Here is a open letter from Congressman John Conyers to all those who realize that our voting progress is flawed and after two questionable presidential elections the time has come to take action.
February 1, 2005
As 109th Congress convenes, I write to thank you for the energy and resources you continue to commit to the pursuit of a just electoral process. Once again, I am indebted especially to the internet activists and the members of the alternative media whose enduring efforts shed light on an issue that too few in the mainstream media have been willing to discuss. There is a new fight ahead, the fight for comprehensive election reform legislation, and I write to ask for your help.
To this end, I will be pushing a package of reforms to the electoral process and machinery. First, I am proud to introduce on Wednesday, the Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act as a means to comprehensive election reform on a national level. Among other things, the VOTER Act mandates clear regulations for audit capacity and periodic audits, voter verification, and the use of paper records in recounts. The legislation requires every state to establish a same day registration process, permitting any eligible citizen to register and participate in a federal election on election day. And it calls for increased protections of your civil rights, uniform standards for absentee and provisional voting, elimination of the disparity between machine allocations between urban and suburban areas, and early voting opportunities in all fifty states. I am proud that the Senate companion to this bill has been sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd on behalf of the Senate Democratic Leadership. There is no doubt in my mind the VOTER Act represents a renewed commitment to an electoral process that is both just and crystal clear.
Second, and of equal importance to me, I will also be vigorously supporting Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.`s proposal for a Constitutional amendment that would guarantee every citizen the right to vote. In the past, I have been hesitant to support new amendments to the Constitution, but I am now convinced this amendment is a worthy exception. In the infamous case Bush v. Gore, a narrow majority of reactionary Supreme Court justices declared "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States" unless that right is conferred by that citizen`s state legislature. I do not believe that such a radical interpretation of the Constitution should stand, where our most basic rights are subject to the whims and vagaries of a state legislature or reactionary judges. I will, therefore, urge this Congress to protect the enfranchisement of every citizen with the strongest means at our disposal.
Third, the lack of standards for voting machines and the partisan activities of machine manufacturers resulted in a substantial number of concerned citizens concluding that we simply should forgo the use of machines at all, and should instead simply use paper ballots and hand counting of such ballots. I most recently heard this proposal at my Ohio hearings and have read it often in your correspondence, and I believe it should be taken seriously. This week I am writing to the Election Assistance Commission and formally requesting an official review of the security and reliability of electronic voting systems, including an examination of whether such systems should be used in any event.
Fourth, while I look forward to fighting for these changes, the simple passage of Inauguration Day cannot make me forget the past. I continue to press both the Department of Justice and the Republican leadership to investigate Ohio voting irregularities and bring to justice those who would defraud the public of their most basic rights. I have once again requested the raw polling data used to justify a Republican victory in Ohio despite its inconsistency with actual voter turnout on November 2. I have also written to every county election official in Ohio, asking for their review of my 102 page election report; I have asked the FBI to investigate the additional evidence of voting irregularities in Clermont County, Ohio; I have asked the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the misuse of the "great seal" by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in a recent fundraising solicitation; I have written to Ohio Attorney General Petro expressing alarm over his apparent partisan attempt to sanction those attorney who sought to legally challenge the results of the Ohio presidential election; and I am working on an amicus brief before the Ohio Supreme Court on this matter as well. Here, too, your efforts have made all the difference. We have received over 30,000 emails offering your support and detailing hundreds of individual abuses. With that kind of advocacy, even our most partisan opponents will stop and listen.
Fifth, it is clear to me that election fraud is a national problem. I have instructed my staff to begin compiling preliminary information about election day incidents across the country, and I have also asked the Congressional Research Service to conduct a survey of recent voting irregularities in all fifty states. In addition, I am awaiting the report of the General Accountability Office concerning systemic failures in the 2004 election. We will work to catalog and preserve a record of the disruptions that plagued the 2004 Presidential election, and apply what we learn to make voting more efficient and fairer for everyone. To be sure, in a number of states, good faith efforts by election officials averted egregious irregularities, but in others, the process appears to have serious deficiencies.
Sixth, we must not forget the near complete disenfranchisement of our fellow citizens in the District of Columbia. It is simply inexcusable that concerns about the partisan makeup of the House and Senate have led the Republican majority to deprive the District of a Congressperson or Senator with full voting rights in the United States Congress. I will strongly be supporting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton`s bill, H.R. 398, to correct this injustice. I also plan to cosponsor other reform bills when they are introduced, including Rep. Green`s legislation to eliminate the electoral college, Rep. Holt`s bill concerning voting machine paper trails, and Rep Sabo`s bill concerning same day registration. Seventh, I plan to again introduce, along with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, our felony disenfranchisement bill. Laws on the books, predominantly in the South, which prevent felons from voting in federal elections even after they have paid their debt to society are an embarrassing vestige of the Jim Crow laws, and have a massively disproportionate impact on minorities. We as a nation should be doing everything withing our power to integrate these individuals back into society, and voting in federal elections is one important way of doing so.
As we move forward with these changes, I will continue to solicit your opinions and ideas. I owe a special thanks to the thousands of supporters who have participated in our online survey on election reform. The results are truly encouraging. 87 percent of those surveyed advocate the expansion of early voting programs. 95 percent favor the creation of a public campaign to educate voters on voting rights and anti-intimidation laws. Nearly 99 percent have asked us to ensure that every voting machine has a verifiable audit trail. Your conviction that the electoral process can and will improve continues to inform our best policies, and I have made your concerns the center of my efforts.
To help me in these efforts, I would ask that you help me get out the word concerning the importance of these efforts, particularly in the face of stiff opposition by Republicans. Among other things, please forward this email to your friends, family, and colleagues so that they may learn of my efforts, encourage them to sign up for my email alerts at www.johnconyers.com and to visit the site for more updates. You can also complete a petition on my web site, which seeks support for the Conyers/Dodd omnibus election reform legislation.
Thanks again for your help.
John Conyers, Jr.