- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

News outlets and citizens groups across the country are beginning to express concerns over voting rights in this year’s election. The nightmare scenario is that Election Day won’t be the end of it, that 2008 will be a rerun of 2000 and that if the election is as close as many expect, neither side will concede to the other on election night. However contentious a campaign, presidential elections are the people’s time to decide the issue one way or another, to pick a course for the country and to begin the process of pursuing that course as a people, whether we were on the winning or losing side. Presidential elections give us a chance, at least for a time, to settle our differences and to give the new president our consent to lead the country.

This presumes that the losing side believes that it has lost fairly. It had its chance, and it simply came up short in votes. However disappointed we may be with the outcome, it’s a result we accept. We say that the people have spoken. What we can’t and won’t accept is the belief that the election was not fair, that the other side has cheated and has stolen the election from us. As a country, we will not likely rally behind a new president if we do not believe that he has won his office fairly.

Both parties enlist squads of lawyers to protect their candidates from nefarious practices or to devise tactics for gaming the system or to persuade the public that the other side is trying to steal the election. Before the 2004 presidential election, lawyers filed more than 60 lawsuits concerning voting procedures. Whether meritorious or not, this litigation carried the single message that the other side was corrupt and that the election results could be suspect.

We have accepted Sen. John McCain’s invitation to chair his campaign’s Honest and Open Election Committee. Our group includes former members of Congress, former state election officials and prominent experts in election law. Our objective has two components: 1) to ensure that every qualified citizen has an honest and transparent opportunity to vote that is free of intimidation; and 2) to make sure that there is no dilution of the franchise of people qualified to vote by “stuffing the ballot box” with votes obtained by fraud. Our strong conviction is that these twin objectives should not favor one candidate above the other, that they transcend partisanship and that they should be the goals of supporters of both Mr. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama.

With that conviction, we have written the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the manager of the Obama-Biden campaign and invited them to join with us in a cooperative effort to address election issues that would otherwise be adversarial.

Specifically, we have suggested that each campaign list every precinct in battleground states where either side fears there is a potential for voter intimidation, fraud or mistrust of the tabulation process. We proposed that each campaign recruit a volunteer for each named precinct to work jointly as an observation team. Similarly, the campaigns would recruit bipartisan teams that would oversee multiple precincts and respond to and investigate reports of problems. Such teams would invite members of the media to be embedded with them or to be present in central locations.

In addition, we suggested that the two campaigns work together in each state with the appropriate election officials to establish, in advance of the election, clear rules for when polling places will be kept open after the closing time established by law. In every state, voters in line at closing time are entitled to vote, so that is not the issue. Controversy and charges of unfairness occur when selected polling places remain open so that campaign workers can round up absentees and deliver them to the polls after the hour established by law. If there are to be exceptions to the closing rules, their basis should be agreed to in advance and should be fair.

Moreover, the two campaigns, working together and with the courts, could identify duty judges who would be on call on election night to rule on applications for extending voting hours, and they could provide systems for notifying the opposing side before going to court.

These are simply our suggestions of ways in which the two campaigns can work together to further the common objective of an honest and open election. We would welcome the suggestions of our Democratic counterparts. The challenge is to anticipate problems before Election Day and to work together on a bipartisan basis to solve them. With only days left before the election, time is of the essence, as is good faith on both sides. The benefit of such a timely effort will be priceless: public confidence in the outcome, whatever it is.

Former Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire and former Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri are co-chairmen of the McCain-Palin 2008 Honest and Open Election Committee.

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