We are advocates of public financing for all candidates for federal office -- to Congress as well as the presidency -- but we think Howard Dean made the right choice when he decided to skip federal matching funds for his primary campaign. George W. Bush plans to spend upwards of $200 million trashing the Democrats until the Republican convention in September. Democrats who take the $18.7 million in taxpayer money in the primaries are limited to $45 million in overall spending. That likely would leave the Democratic nominee a sitting duck for Bush and Co.'s attack ads next summer.
So Dean consulted with his half-million online supporters, and the 105,000 who responded overwhelmingly agreed to bankroll the primary fight to oust Bush. Dean will need a lot of $100 contributions to keep pace with the $2,000 contributions Bush's fundraisers are scooping up at country clubs and executive suites at a dizzying pace.
The most important point is that Dean has a commendable campaign finance reform plan (see www.deanforamerica.com) that includes: 1) A proposal to fix the presidential public funding system (through, among other things, a higher public-to-private match for the first $100 of every individual contribution, higher primary spending limits and expanding to to House and Senate candidates; 2) a plan similar to the "Our Democracy, Our Airwaves" bill introduced by Sens. John McCain, Russ Feingold and Dick Durbin that would enforce public interest broadcast obligations and create a voucher system for free air time for candidates, funded by a spectrum use fee; 3) a proposal to replace the perennially deadlocked six-member Federal Election Commission with a new three-member commission and administrative law judges; 4) a pledge to nominate tough-minded, pro-reform FEC commissioners; and 5) a tax credit on contributions to federal candidates up to $100.
Dean also embraces a proposal to limit the states' power to redistrict to once a decade. He encourages the Iowa model of redistricting by independent bodies, rather than partisan state legislatures. He would renew the Voting Rights Act when it comes up for reauthorization in 2007. He would appoint a commission to explore ideas such as instant runoff voting, Internet voting, nonpartisan primaries, an election day holiday and abolition of the Electoral College. And he endorses US Rep. Rush Holt's bill (HR 2239, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003) to require that all electronic voting machines produce an actual paper record so voters can check the accuracy of their votes and give election judges a paper trail to audit.
On that point Dean agrees the Democratic National Committee, which went on record Oct. 4 demanding that all electronic voting equipment used in public elections incorporate a voter-verified paper audit trail "as soon as practical, but in no case any later than the November 2004 general election." Although the mainstream media has been dismissing concerns about e-voting accountability, numerous glitches were exposed in November 2002 and more were reported after the Nov. 4 election, where paper trails would have come in handy.
The leading manufacturer of e-voting machines, Diebold Inc., has responded to concerns about voting security problems by pursuing court orders to shut down websites that publish company documents leaked by a hacker. Free speech advocates, led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Stanford University's Cyberlaw Clinic, on Nov. 4 sued Diebold, demanding it stop the harassment. Voting activists who have received the cease-and-desist orders, including students from at least 20 universities, claim the documents raise serious security concerns about Diebold, which has more than 50,000 touchscreen voting terminals nationwide but keeps its software secret.
According to the Associated Press, a Diebold spokesman said in late October that the internal documents aren't necessarily authentic -- but that hasn't stopped the company from claiming they are copyrighted.
On Nov. 3, a California advisory panel refused to certify new Diebold voting machines planned for use in at least three California counties in 2004, saying it plans to investigate uncertified software and hardware that may have been used.
Dozens of Silicon Valley computer scientists have been arguing for more than a year that Diebold's voting equipment is prone to hackers or computer malfunction and it should provide voters with a printed receipt for verification. "Without a voter-verifiable paper trail, the public is wholly dependent on the certification procedures to safeguard the election process," Kim Alexander told the Associated Press.
Wired.com, which has reported extensively on e-voting controversy, noted that Australians designed a system two years ago that addressed and eased most of the concerns expressed by US critics: The important distinction is that the Australians chose to make the software running their system completely open to public scrutiny.
A private Australian company designed the system, but it was based on specifications set by independent election officials, who posted the code on the Internet for all to see and evaluate. The software was produced in six months and it went through a trial run in a state election in 2001. A comparative manual count after the election showed that the system operated accurately. Critics say the development process is a model for how electronic voting machines should be made in the US.
Phillip Green, electoral commissioner for the Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, said the commission rejected a printout feature to keep expenses down. However, Matt Quinn, the lead engineer on the product, thinks all e-voting systems should offer a receipt. "There's no reason voters should trust a system that doesn't have it, and they shouldn't be asked to," he told Wired.com. "Why on earth should (voters) have to trust me -- someone with a vested interest in the project's success?" he said. "A voter-verified audit trail is the only way to 'prove' the system's integrity to the vast majority of electors, who after all, own the democracy."
That might be too much to expect in the US, where counting votes is Diebold's business. Democrat Holt's bill has not yet received a hearing in the GOP-dominated House.
In Southern California, 70,000 union supermarket workers have been out of work for more than a month in a dispute with three grocery chains over health benefits. United Food and Commercial Workers is determined to keep members' health coverage while Safeway, Kroger and Albertson's are determined to force union members to pay for a greater share of their health coverage as the grocery chains prepare for non-union Wal-Mart to invade with grocery stores. UFCW locals in Arizona, Indiana, Oregon and Tennessee also are preparing for possible walk-outs over health insurance. The issue is one of the stickiest points in contract negotiations in all industries.
This would not be a problem if the US had a single-payer health plan similar to Canada's health system. Wal-Mart and other businesses that choose to stiff their workers on health coverage should not be able to come into a community with an advantage over conscientious employers who offer health coverage and a decent wage. Over 40 million Americans have no health care, 30 million more have only minimal coverage and most of the rest of us are only a pink slip away from losing our health coverage. Current congressional attempts to reform Medicare are piecemeal at best and at worst they threaten to destroy Medicare. Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate we know who proposes a single-payer plan, by expanding Medicare as a streamlined national health plan with affordable prescription drugs, thanks to bulk purchasing. (See www.kucinich.us.) That is a model for health care reform that Democrats can win with. -- JMC