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Get It Right

If the polls are accurate and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) wins the presidency by a comfortable margin, the country will be spared the rancor over the questionable election machinery and alleged chicanery that marred the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Let’s say there isn’t a Florida recount or a quarrel over results in Ohio. That should not allow Congress to ignore whatever glitches and misdeeds do occur this year — no matter the outcome, they must plan to help the nation’s elections officials at last get voting right before the 2010 elections.

Despite passage of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which pumped out $3.15 billion to purchase voting systems, establish statewide voter lists, train poll workers, educate voters and make other election administration improvements, the 2004 general election was plagued by long lines, machine breakdowns and charges of voter disenfranchisement.

And again this year, fears are being expressed that high voter turnout will result in chaos at polling places. And there has been a renewal of charges by Democrats that Republicans have engineered massive voter suppression tactics and allegations from Republicans that Democrats are engaged in massive voter fraud.

At a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and House Administration committees on Sept. 24, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, observed that “the elections four years ago and eight years ago left a very bad taste in the mouths of Americans. If that happens again, if half of America thinks that people who had the right to vote were denied the right to vote, we are going to be in a real pickle in this country.”

The New York Times reported last week that tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from voter rolls or blocked from registering, in some cases because officials are violating federal law by using Social Security data — instead of state records — to verify voters’ identity.

That policy appears not to have a partisan purpose, but other states have instituted a policy of “caging,” whereby voters must respond to a registered letter in order to be kept on the rolls and others have adopted a requirement to present a picture ID, such as a driver’s license or other government-issued card.

Meanwhile, Republicans — backed up by media investigations — contend that the left-wing Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is systematically registering fictitious people as voters. Republicans also charge that Democrats plan to transport voters from non-swing to swing states to steal the election.

This election may or may not produce the largest turnout in history. A 63 percent turnout of eligible voters, matching the all-time high in 1960, would require 132 million people to go to the polls this year, up from 122 million in 2004. Even if we do not hit that number, turnout is expected to be large, straining polling places nationwide.

When the election is over, we hope that Congress will intensively investigate whatever goes wrong and, once and for all, give the country a dependable 21st-century elections system that the public can believe in.

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