Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A precious right threatened

Tens of billions of dollars and more than 1,000 U.S. military lives have been spent in the name of protecting Americans from the dubious distant threat of Saddam Hussein and a fictional stash of doomsday weapons.

But precious little concern seems aroused by scandalous evidence of a far more pernicious threat to American freedom--fraud, chicanery or utter managerial incompetence in the election system.

Robbing voters of their right to pick representatives in government is far deadlier to democracy than the overblown fear of a tyrant afar. Citizen voting is what makes democracy tick, the sinew of maintaining civil order.

President Bush could and should use his bully pulpit to condemn tinkering with the election process. Thereafter, the Justice department should investigate and prosecute any tomfoolery to deprive Americans of their vote, or, in the alternative, assure Americans that the system is A-OK.

One of the most egregious episodes involves an Arizona company paid $488,000 by the Republican National Committee to register voters, which is now accused by employees in Nevada and Oregon of shredding registrations of Democrats. The company denies it.

In Florida, where the 2000 presidential election hung in the balance for weeks and has become a staple of TV humor, Gov. Jeb Bush?s administration is accused of discouraging minority voters by sending state police to homes of African Americans on the pretext of investigating voter fraud. Bush?s unabashedly partisan Secretary of State Glenda Hood, also an official in brother George Bush?s campaign, is under fire for zealous purging of voters from the rolls on frivolous grounds, especially Democrats. Hood succeeded Katherine Harris, now in Congress, who, as Florida?s top election official, tilted the outcome of Florida?s controversial and disputed 2000 presidential vote count.

Living up to its reputation as the grand incubator of election goofs, Florida reported Monday the failure of electronic voting systems and chaos as voters crammed precincts for early balloting.

Is this our future: inviting international election monitors, like some Third World nation, to ensure Americans they can go to the polls and be certain of honest elections?

America?s political system already is poisoned by deceit, pointless pep rally slogans and character assassination. Growing numbers of voters believe elections are rigged.

Any attempt now to swindle voters out of their Election Day rights and responsibilities, either by fraud or ineptness, must be dealt with swiftly. Indifference would constitute tacit approval by officials with the power to condemn it and an invitation for an even larger heist of votes later.

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