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Originally published Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

A citizens' revolution for clean elections, new media

Christine Gregoire has said that our recent election was "a model to the rest of the nation and the world. " If what she meant is that the King County Elections Office is her model...

Special to The Times

Christine Gregoire has said that our recent election was "a model to the rest of the nation and the world." If what she meant is that the King County Elections Office is her model of how she plans to run the state of Washington, then we should all be worried.

Is it really "good enough for government work" to count 3,500 or 2,000 more ballots than there were voters? The airlines figured out years ago how to match the number of boarding passes with the number of people sitting in the airplane. Why can't our elections officials match the number of ballots cast with the number of voters who supposedly cast them?

I think most Washingtonians agree that it isn't good enough for government work to decide an election by a box load of funny votes. It is not the American way for a tainted victory of 129 votes, marred by thousands of illegitimate votes, including double voters, felon voters, cemetery voters and unidentified voters, to take the place of a legitimate decision of the electorate.

The only fair solution is to have a new, clean election so we all can know that whoever lives in our governor's mansion has a genuine mandate from a majority of the eligible voters. Once we have a legitimate governor, the next step is for an overhaul of our elections system.

Our democracy is not built on "elections" that are artificial contests with arbitrary rules and procedures. Our democracy is built on the principle that government is subservient to the will of the people. Elections are merely a tool for measuring the will of the people.

When an election turns into a game of counting mysteriously discovered pieces of paper, you might as well just let the candidates pick a winner by playing a game of rock, scissors, paper.

And if the elections that we have today aren't good enough to measure the will of the people within the margin of sloppiness, incompetence and illegal voting, then, no, we don't just suck it up for four years with a governor we don't want. We say this is not right, this will not stand. We repair the system and we measure the will of the people again so we can have the government that it is our right to have.

Whether or not the judges allow a revote and no matter who is our governor at mid-year, the lessons of the botched 2004 election have inspired a movement for serious election reform. We can all see that our elections process, the core of our democracy, has broken down.

I dare call this movement for clean elections and legitimate government a citizens' revolution. No, this revolution is not of the scale of the American Revolution of 1776, or of the current democratic revolution unfolding in Ukraine. But it is a movement for a sweeping change in an established order. The established order of our elections system is broken and so is our confidence in our elections officials and Legislature to fix the system. The changes will come from the citizens.

It is also fitting that this citizens' revolution for clean elections is playing out not in the establishment media, but in the new media. Not in the one-way media of cocooned editorial boards and big-haired TV pontificators, but in the participatory media of talk radio and blogs.

Talk radio has its callers who talk back and every day teach the hosts and the listeners something new. Likewise, bloggers have their readers who contribute commentary and tips. Numerous stories of voting irregularities, such as the cases of dead voters that were later reported in the daily papers, were first verified and reported on blogs as the result of tips from readers. This, too, is a revolution in the established order of gathering and distributing the news.

The new participatory media have led the charge with this story because, unfortunately, our establishment media are too often partisan and credulous and as lazy and complacent as the local government they're supposed to be watching. But we Americans are a resourceful people, an inventive people, a self-reliant people. When our institutions stop serving us well, we fix the ones we can fix, and create new institutions to supplant the ones we can't fix.

That's where these two revolutions converge: the citizens' revolution for clean elections and the revolution of citizens' media. There will be election reform, but it won't be entrusted to a commission appointed by today's governor to propose peripheral changes. There will be citizen-led initiatives for meaningful reforms.

For example: requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration; requiring every voter to show both a photo ID and a pulse; and requiring that an election can be certified only if the number of votes equals the number of voters.

Stefan Sharkansky lives in Seattle and is the founder of the SoundPolitics.com Weblog. This column is adapted from a speech he gave at the Revote Rally in Olympia on Jan. 11.

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