When it comes to running elections and counting votes, states and counties have come a long way over the past dozen years. Nothing demonstrates their progress better than watching other people try to do the same job. During the Republican presidential primary campaign this year, several states were embarrassed by snafus with their caucuses, which are run by political parties rather than by public officials. In Iowa, an eight-vote election-night win for Mitt Romney was later converted into a 34-vote victory for Rick Santorum, with party officials admitting that they didn’t, in fact, know the actual number. (The state party chair resigned.) Counting was slow enough in Nevada to raise doubts during the delay, while in Maine, the GOP decided to declare Romney the statewide winner before some counties had even held their caucuses. “It’s been stunning to watch,” says Cathy Cox, a former Georgia secretary of state. “Caucus voting looks like the Wild West of voting.”
For all of their years of claims that massive voter fraud is going on at the polling place, such that Photo ID restrictions are required to ensure the integrity of the vote, you’d think that when Republicans have a chance to run their own elections, they’d be sure to want it to be as “fraud” free as possible.
Nonetheless, despite onerous polling place Photo ID requirements now passed into law in about a dozen states where the GOP controls both the legislative and executive branches, voters will be able to cast their ballot in next Tuesday’s “First-in-the-Nation” Republican Iowa Caucuses without bothering to show a Photo ID — even though the Republican Party itself sets their own rules for voting there.
Unlike most primary elections where an official state election board or agency sets the rules and runs the registration and balloting processes, the Iowa Republican Party runs its own state caucuses, determines the rules, tabulates all the votes and announces the results to the public and media themselves. They have complete control over the entire process, and yet they don’t bother to ask their own voters to show a state-issued Photo ID before casting their ballot. I wonder why that would be?
Tuesday is shaping up to be a big day in the world of politics. In Iowa, Republican caucus-goers officially kick off the 2012 presidential election cycle at 1,774 precincts across the state. In Egypt, voters in nine of the country’s 27 governorates head to the polls in the third and final round of elections for the first People’s Assembly to convene since last winter’s revolution.
At first glance, the contests couldn’t be more different. Egyptian voters will cast their ballots against a backdrop of continuing political instability and a volatile security environment. In Iowa’s gymnasiums, libraries, and churches, the greatest disruptions might well come from a handful of rowdy Ron Paul supporters.
But dig a little deeper, and one finds some uncanny parallels. If democracy really is God’s gift to the world, He’s infused it everywhere with His own quirky sense of humor. Here are a few to look out for as the first voting of the new year gets underway.
Computer technology has enabled humanity to make great advances in aircraft design, communications, and countless other fields. But when it comes to recording the results of elections, it’s often unclear to election officials in towns across the country whether the introduction of computers has been a help or a hindrance.
That’s where Douglas W. Jones, associate professor of computer science in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, comes in. In 2010, he was appointed by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) as one of four new technical and scientific experts to its Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC). The TGDC is charged under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with assisting the EAC in developing federal voluntary voting system guidelines that are used to test and certify voting systems.
Previously, Jones served on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems for 10 years, where he helped examine and approve voting systems before they were sold to the state’s county governments. He testified at the U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearings in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 11, 2001, and was involved in reviewing the federal 2002 Voting System Standards.