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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Tornado on Our Side of the Street

First, I would like to give my congratulations to Ilryong Moon for a hard fought, aggressive campaign for Braddock District supervisor. Despite the effort of dedicated volunteers, he lost by just 89 votes to John Cook, president of Kings Park Civic Association. Moon, however, proved he was a class act by issuing the following statement:
I was certainly hoping for better numbers from the voting machines at Fairview Precinct today, but the numbers show otherwise. Even though I have a right to ask for a recount under state law and also challenge the election result due to irregularities with the voting machines used at Fairview precinct, I have decided not to do so. Given the state of our economy, the taxpayers' resources should be focused on providing services to Fairfax County's residents and Braddock District's residents need someone to represent them on the Board of Supervisors to start working on important issues such as budget and transportation as soon as possible. I do not want to cause any delay.

I am humbled by and grateful for all the support that I have received from many supporters and more than 6,000 votes cast in the special election on Tuesday. I would like to congratulate Mr. John Cook for waging a strong campaign and wish him well on the Board. I look forward to working with him on education issues as a school board member.

Ilryong Moon
It is rare, nowadays, when any politician puts the intersts of his constituents ahead of his own ambitions. And if anybody had good reason to contest an election result, this was it. To me, Ilryong Moon is a winner, pure and simple. He put the welfare of Fairfax County first.

Having said all that, today I had the awful feeling that my vote did not count, literally. As Ben so playfully noted in his Twitter, I do live in Fairview Precint. No, I did not provide the one vote there that tipped the race to Moon. Nor was I out at a graveyard digging up votes. No Chicago jokes, please!

But mine was the precinct that had the malfunctioning machine. The irony is that I was talking with the poll workers about why they didn't have voting machines that left a paper trail, like the ones used this past November. They explained that they couldn't get them back because of budget constraints.

I am mindful, even sympathetic, to the fact that we will all be asked to make sacrifices because of the tough economic times, and that includes budget cuts. But what is the price for a democracy? How much are we willing to sacrifice to ensure that every vote counts and that every citizen has faith in a democratic system?

Many years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Margaret Meade, the legendary anthropologist. She was lecturing at my college and she recounted an anecdote that describes Americans. She told a hypothetical tale of a town in a tornado ridden area where people refused to build storm cellars because they had never had a tornado come through their street. One day, a tornado ripped through one side of the street, devastating the homes. When they rebuilt their houses, the people on that side of the street all put in storm cellars. But the people on the other side of the street refused to because they had never had a tornado come down their side of the street.

That's how we have been about reform of voting machines. After witnessing the fiasco in Florida in 2000, where at least they had a paper trail to recount, and the still contested race in Minnesota this year, people in Virginia are still resistant to replacing our touch screen machines.

We have had far too many very close elections in the past few years to keep burying out heads in the sand. I do not mean to imply that John Cook might not have won the race yesterday. And I suspect absolutely no foul play.

But the simple truth is the malfunctioning voting machine is a wake up call. It is our torando down our side of the street. It is time to replace the touch screen machines with paper ballots. No matter what the cost, no matter what the budget contraints, our democracy has already come at too high a cost to sacrifice it. Men and women have sacrificed their lives on battlefields to ensure our right to vote and choose our leaders. No budget constraint should every trump that.

It is past time to replace the touch screens, which can be hacked and tampered with. We need a paper trail precisely for recounts in close races.

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