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New Jersey

 

Election reform plan proposed

Official cites eroding faith in process

 

Sunday, April 09, 2006

By WENDY PLUMP

Special to The Times

 

PRINCETON BOROUGH -- A federal elections official, speaking at a colloquium at Princeton University on Friday, offered four modest but pointed solutions to what he called the "alarming erosion" of American voter confidence following the last two presidential elections.

 

The solutions put most of the onus for improving the credibility of national and local elections on election administrators and the vendors who serve them.

 

The official, Ray Martinez, a U.S. Election Assistance Commission vice chairman, was the keynote speaker at "Making Every Vote Count: A Colloquium on Election Reform Legislation." The two-day event drew scholars, policy makers and advocates from all levels of the election community, including members of the U.S. Justice Department.

 

"One of the most alarming trends in our country is the continual erosion of voter confidence in the accuracy of our tabulated results," Martinez said. "The 2000 presidential election has adversely affected the opinion of the average American on our electoral process.

 

"Since then, voter confidence has continued to trend in the wrong direction," Martinez added, "and it's unlikely to fade any time soon."

 

At the top of his list was the idea that every state perform a regular election audit to determine that the administration of elections is fair, impartial and consistent with voter intent. The results of these audits should be widely dispersed.

 

Part of the problem with recent elections, Martinez said, is that not every state has clear directives on what constitutes a vote for each type of machine used. Where there are ambiguities, election officials must make snap judgments that are later open to suspicion or calls of partisanship, he said.

 

A regular and uniform state audit of these matters, Martinez said, would go a long way towards curtailing voter suspicion.

 

Martinez also would like to see each state's chief election official take a conflict of interest oath. In it, these political appointees would adopt a voluntary pledge of impartiality, distancing them from the party that appointed them. They would likewise refrain from participating in partisan committees or meetings or raising money for any political groups that would call their credibility into question.

 

Third, Martinez said all election equipment vendors -- particularly the top tier officers in each company -- should take a similar conflict of interest oath, and that the vendor industry adopt a list of impartiality standards by which vendors must conduct themselves.

 

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