Magazine article Politics Magazine

Ron Klain Had a Starring Role in the Florida Recount (Ask Kevin Spacey). No Wonder Electoral Reforms Are on His Mind

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Ron Klain Had a Starring Role in the Florida Recount (Ask Kevin Spacey). No Wonder Electoral Reforms Are on His Mind

Article excerpt

Politics: HBO couldn't have picked a better time to release the movie Recount, based on the chaos in Florida in 2000. But were you surprised to learn they had signed Kevin Spacey to play you?


Klain: We found out that Spacey would be playing me in August 2007, but kind of forgot about it. Then, one Saturday in September, I was out in the backyard playing basketball with my sons, and came into the house as the phone started to ring. My wife picked it up, and some stranger was asking for me. Monica assumed it was a telemarketer, and so, with an off-putting voice said, "I don't think he's here. Can I tell him who called?" