Telling It Like It Is: Election Version

In a riff on the title of the book What’s the Matter with Kansas, Ron Klain’s recent column for the Washington Post was “What’s the Matter with Florida?”

The column could have more accurately headed “What’s Wrong With America’s Electoral ‘System’?” Note the quotation marks around the word system; they’re there because (much like the situation with health care), we don’t have anything that remotely deserves the word “system.”

As the New York Times reported just last Sunday in an article about voting glitches,

Though it wasn’t a 2000 redux, the 2018 midterms exposed persistent problems and the haphazard way the voting process was administered across the country. In Arkansas, three-member boards handle elections at the county level, while in Connecticut all 169 towns and cities use their own registrars.

The inherently political nature of running elections can call into question some officials’ decision-making.

Klain served as general counsel for Al Gore in that 2000 recount effort in Florida; he says he’s often asked why these problems keep happening in Florida.

Part of what we are seeing now in Florida, as we did in 2000, is the product of factors specific to the state: persistently weak election administration in key counties, perennially close and hard-fought elections, and a colorful group of political players that seems ripped from the pages of a Carl Hiaasen novel. But the most important thing to know about what’s happening in Florida is that it has little to do specifically with Florida at all.

Take a step back and look at the big issues playing out in Florida, and what you’ll see, instead of Florida’s foibles, are three critical challenges to American democracy as a whole.

It’s hard to argue with the negative effects of the three challenges Klain identified in his column: we allow “interested” officials to supervise elections;  we entrust the electoral process to amateurs and incompetents; and state election systems are poorly run and underfunded.

The recent midterms especially highlighted the first of these. As Klain notes,

Florida’s chief law enforcement officer, Gov. Rick Scott, who is also the Republican nominee in the Senate recount, is in a position to allege crimes by election officials, attempt to seize voting machines and dispatch state troopers to try to intervene in the post-election dispute. But a similar spectacle has been unfolding for months next door in Georgia.

As chief of election administration in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp— who is also the Republican nominee for governor, in a vote also being contested — stalled more than 50,000 new voter registrations, supported closing more than 200 polling places in predominantly minority areas and purged 1 in 10 Georgia voters from the rolls. In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach — again, also the Republican nominee for governor — employed many of the same tactics as Kemp, and fell just short of being elected.

These are egregious conflicts of interest, but such conflicts are only slightly less concerning when partisan officials not running for office oversee elections. Those officials have, as the saying goes, “a dog in the fight,” and significant incentives to game the process to favor their political party.

The clusterf**k in Florida also illustrates Klain’s other points: the machine recount  in Palm Beach County was hampered because old machines overheated from processing so many ballots; and 30,000 ballots in Broward County recorded votes for state agriculture commissioner but not the U.S. Senate. That weird result turned out to be the result of a poorly designed ballot.  More incompetence in the state of the hanging chad….

Klain’s most important point, in my view, is the following:

But again, that’s not just in Florida. While some election misadministration (such as inadequate numbers of voting machines in targeted areas) appears to be a deliberate effort to suppress the vote in minority communities, much Election Day mayhem is caused by systems that are poorly run and underfunded.

No matter how much we hail democracy on the Fourth of July, come November, elections are just another government service: In communities where thin budgets and lax leadership produce scant bus service, slow ambulance response times and unkempt parks, we should not be surprised to find confusing ballots, bad instructions at the polls and slow vote tabulation.

For the past 40 years, Americans have been beating up on the very idea of government. We have voted for people whose proudest “qualification” is that they know nothing about public service, and for people who insist that taxation is “theft” rather than the dues we pay for civilization. We lionize the small percentage of our population who have the means to retreat into gated enclaves and provide for their own comfort and safety.

We the People no longer support government’s most basic obligation: to provide an adequate physical and social infrastructure administered by competent public servants.

It shows. And not just during elections.


  1. Blind leading the blind?

    As with our Fourth Branch of Government, why is democracy feared by the few?


    With control, comes the illusion of power.

    Again, what is the point of our society as a whole?

    I’d say elections are just one more example that our existing structure is deeply flawed. Remember, at our onset, the Oligarchs who agreed on the constitution excluded non-landowners, women, and slaves. Yet, the famous line, “We the people…”

    We’ve never been about the people. The struggles from day one were to eliminate oppression in all its forms.

    As a democracy, we rank fairly low internationally on evidence of such. Yet, we have the largest military on the planet in how many different countries spreading “democracy”.

    Look at the power of Smartphones. I can conduct my banking online and transfer monies from Muncie, Indiana to Bangladesh within two keystrokes.

    Yet, the bedrock of our entire democratic structure is beyond antiquated. There were stories about votes being flipped…people were recording them on their phones. How can a candidate accept results from this system?

    Which begs the question, “WHY does our government allow such a decrepit system to manage our democratic processes?”

    Control. Manipulation.

    Just like with my questions yesterday about the media and technology. You would think our leaders elected to positions of power would want the absolute best system possible in 2018 to determine the power structure of our democracy, yet all the evidence tells us they don’t want the best system. Why?

    Before they are allowed to recruit one soldier and send him/her beyond our borders, our political leaders should all agree to fix the election process. It shouldn’t be a day, but a month-long process done via the internet through the BMV or some other system. If the BMV is being trusted to determine I’m a legitimate citizen, then use their system for voting. It should also be mandatory and if you miss so many votes, your license is suspended.

    We are supposed to be the innovative country in the world but when it comes to our social structure, we are archaic for a reason.

    Control. Manipulation.

  2. “Klain served as general counsel for Al Gore in that 2000 recount effort in Florida; he says he’s often asked why these problems keep happening in Florida.”

    I was living in Florida in 2000 during that “recount effort”; local news reports and newspapers kept us up with the goings-on of a situation which should have been questioned by the entire country. It was a close election in more states than Florida but Florida was the only state to recount the presidential votes; Florida was also the only state where George W.’s brother Jeb was governor. We can compare the recent mid-term election results in Florida and Georgia, where questionable Republican leadership and intrusion into voter suppression were blatant long before November 6th.

    But; we can’t unring those bells. We can, however, act on questionable elected officials’ tactics and control before 2020 and we face total destruction by Trump’s faction or possible salvation by regaining sane control in the Senate and the House of Representatives by reenacting our Constitution and Rule of Law throughout this nation.

    “We the People no longer support government’s most basic obligation: to provide an adequate physical and social infrastructure administered by competent public servants.”

    “It shows. And not just during elections.”

  3. Todd,

    When I read your sentence –

    “If the BMV is being trusted to determine I’m a legitimate citizen, then use their system for voting. It should also be mandatory and if you miss so many votes, your license is suspended.”

    – I actually laughed out loud.

    Like that will ever happen. That would make it far far too difficult to disenfranchise the voters that the gop doesn’t want to have the right to vote.

  4. We can deride the election antics of those in charge in Florida and Alabama, but the truth is that they have the support of nearly a majority in those states to do what they do. If nothing else, the past two years have shown us just how broken this county’s base of morality is. For the 41% who still support Trump it is non-existent.

  5. Thankfully, the Supervisor of Elections in Broward County has resigned. Unfortunately, the governor will appoint a replacement until the next election. More unfortunate is the fact that the Republicans still control every part of Florida government except Agriculture Commission, which means there will be no money spent to fix the election problems that we actually have. We will spend the next two years trying to find ways to cut more people from the rolls, limit the number of polling places available for minorities, and limit early voting to make it less convenient for those same minorities. Welcome to Florida!

  6. I would suggest that there is a reasonable and cost efficient solution to the issue noted above and that is Vote By Mail. Oregon has had it in place for almost a full decade with little to no problems and comparatively very low administrative costs. Colorado and California have also initiated that means of voting.

    Voter suppression is another thing altogether. To Mr. Smekens, I suggest that the BMV is not the be all and end all in verification. Both my spouse and I have had our licenses renewed in the past month. I had to produce a laundry list of documents to prove who I was even though I have lived at the same address for more than 50 years, the state has records going back more than 50 years showing my picture, physical description and address. The clerk insisted that I produce not one but two recent pieces of qualified mail with my name and address even though most of the bills that come into our home are addressed to my spouse.

    My spouse’s experience was even more challenging as he had a replacement SS card sent to him many decades ago when his original was stolen. The card was in the original folder sent to him. It was rejected by the clerk and her supervisor. He was directed to the SS office for a “valid” one. That led to a hours long wait at the SS office where the clerk confirmed that the card was indeed a valid one and should have been accepted. The clerk ordered a new one for him but he had to wait for 10 days for it to be mailed to him. He was also told by the DMV clerk that he didn’t need the recent mail pieces even though he had verified that information on the state website.

