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Published: Monday, 7/16/2001

Inequality at the voting booth

As memories of the Florida presidential voting scandal retreat somewhat from the public consciousness, it is important to remember that election procedures in this country, when they go awry, are most likely to affect adversely the votes of people in poorer areas.

It is not just the evidence that black voters were unlawfully turned away from polling booths in some parts of Florida, probably in sufficient numbers to have given former Vice President Gore the electoral votes of Florida and thereby the presidency.

A study conducted for Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee in 40 congressional districts spanning 20 states indicated that 1.9 per cent of all ballots, or nearly 2 million votes cast in the 2000 presidential race, were not counted. Half of the districts covered were in poorer areas of the country with many minority residents. The remainder were districts that could be classified as affluent.

This does not mean that poorer voters were victims of intentional discrimination. However, the voting devices used tended to be punch-card equipment, which were seven times as likely to be discarded as those using machines designed to warn voters if their ballots were about to be spoiled. Improving voting equipment all over the country should have as high a priority as voter registration, because, as this newest study indicates, it wasn't just Florida that had problems.

The Democrat takeover of the U.S. Senate may give election reform a higher priority than it has had in the past several months. The cynic might say Republicans had no wish to revisit the voting scandals of 2000, but Democrats might have behaved the same way had their candidate won a narrow victory.

Reform could take several forms, an effort to abolish the Electoral College, separate voting equipment for president and members of Congress, or simply a multibillion-dollar investment in updating the nation's voting system, preferably a computerized touch-screen system.

That would help the nation more than the Bush administration's pie-in-the-sky anti-missile defense boondoggle.

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