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Rob Richie on fair voting

Paul Jay speaks with Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote.org

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to live coverage of the 2008 presidential elections, live from McClatchy’s offices in Washington, DC. Joining me now is Rob Ritchie. He’s the executive director of Fair Vote, an organization dedicated to universal access and fair representation. Thanks for joining us.

ROB RICHIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FAIRVOTE.ORG: Thank you.

JAY: So how’s the vote going so far today? Is it fair?

RICHIE: Well, it’s hard to know. There have been a lot of SNAFUs that we’ve been hearing about, and certainly long lines, which I think people don’t often see as a problem, but I think it really is. I mean, there’s no reason that we should have a voting process where people can lose two to three hours of a workday. And we’re seeing some of these polls closing at six o’clock, meaning that if you’ve got to get your kids to school and you’ve got to work—.

JAY: I don’t understand that. How can a poll close at six o’clock on a workday? This was the case in Kentucky, right?

RICHIE: Exactly. Kentucky and Indiana, ’cause Indiana splits time zones. So it’s actually closing at six in Indiana as well.

JAY: Now, what happens if people are still standing in line? I’ve heard talk that they won’t close the doors if people are in line. And what have you heard today?

RICHIE: They should let you vote. It’s true in some other countries that you can’t vote, but because of our long-line problem, the practice is that if you’re in line at the poll-closing time you can keep voting. And because of the long-line problem, we had votes in Ohio being cast three, four, or five hours after the polls closed in 2004.

JAY: So what have you heard today, though? Are the lineups such that—. Like, have you heard anything from the polls that close early, like, for example, Indiana and Kentucky? Were people waiting in line?

RICHIE: There’s been lots of stories of long lines. There’s been—hearing, at least, isolated incidents of some problems with machines and things. I mean, our overall take, you know, so sort of stepping back from some of the particulars of today, is that we just don’t do enough to respect the vote. And we don’t fund it. We don’t have clear standards. You know, we have 13,000 jurisdictions making their own decisions about the voting process in the United States, and that leads to a lot of SNAFUs and problems. And when you have a high-turnout election, even though our turnout we would like to see higher, our system strains and it doesn’t handle it well in a lot of places.

JAY: But nothing particular today.

RICHIE: I haven’t heard of—.

JAY: We heard stories leading up to today, in the early voting, voting machines having a problem, where people were pushing Obama and it comes up McCain, and they were complaining that they couldn’t get Obama. So have you heard anything of—how much have you heard today’s vote? And have you heard anything from today?

RICHIE: Right. Well, there’s other folks that sort of track that in a more meticulous way. We’re sort of structural reformers trying to change policy. There have been, you know, definitely, incidents going on. And, you know, I mean, again, thinking of it in a structural sense, we have private vendors who provide the voting equipment to run our elections. They are for-profit companies that are trying to make money. They often cut corners. They’re poorly regulated. The certification process is kind of odd. It’s a very difficult setup to actually get good equipment, because we don’t invest in that well. One thing, though, I just wanted to make sure that we get into, ’cause I’ve seen as these results come in and they—you know, Vermont blue and Kentucky red, I think this is the last presidential election that we’re going to have in which this state-by-state obsession is going to dominate the way we talk about the election night. One of the exciting things—I have a letter in The New York Times today about the national popular vote plan for president, which is moving state by state as a means to establish a national popular president through a coordinated action in the States.

JAY: Are you talking about getting rid of the Electoral College?

RICHIE: Getting effectively rid of it. You actually can make this change within the structure, because this is something that—within the current constitutional structure, states are empowered to establish rules governing the Electoral College that serve the interests of their people and the country. And the current system, which is put in by state statute, leads to all these safe states—you know, the safe red states, and the safe blue states, and a handful of swing states that get all the attention. And states have the power to pass what’s called an interstate compact; and that’s what this national popular vote plan is. It’s passed four states already, and it’s to agree to give all of their electoral votes not to whoever wins their state but to who wins the national popular vote in all 50 states, and to do so in a concerted way once the number of states that has passed this agreement has enough electoral votes together to guarantee election of the president.

JAY: Is there any support for this in either of the major parties?

RICHIE: Oh, very strong support. It’s passed in 4 states, you know, through the major parties, and it’s passed legislative chambers in 21 states. And I think it has very strong prospects for winning by 2012.

JAY: Well, thank you very much. Is there anything else that we should be looking for today as the vote unfolds? What are some of the key issues?

RICHIE: Looking at today, I think that what is quite plausible is that it won’t be close enough for people to realize that the voting process, once again, has lots of flaws and lots of problems and should be fixed.

JAY: Certainly that’s what the Obama campaign has been planning. There’s been a lot of critique of the Obama campaign that they haven’t been saying very much about possible election irregularities. And it seems their response is, "We’re going to win this by enough that it won’t matter."

RICHIE: Maybe. I mean, so we never know, because in the state-by-state system, you can win the national popular vote by a lot and then, if you lose some key states by close margins, so that I think that the conversation about voting we may have at the end of the evening is whether that’s happened—whether there’s, you know, states like Florida and Pennsylvania and Ohio that some people think that Obama will sweep, but if he doesn’t and it’s actually really close in all three and then a couple of others that people expect him to win—that suddenly we’ll be talking about the voting processes, and then we’ll realize there’s been a lot of irregularities, a lot of problems. But we know that the system is strained. It doesn’t work well. There’s lots of efforts to keep people voting, lots of problems with machines. And we know that’s happening. And then it’ll be noticed and acted on if it seems like it’s going to tip the election.

JAY: Thank you very much for joining us today.

RICHIE: Absolutely. Thanks.

JAY: Thank you. And thank you for joining us. We’ll be back in just a couple of minutes.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.