FOCUS: Election Reform

Research by Allison Bloch, Intern 

The controversies of the 2000 presidential election provoked heated debate and new legislation intended to prevent similar problems in the future.

In 2004, with electoral irregularities only growing more widespread, calls for reform have renewed appeal.

Campaign finance, the electoral college and disenfranchisement are just a few of the issues under debate. will be following this issue throughout 2005. Consider this short survey just the tip of the iceberg.

Keyword search (campaign finance): Google News, Yahoo News
Keyword search (disenfranchisement): Google News, Yahoo News
Keyword search (electoral college): Google News, Yahoo News
Keyword search (election reform): Google News, Yahoo News

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It’s All About the Money


Electoral College

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Reformers and cynics mingle on the campaign finance bandwagon. The calls for disclosure and limits on spending are more than matched by a tide of money that seems too big to be stemmed.

Open Secrets, in its roundup of 2004 spending, found that federal candidates across the board spent a total of $686,502,697 on their election campaigns.

George W. Bush’s mid-January inaugural ceremony is expected to cost between $40 million and $50 million. Major donors include ChevronTexaco, Occidental Petroleum and ExxonMobil ($250,000 each); and the Nuclear Energy Institute, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Union Pacific and International Paper Company ($100,000 each). A $250,000 ticket gets donors an “exclusive” lunch with Bush and Vice President Cheney.

On the other side of the aisle, 21st Century Democrats in Minnesota has been fined more than $300,000 for failing to disclose donors.

And former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton received $86,815 dollars in “travel and consulting fees” to compensate him for campaigning for John Kerry and other part members. The other also-ran Democrats campaigned on their own tab.

In Ohio, a campaign-finance bill quadrupled the state campaign donation limit to $10,000, and also removed a guarantee of anonymity, spurring an intriguing debate over free speech vs. political transparency.

“2004 election overview”
Open Secrets, 2004

“Bush inauguration fund drive breaks $8M”
Associated Press, December 24, 2004

“It’s inauguration time again, and access still has its price”
New York Times, December 10, 2004

“Privacy no longer part of legal landscape”
This Week (Ohio), December 23, 2004

“State campaign finance board fines liberal group”
St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 21, 2004

“Sharpton was paid to campaign for Kerry”
Associated Press, December 9, 2004

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An analysis by Election Protection, a voter-rights activist group, finds that despite the deployment of 25,000 monitors, including 8,000 lawyers, there were at least 39,000 complaints of irregularities and potential voter suppression on November 2, 2004.

In a press release, the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way said the top five problems were “registration processing, absentee ballots, machine errors, voter intimidation and suppression, and problems with the use and counting of the new provisional ballots mandated under new federal law.”

Activists say that Ohio is the textbook case for reform.

Nationally, a Gannet Newspapers article reported that “key elements” of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act protecting minority suffrage are set to expire before the 2007 elections, and that advocates are “sharpening their arguments for renewal.”

“Voting problems in Ohio spur call for overhaul”
New York Times, December 24, 2004

“Voters and Parties Spur Ohio Recount / Fears of suppression, ‘irregularities’ at issue”, December 3, 2004

“Election Day woes stress need for strong voting law”
Jackson Sun, December 20, 2004

“Shattering the rose-colored glasses”
People for the American Way, December 15, 2004

“The Voting Rights Act of 1965”
U.S. Department of Justice

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Proponents of the 217-year-old Electoral College say that the U.S. is a republic, not a pure democracy, and that the system ensures all states have a voice.

But doubters — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) — say the Electoral College gives too much power to states with small populations, depriving fair representation to the majority of Americans.

A common example is Wyoming, which has four times the electoral power as California, even though the latter state has roughly 70 times as many people living there.

One compromise measure, intended to replace the “winner takes all” system with a distribution of electoral votes proportionate to each candidate’s statewide showing, failed at the polls in Colorado.

Maine and Nebraska use a proportional system for Congressional elections.

“Feinstein wants end to Electoral College”
San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 2004

“Electoral College more valuable than ever”
Daly Herald (Utah), December 20, 2004

“Electoral College debate intensifies”
USA Today, September 24, 2004

“Abolish the Electoral College”
New York Times, August 29, 2004

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