The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, April 11, 2005


The mantra "Count Every Vote" has become a rallying cry for a certain kind of democracy. In this version, voting is to be as easy and painless as possible. From Senator Hillary Clinton's website:
To encourage more citizens to exercise their right to vote, the Count Every Vote Act designates Election Day a federal holiday and requires early voting in each state. The bill also enacts "no-excuse" absentee balloting, enacts fair and uniform voter registration and identification, and requires states to allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day. It also requires the Election Assistance Commission to work with states to reduce wait times for voters at polling places.
In tandem with this, the Count Every Vote Act seeks to ensure a clear paper trail:
The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 will provide a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines and ensures access to voter verification for all citizens, including language minority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities. The bill mandates that this ballot be the official ballot for purposes of a recount.
This ties in with the view of votes as a precious natural resource, not fully renewable but amenable to extraordinary extractive efforts. Consider The Nation's paean to Washington State gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire:
Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.
But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.
When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted.
The Governor's race in Washington is instructive in that it shows, in embryonic form, what the Count Every Vote movement would bring. The endless supply of paper means that there are always more resources to be extracted, somewhere. As we are learning, extraction and creation seem to overlap somewhat.

But the most important long-term characteristic of this movement is the way in which is redistributes power. There have been many disclosures -- of uncounted votes, of illegitimate votes, and of unlawfully excluded votes. Before these began, Dino Rossi had more votes than Ms. Gregoire; when they are done, it is extremely probable that Mr. Rossi will again have more votes. But there was a magical interlude in the middle when this was not the case; and Mrs. Gregoire is now acting as Governor. Timing is everything.

And timing is something that county-level election offices can control, easily and with impunity. Destroying ballots is risky business, but "misplacing" them is unlikely to have any consequences. The ongoing process of recounting serves to maximize the power vested in these election officials -- at the expense of every voter.

This is of a piece with the push for on-the-spot registration, and for maximal absentee balloting. Each of these measures increases the power of the electoral apparatus to best serve whoever controls it, without demanding fanatical lawlessness from the workers there. Machine politics is coming back.