Kudos to The New York Times for a lead editorial today that lends ominous overtones to how things might play out on Nov. 2 this year.

“The chances of having an election in which all qualified citizens can cast votes that are counted accurately seems more remote than ever,” the Times states right up front, and then it ticks off the reasons why:

1 — Local officials have been choosing electronic voting machines “of questionable reliability” — and that leave no paper trail.

2 — State officials have been rejecting voter registration forms on a variety of technicalities.

3 — Political operatives have arisen who concentrate on disqualifying voters on the other side.

4 — On election day itself, polling places can be moved or closed at the last minute; registered voters in one place who have voted for years may find their names not on the rolls; voting machines in another place may fail to start up or develop glitches.

On the plus side, the Times notes that:

1 — Volunteer poll watchers can and should flock to observe the voting in precincts where problems are anticipated.

2 — A nationwide non-partisan election-monitoring program run by a coalition of public interest groups — including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the People for the American Way Foundation; and a group called Election Protection — will be distributing voters’ bill of rights and will hit the ground in states like Florida and Ohio to identify and report problems at the polls.

3 — A special program, Impact 2004, will coordinate the efforts of law-school volunteers to police the polls in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

4 — Verifiedvoting.org has started up something called TechWatch which hopes to recruit thousands of people, including computer scientists, to police voting machines before, during and after voting.

All that and then some is going to be needed, the Times warns. We live in a time in which “[t]here have been widespread reports from all parts of the country of officials doing everything from insisting on photo ID from voters when it is not required to installing uncertified software on electronic voting machines.”

“The mechanics of American democracy are deeply flawed,” the Times concludes, “and Congress, state governments and local elections officials have been unwilling to do what is necessary to fix them. If this election is going to be a fair and honest one, concerned citizens will have to do their part to ensure that every vote counts.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.