Last week our friends, voting rights attorney John Bonifaz of VoterAction.org and Greg Moore of the NAACP National Voter Fund, testified at a U.S. House Administrative Committee hearing on the 2008 Presidential Primaries and Caucuses and "What we've learned so far."
What we've learned, as Bonifaz explained in his opening statement (written version here [PDF], full video at the end of this article) is that "jurisdictions across the country are increasingly outsourcing, to private vendors, key election functions, and in the process, compromising the transparency and public control of our elections."
While all of that is likely old hat, by now, to readers of The BRAD BLOG, where our hair has been on fire about same for many years now, there was an interesting moment during the Q&A with a Republican congressman and panelists Moore and Bonifaz, as seen in the very short exchange (just under two minutes) in the video clip posted above left.
The Congressman --- at least momentarily --- stepped off the GOP reservation, to admit that the private corporations that fail in their outsourced election duties "should be fired"...
Leading up to that admission, ranking member Vern Ehlers (R-MI) had hauled out the tired old Republican talking point that voter registration organizations have become a problem in the election process. While they may, in fact, have become a problem for Republicans, who would prefer most folks don't vote --- and thus, they've have been on a years-long, well-funded, highly-organized, and even DoJ-politicized, attack against voter registration groups such as ACORN, in a never-ceasing attempt to discredit, outlaw, and/or put them out of "business" however they can --- such non-profit organizations are hardly the problem our electoral system currently faces.
As Bonifaz pointed out, in response to Ehlers, the problem with our registration system, as one primary and caucus after another so far in '08 has demonstrated, is the ever-increasing rate of privatization and outsourcing of voter registration rolls to corporations that face little or no actual oversight.
In a surprising follow-up comment, in reply to both Moore and Bonifaz, the Republican Congressman admits that voting machine/registration companies (presumably those such as ES&S, who failed so miserably to manage the voting rolls in the recent New Mexico Democratic primary, and Diebold, whose untested, uncertified e-pollbook machines failed so spectacularly in Georgia's primary this year) "frankly, they should be fired."
Though following that refreshingly uncharacteristic point of candor, Ehlers quickly returned to the GOP reservation by adding (faithfully), that "Outsourcing is not necessarily the problem. Outsourcing to good companies is the answer."
He failed to speak to how such "good companies" might be found, or how it is that oversight can be brought to them by citizens and/or public officials. Bonifaz, in his opening statement [PDF], however, minced no words in regard to the problem.
In the statement, VoterAction's Bonifaz warned that due to "growing influence and control by private companies in how we conduct our elections in this country, our democracy remains at serious risk." He also noted (as we have ourselves many times) the importance of "citizen-led monitoring of our elections," before going on to condemn the U.S. EAC (as we have ourselves many many times) for utterly failing in their "statutory duties as set forth by Section 202 of the Help America Vote Act of 2002" to act as "a national clearinghouse and resource" for voting system problems.
Bonifaz then summarized as follows in his powerful conclusion...
When voting systems, including privatized voter registration databases and electronic poll books, are found to be unreliable, election officials ought to discontinue their use and employ safer and more accurate systems.
When questions repeatedly emerge every election as to whether votes are being properly counted – as they have in the past several election cycles, rigorous and mandatory audits ought to be required with voter-marked paper ballot systems that are, in fact, auditable.
More than a century ago, the United States Supreme Court stated in the case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, that the right to vote is "a fundamental political right" which is "preservative of all rights." In 2008, we must remain ever-vigilant in protecting this most basic right.
Democracy demands no less.
The video of Bonifaz' entire opening statement (appx. 6 minutes) follows in full below...
(Thanks to BRAD BLOG's Alan Breslauer for the video captures.)