Monday, November 29, 2004

 

This bandwagon's big enough for three

Jack Stick also filed an election challenge last week. Thus, the house will be dealing with three election challenges involving Republicans seeking to void or reverse the results of their election due to alleged voting irregularities (Stick, Eric Opeila, and Talamdge Heflin).

I have two thoughts: first, I don't advocate ignoring voting irregularities or counting illegal votes. However I have concerns about a partisan body resolving questions of fact regarding the evidence of those voting irregularities. It's a given that political parties have a vested interest in the results of a partisan race - that's why there were paired observers at the count of the Heflin/Vo absentee ballots, why the officials deciding the status of those ballots were paired, and even though the election judge who resolved conflicts was Republican, based on some of the comments to Charles Kuffner's blog, Democrats who attended felt that he presided over the process fairly. Once these challenges are in the House, the majority party has no obligation to include the opposing party in anything but the final vote. Thus there is a potential for abuse by the party in control - this was true in challenges that occured while Democrats controlled the Legislature, and it's true today.

In the accounting world our professional standards require us to be independent in certain cases and to maintain objectivity always. But, here is the kicker: part of independence and objectivity is that we are held to a higher standard than actual independence and objectivity. We also must maintain the appearance of independence and objectivity. Here's an example. Accountant audits a company that rents space from accountant. Peer reviewer looks at the situation, notes that it is permitted, but says, discontinue the arrangement because it has the appearance of impairing independence. Sound unfair? Let's consider why the profession became important. In the wake of financial scandals in the 1920's and 1930's, public companies were required to provide assurances to investors by independent, competent professionals that their financials were properly stated. Hence the extra-squeaky-clean-higher-than-high bar. Because if investors lose confidence in the independent accountant's report, they'll take their marbles home and keep them under the mattress. That is bad news for all the companies seeking capital, not just the dishonest ones.

I believe the principle that the process should not only be fair, but also appear to be fair holds true in the electoral system, only bigger. This is because we accept government and its attendant controls on our behaviour because we consider it legitimate. We consider it legitimate because we believe that the process is fair. Whatever the House ends up doing, in the end if the voters consider that the process was unfair, we'll all suffer in terms of increased citizen distrust and dissatisfaction with the political system.

On a side note, I was interested to see what Tom DeLay's independent opponent for his congressional seat had to say about Heflin's challenge (letter to the editor in today's Houston Chronicle):

He should ask Gore
State Rep. Talmadge Heflin lost by 32 votes and is now wanting a new election. But he should talk to Al Gore.

If Gore can be required to accept his loss to George W. Bush in 2000 by 537 votes out of millions without a new election, then Heflin should do the same. Or do we accept results only when our side wins?

If this is where the Republicans are going, they need a new direction before democracy falls off the edge of the cliff.

MICHAEL FJETLAND
Sugar Land


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