OBJECTION TO COUNTING OF OHIO ELECTORAL VOTES -- (Senate - January 06, 2005)
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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the most fundamental right in our democracy, the right to vote. Every election day, millions of people in America from different social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds converge on polling stations to cast their ballots. And as they leave the polling booths, they emerge, one by one, as equals.
They are equals because the power of our Constitution resides with the people who delegate power to the Government. Our Constitution guarantees the right of every American to be heard equally about whom they want to lead their Government. We, as their elected leaders, have a responsibility to ensure that those constitutional freedoms are honored and protected.
We have heard from some voters in Ohio and across the country about the election in November. They feel that their voices were not heard.
Thousands of voters waited in line for up to 10 hours to cast their ballots. Some waited until 4 in the morning, and some waited for hours in the rain. Many voters with job, family, and other responsibilities simply could not wait any longer, and they left without voting. It is unreasonable to expect voters to wait 10 hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Some soldiers and other Americans living overseas believe their ballots were not counted. Without question, every legal ballot should count, whether it is cast overseas or here in the United States.
Many precincts across the country continue to use outdated punch-card ballots and decades-old voting machines that are more prone to error or simply do not work properly. That is disturbing enough--machines from the 1950s being used in 2004--but even more disturbing is that urban areas are disproportionately affected. More urban areas do not have the modern voting machines and equipment that is available in other areas of the country. This disparity affects voting for a large number of minorities, and that is unacceptable.
Even those precincts with electronic voting machines had problems. Some machines malfunctioned, causing votes to be counted more than once or not at all. Anyone who has used a computer at home or at work knows that even saved data can be lost. Yet most electronic voting machines do not have a paper record to back up the system. It could be as simple as a paper receipt like the one you get when you withdraw money from an ATM machine.
In Nevada, electronic voting machines have a paper trail, and we need it for all electronic voting machines. We must ensure the integrity of our voting process.
Many voters felt intimidated at the polls. When they went to vote, so-called election observers demanded that they provide more than the required form of identification. Others read flyers that directed them to the wrong polling places.
These are real people with real concerns, and we need to listen to them. Our Constitution requires that we listen to them. As elected leaders of these people and all of those in our States who have delegated to us the power to represent them, we have an obligation to listen.
After voters experienced similar problems in the last election, we addressed many of those issues. Congress passed, and I supported, the Help America Vote Act, which required the use of provisional ballots for voters who went to the wrong location so ballots would be sealed and counted later in the proper precinct, and each State received funding to update their voting systems.
But in Ohio, the provisional ballot was rendered virtually worthless in the November 2004 election. Ohio's Secretary of State ruled that provisional ballots were valid only if they were cast in the proper precinct.
So today we talk about the problem, but I think we also need to talk about the solution. Voting is fundamental to our democracy. The process should be fair, honest, and easy.
I do not support holding up the results of our November election to address the concerns many voters have raised about the process because I believe we need to move on with the business of the country. But I do support the GAO investigation into these concerns. When we find out what the GAO has to say, we have an obligation to address the problems they uncover.
I do support true election reform that will create a 21st century voting system that we can all be proud of.
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