Editor's note: We received a flood of letters in response to Steven Hill's "Ten Steps to Better Elections" (May/June). Most praised the article and wanted to share ideas about election reform. A sampling of their suggestions follows.
IT'S THE MONEY
"Ten Steps to Better Elections" relegated to last the true prerequisite for electoral reform: minimizing the role of money. Maine and Arizona now use Clean Elections, a system of public financing. A vigorous campaign to enable California candidates to also "run clean" is under way (go to caclean.org), as are similar efforts in other states. Politicians of both parties happily run clean in Arizona and Maine because it gets lobbyists off their backs. And they often win against lobbyist-backed opponents. State policies tilt toward the interests of the citizenry, not of campaign contributors. And most important for Sierra readers, environmental concerns get a fair hearing.
HANDS, PAPER, SCANNERS
Steven Hill seems to think that a paper trail attached to an electronic touch-screen voting machine would resolve worries about hacking these machines. Yet the vote counted in the "black box" of the computer can be different from what the paper "verification" indicates. The Sierra Club in New York supports paper ballots marked by hand (or a ballot-marking device for disabled voters and voters whose first language is not English). Canada's national and provincial elections are conducted with paper ballots counted by hand. If there is not the political will for this in the United States, we support counting by precinct-based optical scanners. These have been used in some states for many years and are much harder to hack. Go to nyvv.org to learn more.
Linda A. DeStefano, Chair
Election Reform Task Force
Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club
Syracuse, New York
There are voting-reform bills in Congress now, one introduced by Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and another by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). They will never get out of committees unless we tell Congress to act.
I would like to institute voting using the Internet. We could set up an independent, government-funded agency to create and maintain a secure database containing every voter's ballot. It would be open for voting during a period of several months. On a designated day, access would be closed and a few minutes of data processing would reveal the results. There would be no such thing as a recount because counts would be updated continuously during the open period. People who do not have Internet access at home would be accommodated with computers at public libraries or other institutions. There would be no need for special voting machines.
Philip H. Sayre
Green Valley, Arizona
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
"Ten Steps to Better Elections" tells us what we need to do. But how? With a bipartisan effort? That hardly seems likely. What is required is an effort that goes beyond party politics entirely. We need an alliance of truly independent voters who make it their cause to bring electoral reforms and to support candidates who are reform-minded, progressive, and committed to protecting the environment. Those of us who are disgruntled should leave the parties in droves, urge everyone we know to do the same, and make lots of noise as we go. One by one and all together, we must rise to the task and begin this work. My case is made more fully at independentstrategy.info.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
I am opposed to abolishing the Electoral College as recommended in "Ten Steps to Better Elections." When this country began, the slave states wanted slave ownership to be a national right. The Northern states opposed this, fearing that the more populous Southern states would prevail. So they managed to establish the Electoral College and keep slavery as a state's choice. And, after all, this is the United States of America, not of "California, New York, and others."
THE 11th STEP
"Ten Steps to Better Elections" lacks only one step. The author should have included term limits.
In "Dangerous Liaisons" (May/June), Louisiana Energy Services failed three times (not twice) in attempts to build a U.S. uranium centrifuge facility. In the same issue's "Above It All," Florida's estimated population (as of July 1, 2004) is 17 million, not 14 million, and the state's most densely populated county is Pinellas, not Miami-Dade. Finally, in "Profile," we misspelled the name of a former representative from Southern California: The correct spelling is Lynn Schenk.
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