Volume 17 • Issue 8 / July 16 - 22, 2004

Talking Point

U.N. should monitor American elections

By Carolyn Maloney

The greatest thing about our great country is our democratic elections.  No matter how much we earn, where we live or what color our skin is, we each get one vote. When that right is taken away, America ceases to be America.

Four years ago, thousands of Floridians saw their rights vanish when they were deleted from voter registration rolls. What is worse, this disservice was done overwhelmingly to citizens who are already underserved — minorities and the poor.

Just last week, we learned from a study by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund that Asian Americans right here in New York City report widespread obstacles to voting, including “rude” and “hostile” poll workers, improper requests for identification, a lack of interpreters, and in some instances, a failure to translate ballots as required by law.  These barriers have a discriminatory effect that government officials have an obligation to fight.

In the 21st century, the fact that we are still talking about disenfranchisement is a disgrace to the Constitution. We should not stand for another election in which Americans — patriotic, taxpaying, law-abiding Americans — are stripped of their rights. In April of this year, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report detailing how reforms that were supposed to have taken place have not, warning that the same problems that existed in 2000 may be repeated this year. 

Past problems already make the voting process unfair, but current plans for electronic voting will just compound these difficulties. If Republican leaders in Congress are serious about upholding voting rights, we would have passed the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 introduced by Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), which would create a verifiable, hard-copy, paper record of electronic votes so that our system is air tight.  But they have let that legislation languish, and I fear that the integrity of our electoral system may be languishing along with it.

If our government is not equipped or prepared to protect every American voter, then we ought to seek outside help rather than sitting and watching thousands more Americans lose their rights in November. That is why I have joined an effort in Congress to have the United Nations observe this year’s presidential election.  Last week, I joined a group of legislators led by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan asking him to send election observers from the U.N.’s Electoral Assistance Division to monitor the election on November 2.

Our letter to Secretary Annan states, in part, “In addition to violating amendments 15, 19 and 26 of the U.S. Constitution and…the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the events in Florida violated the right to vote as it is enshrined in several international instruments that the U.S. has either agreed to such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 21), or ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 25) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (article5).”

Some right-wing critics, who do not want minorities and low-income Americans voting in the first place, say that we are not patriotic. I say that guaranteeing every American — particularly the most underserved — the right to vote by any means necessary is the most patriotic thing you can do.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is a Democrat representing New York’s 14th Congressional district, which includes parts of the Lower East Side and Chinatown.

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