    The activities of the Republicans in this state and throughout the country have been on a concerted drive to keep the poor, minorities and marginalized from voting. Think about the process just described if you had to take time off work, had to depend on someone else or public transportation (in this city that is a joke) to get from place to place, did not have utility bills in your name for whatever reason, were not born in a hospital or had lost all or some of the required documents in a natural disaster, were old and infirm with limited stamina. The list of obstacles is daunting and exclusionary by its very nature.

    There has to be a better way.

  7. We have the smartest technology inventors on the planet – facebook, apple, twitter, google and yet, we have the stupidest voting “system” in the world.

    And guns. Lots and lots of guns that kill people every single day and yet we don’t have a health care crisis “system” for gun violence.

    We have Fox Spews and InfoWars telling us daily that the government is against us and shouldn’t be running our lives, yet, they have a POTUS that watches them 24 hrs a day who repeats everything they say.

    We are doing a disservice to intelligent people in this country and we are the laughing stock of the world because of the stupidest leader on the planet.

    What a shame to feel this way on Thanksgiving eve. To my friends here on this blog, I hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving tomorrow. Please eat some stuffing with gravy on top for me since I can’t find that over here. I managed to find a huge 3 lb turkey leg so I’m going to eat that. Cheers.

  8. Two things: (1) Republicanism is working very hard to retain/gain power everywhere and is thus destroying the mechanisms of democracy.

    (2) Democracy, like most mechanisms, requires investment and maintenance. When we decide not to do these things, the mechanism breaks down. Florida, as today’ blog suggests, is just the tip of the iceberg. Did you see the farce going on in Dodge City, KS?

  9. Dear Answer Person, (ahem..)
    I am going to have to read his work: but your summation and thoughts on what he has stated is right to the heart of the matter – our ‘system’ has been going kerfunkly since for sure Gore v. Bush. And well before we are coming to find out… Holey moley! How do we undo what is in my eyes a criminal hegemony bent of wrecking our Constitution and Her ideals? If, like the situation with Interpol who is threatened with the leadership by a Russian Army Intelligence officer – we have the enemy of the people among us in our legal and voting entities… who needs friends like that? What do we do? WE… the People, other than vote? I say it is time to use political action using every legal and humanly ethical means to upset this shitwagon. – But really this is my most agonizing personal question – WHAT is it we can do individually and en masse?.. – Inquiring mind.

  10. JD at 8:21 am; Absentee Ballots are “vote by mail”, who knows what happens to them after we mail them…the closet full of boxes of Absentee Ballots suddenly “found” in Florida during the 2000 recount were not counted because “they did not arrive in time for the election”. Absentee Ballots are sent out early, I mailed mine (for the first time) 3 weeks before the election.

    Voter Registration through the BMV could be an option when renewing vehicle registration or driver’s license of simply for convenience but as you said it is not the”be all, end all” solution. Most people renew vehicle registration by mail; only necessary to appear in person to renew a drivers license. A few years ago my son when to the downtown Indianapolis BMV to replace his lost drivers license. The clerk said she could not renew his drivers license in Marion County because he was born in Johnson County. Working for the City, I found a way to call the head of BMV who told me to send my son back to that branch and, no, he would not have to wait in line. No idea what happened to that clerk.

    Four years ago I was attacked, permanently injured and robbed on my driveway at 11:00 in the morning. My daughter-in-law drove me to the BMV for a replacement drivers license, I received a temporary paper copy. The clerk said it would be accepted as official ID anywhere, including at the Social Security Office…of course they accepted it to replace my Medicare card but not my Social Security card…had to wait for the official drivers license to arrive in the mail, return to the SS office and wait to receive my card.

    Next year, 2019, is the last year to receive our REAL drivers license to be accepted as the only valid ID to board a plane or enter a government building. Isn’t the BMV a government building? This is a hangover of George W’s Patriot Act…what Republican surprises await us at BMV next year? I will take everything I have with my name on it and hope for the best. And I need to renew my license next year.

  11. Here’s a possibility. Replace Republicans with Democrats. Not perfect but a huge improvement. Republicans are barely even a political party now, they are a business making a great deal of money now regardless of the impact of any others ever. The need to find another business to get into.

  12. Blame this mess on James Madison, who feather-drafted in control of elections to the states as a bone in the give and take of 1787-1789 meeting on establishment of a constitution. I have recently written elsewhere that our constitution is dated and subject to interpretation and reinterpretation by judges whose votes on issues of the day can be known before briefing and argument, suggesting that it is time to write a new constitution that could never be interpreted to give us a Dred Scott or a Janus or a Citizens United et al. I realize that a constitutional convention would be hit with demands by anti-abortion and terminal capitalists for language to fit their biases, but something has to be done to correct the current minority rule by fraud etc. Maybe we can get the ball rolling after a sweep in 2020.

