Malcom Urges Adoption of Carter-Baker Voting Reform Proposals
U.S. political leaders should adopt the broad voting-reform plan offered Monday by the Carter-Baker Commission to reverse a growing a "crisis of confidence" among voters, said commission member Shirley Malcom, AAAS head of Education and Human Resources.
Implementing the reforms would help assure that all people qualified to vote are allowed and encouraged to do so, and that all of their votes are properly counted, Malcom said. And, she added, bolstering the troubled system of electing leaders would give the United States greater credibility as it seeks to promote democracy elsewhere in the world.
In a break with her colleagues, however, Malcom questioned the commission's proposal to maintain Iowa and New Hampshire as the traditional first elections in the primary campaign process, even as the other state primaries are consolidated into four regional votes. Both Iowa and New Hampshire have only a small percentage of minority residents, she said, but a disproportionate influence in determining the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees.
"I totally support the notion of the regional primaries that rotate through the regions," she said. But, she added: "Iowa and New Hampshire are not really reflective of the diversity of America. I want to raise the question about whether there is any place for that tradition in today's America.
[Read the full text of the interview with Shirley Malcom here.]
The U.S. voting system has shown increasing signs of stress in recent elections, and the 21-member Commission on Federal Election Reform, made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents and headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, spent nearly six months in research and public hearings on the problems. Their report, released Monday, offers 87 recommendations to strengthen the country's electoral system and build voters' confidence in the political process.
The recommendations focused on five themes: voter registration; voter identification; voting technology; increased access to voting; and nonpartisan election administration. The commissioners urged that reforms be enacted before the 2008 presidential election, and pressed that recommendation Monday in meetings with President George W. Bush and congressional leaders.
In 2004, Malcom was one of the chief organizers of a AAAS initiative that convened a panel of top scholars on elections and voting technology. They were asked to evaluate problems that had brought the voting system under close and often critical scrutiny in recent elections and to articulate an agenda for research on these issues. She was appointed to the Carter-Baker Commission in March 2005, and was one of the few science and technology experts on an elite panel comprised of public officials, civic leaders and scholars.
The AAAS panel, in deliberations last year, found that the American system of voting is broadly vulnerable to error and abuse. The panelists called for a crash-course of study and reform to make election results more reliable by improving technology and creating better access for votersespecially those who have historically encountered serious impediments to voting.
In an interview this week, Malcom said the research and recommendations made last year by the AAAS-organized panel were distributed to members of the Carter-Baker commission early in their deliberations. (To read the AAAS report, click here.)
During the interview, Malcom addressed a range of issues related to voting in the United States:
- Voter Identification Cards. The federal Real ID law has already been signed into law by President Bush. Beginning in 2008, people who live or work in the United States will have to have a new photo identification card that can serve as a driver's license and for use in air travel and obtaining government services. The Carter-Baker Commission recommends that the the Real ID Card also function as a voter's ID, but for the people who do not have driver's licenses, that they receive a free photo ID. And the commission recommends that the state assume the pro-active responsibility to go out and find people, register them, and give them an ID.
"Many states are moving toward requiring ID cards for voting," Malcom said. "The question is making sure it is in a form that can be used for voting and that it is fully accessible to people."
But Malcom was critical of a new Georgia law requiring the cardssaying that voters there have to pay for the cards and often have to travel a long distance to get them. That, she said, amounts to a modern-day poll tax.
- Voting Technology. "What we have right now is deeply flawed," Malcom said. "We don't really have the technology yet that will allow people to really feel confident that the vote they cast is the vote that got counted, that allows the electorate to feel that the system is transparent, secure and tamper-proofand that you can come back and audit the results. And I think this is paramount in terms of restoring credibility."
- Voter Disengagement and Cynicism. Malcom suggested that extensive new study is needed on the behavior of votersand non-voters. "Do we actually go and talk to people who didn't vote?" she asked. "Why didn't you vote? Is this a matter of, 'It wasn't convenient? I couldn't get to the polls, or I had to work?' If it were that, then the issue is, well, why do we have voting on a day when people work? Or why can't we have a holiday the way other countries have? There may be lots of things that contribute. But right now, you'd just be doing a game of hit-and-miss because we just really haven't asked the questions."
- International Credibility. "Trying to establish voting systems in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever else…it is very difficult to carry a suitable amount of moral authority around the need to have accessible, fair, secure voting available to people when you're not doing that yourself," she said. "We've got to get our system right in order to maintain our own democratic process. But we also have to be able to convince others in the world who may be looking at putting democracy into place that this can be done in such a way that it can inspire voter confidence."
To read the full report of the Carter-Baker commission, click here.
To read a news release summarizing the commission's findings, click here.
Edward W. Lempinen
20 September 2005