Washington State Should Pay Attention to Iraqi Elections

On December 14, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed announced his 2006 election reform package. Unfortunately, more than a year after the Rossi-Gregoire race exposed serious flaws in Washington state’s elections process, Secretary Reed and other state officials across the country are still struggling to “get it right” on election reform.

According to Reed, 1) we have sufficient ballot security, even though ballots are routinely lost, unaccounted for, or turn up months after the fact; 2) a utility bill is an adequate form of identification; and 3) having a check box on the voter registration form is the only necessary verification for citizenship. Vote-by-mail, which has been called the “tool of choice for those who want to steal elections,” is not only permitted, but considered a welcome change.

Maybe Secretary Reed, and his counterparts dealing with election reform issues in Georgia, Virginia and across the nation, can learn a lesson from Iraq, which is on the verge of its third successful election in one year.

This week, Iraqi nationals are lining up at polling places all around the world, including locations in six U.S. cities. In order to vote, these Iraqis are required to show two documents that prove identity, age, and nationality, one of which must have a current photo. Both of these documents must contain matching personal identifiers like name or birth date. There are no provisions for vote-by-mail; even those as far away from Baghdad as Detroit must vote at a physical polling location, where identity can be verified. After voting, the now-famous “purple ink” is used to prevent double voting.

This is the way voting looks when accuracy, security of the ballot box, and integrity of the elections process are taken seriously.

This is why the Iraqi Election Information Network (EIN) — the umbrella non-governmental organization overseeing elections — has consistently found that Iraq’s new democracy has conducted elections “without systematic flaws and in accordance with basic international standards.”

If only the same could be said of Washington state. While Iraq has been receiving praise for elections process, this year, the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund ("ACVR Legislative Fund") identified Seattle as the number three election fraud "hot spot" in America. The report, "Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression In The 2004 Presidential Election," is the most comprehensive and authoritative review of the facts surrounding allegations of vote fraud, intimidation and suppression made during the 2004 presidential election. The report lists the top five election fraud "hot spots" in the country based on its findings and the cities’ documented history of fraud and intimidation. ACVR Legislative Fund calls for immediate attention to these areas. Other "hot spots" identified in the report were Philadelphia, Milwaukee, St. Louis/East St. Louis and Cleveland.

In the election contest trial that followed Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial race, Judge Bridges found that at least 1678 illegal votes were cast in the election. He also hinted that he agreed with those who believe states have gone overboard in their efforts to make voting as easy as possible without adequate safeguards. Judge Bridges said, "Extraordinary efforts are in place to make it easier to vote. But unfortunately I fear that it will be much more difficult to account for those votes in the future."

Democracies require that citizens trade their bullets for ballots, and put faith in the power of a system of laws to fairly decide policy. In order for a people to accept this, they must have faith that their voice will be heard, and not canceled out by a ballot that is fraudulent or otherwise unlawful.

Iraqi and coalition forces understand this; however, “leaders” here in the U.S. (particularly in states like Washington) have apparently forgotten the importance of elections. Maybe it’s time for our election officials to start learning from the Iraqis about how to protect a democracy. Elections are the foundation of liberty and democracy; they must be secure.