  13. One of the first jobs the House Democrats need to start after they take over next year, is draft model legislation for all Federal Elections. This legislation should supersede all state laws. I personally like our election system in Marion County, a paper ballot is fed into the machine to be counted. You now have a paper trail. Funding could come out of the Defense Department’s bloated budget, after all defense of our right to vote should be of prime importance.
    Here is a note, I found this article that shows how far the GOP will go to slant/ rig an election and what can be said in public to gather in the Neo-Confederates:
    When a sitting U.S. senator up for reelection asks that neither the press nor the public be allowed to attend a debate with her opponent, that kind of thing tends to generate attention.

    Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who is trying to hold on to her seat in a runoff against Democratic challenger Mike Espy, faced an onslaught of criticism after the Jackson Free Press revealed her lengthy list of demands for Tuesday night’s debate.

    She won that battle—according to the paper, just “the debate moderator, panelists, and the production team will be allowed in the auditorium”—but those weren’t her only requests that were granted.

    It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the Mississippi Farm Bureau, which is hosting the debate, acquiesced to the senator’s requests. As the newspaper also pointed out, the bureau’s top board members have all donated to her reelection campaign. As critics weighed in on Hyde-Smith’s requests, the story went viral so quickly it crashed the paper’s website.

    The race has garnered national attention—and not just because it’s the only remaining seat up for grabs in the Senate. Hyde-Smith has also come under fire for making a joke about attending a “public hanging,” especially considering that she is facing off against a black candidate.

    In a joint statement, ACLU deputy legal director Jeff Robinson and ACLU of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley Collins, responded that it would serve her well “to brush up on her state’s history—from slavery, to slave patrols, lynchings, black codes, Jim Crow, and all the way to modern-day mass incarceration—to fully understand the breadth of her despicable comment.”

  14. ML,

    Thanks for adding the exposure of the abject, racially-oriented politics STILL ravaging the southern states. Just a couple days ago the newly elected AG of Alabama fired the head prosecutor who has and is trying cases against the “good ol’ boys” in Alabama’s statehouse. You don’t suppose….

    This lends even more credence to the miracle of Jones’ election there. Hyde-Smith is old school redneck. The black and rational white people MUST turn out in huge numbers to send her back to the foreman’s shack.

  15. Australia requires people to vote and fines them if they don’t. So many have given their lives to gain, protect, and preserve our right to vote that I wish we’d adopt Australia’s system. EVERYONE should honor those sacrifices by voting.

  16. Tests in West Virginia using a technology called “blockchain” may provide the beginnings of a solution, along with another technology, biometric authentication. Blockchaining is so difficult to tamper with that major corporations like IBM are selling applications based on it. It is not ready to go into full production for voting today, and should be approached a step at a time as we build trust and confidence. But it solves so many voting problems (trustworthiness, ease of access, cost, speed, traceability, recounts) that it is almost certain to be given a serious look as governments come up to speed on how it works. It is not impervious to Gerrymandering, but it could put a crimp in vote suppression.

    The registration process would, I suspect, remain largely manual, at least for some time to come, but for most counties that could be handled throughout the year by one office without ever encountering long queues of registrants. Because it can be used on smartphones, iPads, PC’s and most future products with computing capabilities, blockchaining would leave only a handful of voters to be accommodated manually.

    It may not prove a panacea, but it’s a serious contender to supersede the silliness that we now go through to be good citizens.

  17. This is totally off the subject today but would be meaningless if I don’t post it now…my Thursday, Thanksgiving Day Indianapolis Star was just delivered to my front door. The carrier must know I have canceled my subscription as of the end of this month and is trying to get there as fast as possible.

  18. Some observations: Many years ago Jimmy Carter served a UN election monitoring team. When asked if such team could monitor a U.S. election Carter expressed that U.S. did not have the requisite safeguard regulations in place. No system is better or worse than that the honor of those operating within it. Republicans represent the last stage of a dying old order. The 2020 census will there cause already lost. Unless they rig it for another decade. Lastly, the Congress (specifically the House) must stand on their powers regarding elections. In 2000 the House should have judged the election as was their constitutional duty born out by 1876 election. They can refuse to count electors, refuse to seat members they deem improperly elected and judge election by commission. The lack of courage and honor by the House in 2000 was the encouragement for all the depredations and electoral abuse imposed by Republicans since.

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