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Current voting system needs improvement

Feb. 23, 2001

'Many Americans have lingering questions about the outcome of the national election...,' Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri), recently said.

Well, that should win an award for the understatement of the year.

Gephardt spoke these words at a recent press conference announcing the Democrats' new Election Reform Select Committee that will be investigating voting irregularities in Florida and the rest of the country.

It would be interesting to know what the Republicans are doing about election reform right now. They were supposed to form their own committee on election reform, too, but it doesn't look as though that's going to happen anytime soon. Instead, the Republicans in Congress recently conducted hearings concerning the media's actions on election night. But that's not really election reform; that's just an attempt to hold back our First Amendment right to free speech. The Republicans on the House Government Reform Committee want to suppress the results of exit polls and not allow television networks to call the election night winners until all the polls are closed.

I guess these Republicans think election reform means holding back the media. But I think election reform is making sure that people have their votes counted. The argument these Republicans make that the election results in Florida would not have been as close if the networks hadn't called Florida before all its polls were closed is ridiculous. Former Vice President Al Gore was declared the winner in Florida just 10 minutes before the polls in the western portion of Florida were closed. Could it really have made that big of a difference? As for all the supposed people on the West Coast who didn't vote because the networks had declared Gore the victor in Florida: It's not the media's fault if they chose not to vote because they knew the results of Florida. The media has a right to report what it knows, and the voters have a right to choose whether to have their voices heard. And making sure that those who choose to vote have their votes counted is what the Democrats and the rest of the Congress need to focus on.

Reps. John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Maxine Water (D-California) will head up the Democrat's new Election Reform Select Committee, which will review problems witnessed and reported across the country in the 2000 election and make related recommendations. It will focus on problems across the country, not just Florida. But I think most Americans already know what happened in Florida. Right now a Florida panel is conducting hearings and an investigation into the Florida fiasco to determine what can be done to improve the state's voting procedures. At the top of its list: removing all the state's punch-card ballot machines, which were used in 24 out of 67 Florida counties. This should be a national priority. So many of the country's poor areas use this voting method, making it a possibility that their votes might not count, as evidenced by a new review by the Orlando Sentinel and the Palm Beach Post of the ballots in Florida. These reviews show that if dimpled chads (where an indentation was made by the candidates name, but the chad was not totally dislodged) were counted in Palm Beach County, Gore would have gained 676 votes. And in 16 other counties, Gore would have received an additional 569 votes. Bush officially won Florida by 537 votes.

If the people in these counties had a ballot in which they could clearly show who they were voting for, the election outcome would have been different.

There are still questions about just who won the election, as Gephardt said. That there is a question as to who really won and what the intent of some voters was shows just how flawed our voting system is.

In the United States, it should be clear who really won the election; it should be clear what the intent of the voters is.