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Honor America’s Voters With Effective Reforms

With the heat index rising on the presidential campaign trail, one central tenet of our great democracy must remain fireproof: The right of all eligible citizens to cast their ballot shall never be subordinated to partisan interests.

[IMGCAP(1)]Unfortunately, the foundational principle of American democracy that every registered voter can make his or her voice heard is once again being threatened by political mischief.

In Michigan, there have been reports of a campaign to disenfranchise voters who recently lost their homes to foreclosure.

In Wisconsin, the attorney general is wrongfully using unreliable databases to remove eligible citizens from the voter registration list.

In Ohio, Republicans are spearheading a lawsuit to stop an initiative meant to ease the strain on Election Day by allowing some early voters to register and cast an absentee vote on the same day.

In Virginia, state officials are accused of using scare tactics and spreading false information to prevent voters, particularly students, from participating in voter registration drives.

These and other tactics are being used to shape the electorate for partisan reasons.

This is a problem, and it’s a bad one.

Both campaigns should take the lead in condemning these attacks on the electorate. Whether carried out by their party, fellow elected officials, partisan allies, or campaign volunteers or staff, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) need to condemn all efforts to suppress votes and prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots.

And President Bush ought to put the Justice Department on alert to help ensure the will of the electorate decides this election, not partisan trickery or administrative shortcomings.

These tactics just exacerbate an already troublesome voting infrastructure. The excitement, passion and historic nature of this political season have energized so many voters that they collectively have the potential to form a tsunami that some fear may overwhelm the system on Election Day.

This is a problem, but it’s a good one.

Some election officials worry that they lack the resources to handle what is expected to be a historic turnout. Others, though blessed with adequate resources, are planning to distribute resources based on outdated voter turnout models. Wrong!

There are too few poll workers, the majority of whom are inadequately trained, and the registration system is overly burdensome to voters and election officials alike. But we have time to fix it if there is a will to make this election more transparent than 2004.

In addition to helping ensure these systematic shortcomings cause minimal disruption, both are morally obligated to refrain from filing lawsuits to keep eligible voters away from the polls or disqualifying voters most in need of having a meaningful voice, such as families affected by the mortgage crisis. We must not tolerate any effort to intimidate people by challenging their electoral status based on some faulty evidence.

Both campaigns can begin working with state and local election officials to help them prepare for the historic number of registrations. They can celebrate the younger generation by ensuring students know they can participate on their campuses. And by distributing resources according to this year’s projected turnout, both campaigns can help ensure that election officials are prepared where hordes of voters are going to be.

But their commitment should not stop with this campaign. Both the candidates and their campaigns should actively support a comprehensive reform of our electoral system.

Every eligible and interested citizen should be on the voter roll. Our registration should be able to follow us when we move. The government should do everything in its power to make sure voters are affirmatively put on the registration rolls and that every opportunity is taken to correct any mistakes prior to voting or, failing that, even at the polling place.

Solutions to the real problems voters face should be a high-priority commitment for Congress as well. Unfortunately, Congress and state legislatures have been more focused on partisan proposals to control the electorate, such as discriminatory voter ID provisions and unworkable proof of citizenship proposals.

Let’s honor America’s voters. Let’s conduct an election that is both transparent and accountable to the voters, not the partisans.

With that ideal in mind, a coalition of nonpartisan organizations is mounting a historic effort to ensure voters are informed, supported and protected. This week, Election Protection, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, will launch its Web site and hotline: 866ourvote.org and 866-OUR-VOTE.

In addition to providing Americans with the information they need to cast a meaningful ballot, the coalition is working nationwide to ensure election officials have the proper resources to guarantee that all voters are heard.

Election Protection doesn’t care who you vote for; it only cares that you got your opportunity to vote. As a passionate people, we can disagree until we’re blue in the face about who we should vote for and why. But as a democratic people, we should be red with embarrassment if the election is decided by anything other than the will of the electorate.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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