Monday, February 28, 2005

Hitchens on Ohio

I haven't agreed with much of what Christopher Hitchens has had to say about the war in Iraq, but I still respect him as much as any writer (for his writing and rhetorical skills, if nothing else). So I was happy to see that he's taken on "Ohio's Odd Numbers" for Vanity Fair.

There's a lot that smells in the Ohio results and Hitchens covers most of it. I don't believe whatever funny business went on there had any impact on the ultimate outcome (and I'm not even sure there was funny business, though Hitchens builds a pretty good circumstantial case). But people standing in line for 11 hours, wildly high numbers of undervotes in certain (Democratic) precincts, and more votes for one candidate (Bush) than there were voters in a particular precinct is an absolute embarrassment.

I don't want to wax indignant here, but we ought to be able to perfect the process of election administration in this country. Unfortunately, the level of paranoia is so high on both sides in Washington that any reform effort will be suspect as soon as it's announced. Place that suspicion in the context of federalism and you've got a recipe for stasis. Thus, unfortunately, the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 isn't going anywhere. As a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article [free registration required] put it this weekend...

Democrats want all 50 states to let former felons vote. Republicans want all 50 states to require photo IDs from voters.

These and several other election reforms now circulating in Congress have two things in common.

One is that they pit the two parties squarely against each other, and thus have little chance of winning bipartisan support.

The other is that they are federal mandates on the states, designed to create more uniformity in a messy patchwork of state and local rules. That makes them unpopular with many officials outside Washington.


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