making local government more ethical

The Conflict at the Heart of the Local Election Process

Last October, I wrote a blog entry about why parties should fight elections, not referee them. An indictment this month in Kentucky emphasizes the need for the election process to be taken out of the hands of those contending for the results of that process.

According to the indictment, the Clay County Board of Elections consists of the county clerk (an elected official), the sheriff (an elected official), and two members appointed by the State Board of Elections, selected from a list of five names submitted by the Republican and Democratic parties in the county. The Board appoints election officers, including two judges, one clerk and one sheriff for each precinct, and board members can fill these roles, as well.

Eight people, including two former members of the election board, two election officers, two owners of a major county contractor, the school superintendent, and a circuit court judge, were indicted for "bribery, extortion, and mail fraud designed to corrupt and affect the outcome of elections." The most interesting thing they were charged with is a scheme to fool voters into leaving the booth after pushing the Vote button on a touch-screen voting machine, when in actuality that does not enter their votes, but gives them a chance to confirm their vote. This allows people to go in and change the votes before they are recorded.

There's a lot of talk about the weaknesses of computerized voting machines (and this is certainly one of them), but far too little about the essential conflict of interest in having parties, politicians, and their friends running the system that elects these politicians.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics