Déjà vu in Florida

It was “déjà vu all over again” in the Florida primary Sept. 10, with new electronic voting machines breaking down, polling places not opening on time and poorly trained election officials.

Did Gov. Jeb Bush, once again, throw a monkey wrench into the voting process? He had to know that all eyes would be fixed on Florida where millions of voters are still angry and hurting over his role in the theft of the 2000 presidential election.

The voting problems create uncertainty over whether Bill McBride or Janet Reno is the real winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, with Daryl Jones coming in third.

That certainly serves Gov. Bush, who has already worked hard to whip up dissension among the three Democratic contenders. They have refused to take the bait and have kept their fire directed at the common enemy, Jeb.

The Florida turmoil once again throws the spotlight on the urgent need to reform our electoral system. It must not be limited just to mechanical improvements such as electronic voting machines. The real issue is to democratize our election system.

We must make it far easier to vote. Why not make election day a national holiday? Make it easier for independent candidates and third parties to get on the ballot. Level the playing field by outlawing all corporate contributions to candidates.

The system should be nationalized so that all election expenditures in every state come from public funds. Insure that all candidates have fair access to the media.

Allow voters to register on election day. Restore voting rights for former prison inmates. Strengthen enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Establish “instant runoff” voting, in which voters cast ballots for their first and second choices.

Instead of “winner take all,” let’s establish proportional representation, in which representation in legislatures is apportioned according to a political party’s share of the vote.

A victory over Jeb Bush and his ultra-right minions on Nov. 5 could be a first step toward a truly democratic system of elections across the United States.

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Post-9/11 changes

The recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll documenting the shift in public opinion since 9/11 is something for all progressives to take note of (See story, page 11).

According to the WSJ, “economic anxiety trumps war talk,” with voters so far resisting the right wing’s call for war with Iraq.

But welcome as the poll is, the battle to defeat the right wing in this year’s election is far from over. While polls can generate enthusiasm and confidence – as this one certainly does – they do not win elections.

That requires hard work – making sure your neighbor is registered, making sure your union or community organization has a plan to register its members, participating in voter education on the issues by signing up for a phone bank or walking a precinct and, when the time comes, making sure they go to the polls. There’s room for everybody and we still have six weeks to get the job done.

President Bush and his advisors have also seen the WSJ poll. They, too, recognize the danger signs and are desperately working to reverse it by launching a campaign based on “more.”

More deceit. More lies and half-truths. More fear with warnings of imminent terrorist attacks. More calls for war with Iraq. More danger for global catastrophe.

There are other signs of change. And although still too few and, in most instances too timid, a number of leading Democrats have begun to speak out.

One of them is former President Jimmy Carter who told the Washington Post that Iraq does not present “a current danger to the United States” and challenged White House policy on a number of issues. “It is crucial that the historical and well-founded American commitments prevail: to peace, justice, human rights, the environment and international cooperation,” Carter concluded.

We agree. In large measure, that’s what’s at stake in this year’s election.

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