many of the Florida communities. And that's unacceptable. Most of the problems that we have seen in the past four years studying failed elections though are not... They may appear at first blush to be technological problems. But when you really get into it, what they are are resource problems -- sometimes human resource problems. And so we don't believe that there is a quick technological fix. We also believe that communities, if given the right amount of resources, will make the correct choices for their voters in their communities.
GWEN IFILL: If you are right about that, that resources determine so much of what... whether people get the chance to vote fairly or not, how do you know there will be resources for a new voting system?
DEBORAH PHILLIPS: Well, that's precisely our point. If we begin with an approach that says we're going to try and impose a federal one, you know, type of technology on the problem, I don't think we'll get there. And so we prefer the McConnell-Torricelli approach which says let's establish a federal and ongoing federal commission that will look only at what works, what doesn't work, and then give matching grants to the communities that will adopt its recommendations. We think that ongoing approach, sweetened with resources, is what we need to get it right.
GWEN IFILL: Cathy Cox, how does that strike you?
CATHY COX: I like the concept, and I have supported the approach of Senator Charles Schumer to have the current Federal Election Commission evaluate all of the various types of technology out there now, evaluate the whole process of how we hold elections and then provide some matching money to the states that are willing to upgrade those equipment technologies and follow the best practices recommended by the FEC. I think without some federal money to give states incentive to follow either best practices or a mandated type of federal equipment, there will be resentment on the local level.
GWEN IFILL: Kathleen Sullivan, what about the cost factor here?
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: I think everyone's right, that resources are crucial here. And it may be that the federal government is going to have to bribe the states to go along who might not otherwise be able to go along or willing to go along. But let's face it. This is not a difficult technological issue. Dr. Baltimore and his colleagues at MIT I think could easily come up with a technological fix to this solution. The tough part is the political will. And my concern about having too many commissions or too much study of the problem is that it will postpone what really needs to take place, which is a concerted decision at the national level to make this happen.
GWEN IFILL: Dr. Baltimore, let's assume that Kathleen Sullivan's faith in you is not displaced. exactly what is best? Should punch cards be junked or the old machines junked? What about optical scans? It sounds like each of them have their own advantages and disadvantages.
DAVID BALTIMORE: We're not pre-judging the situation. The reason we put together a wide range of people to look at this problem is because we think that we ought to look at all systems and decide on the basis of a set of criteria which ones are satisfactory and which ones aren't. We don't feel that the answer has to be only one system is appropriate -- maybe many systems are. Clearly there is a lot of considerations here-- voters in rural areas, voters in urban areas, absentee ballots, lots and lots of things and all of those have to be put in their appropriate perspective as we consider this problem.
GWEN IFILL: Deborah Phillips, so many county officials around the country apparently were watching Florida and thinking their there but for the grace of God go we. Is this something over this voting system that will just die out the way sometimes these things do?
DEBORAH PHILLIPS: Well, that's a very good point. And actually most of the time that's precisely what does occur. When the smoke clears, the will, as has been suggested, to do the right thing and put the resources where the problem is evaporate. And I am not convinced that that isn't going to happen even now as the economy begins to look a little shaky. I think that we may become... the elections may become more like a snowstorm and, you know, once the snow melts, everybody forgets that we may have a problem next time around.
GWEN IFILL: Cathy Cox, are you anymore optimistic than that?
CATHY COX: I think if we let it slide, we will be reminded in a very difficult way two years from now, four years from now because I think all the states will be tied up in a huge amount of litigation, election contests, demands for recounts, because now the public is very aware of how inaccurate our machinery is.
GWEN IFILL: Kathleen Sullivan, what happens next?
KATHLEEN SULLIVAN: I think that the last comment exactly right. The Supreme Court has just handed an invitation to lawyers across the country to bring an avalanche of lawsuits claiming that the existing system that counts people's votes differently and with different rates of error in different counties violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. If the 107th Congress doesn't make it a top priority to fix this and fix it quickly, we're going to see litigation city in 2002 and 2004. So this is something that really ought not to be postponed and studied to death. It ought to be acted upon and acted upon quickly, and it would send a great message to the group of voters who do feel disenfranchised in the last election if the 107th Congress would act very quickly and resolutely on this matter.
GWEN IFILL: And David Baltimore, assuming you come up with a perfect solution, where does it go?
DAVID BALTIMORE: I think it goes to Congress and I think it will be up to Congress to provide sufficient funds so that all local areas can afford to put in a system which satisfies reasonable criteria. We're talking about a few billion dollars. It's an enormous amount of money to you and me, but in the context of the overall federal budget of $1.8 trillion or the overall defense budget of approaching $300 billion, it's not a huge amount of money. And I think it's an amount of money that Congress ought to put up, and I think Kathleen Sullivan is absolutely right. It should be put up soon so it's clear that the commitment to doing this is there and then the carry-through will be there because otherwise if four years from now we have another presidential election like this, it is going to be a very difficult situation.
GWEN IFILL: Well, thank you all very much for helping us discuss it.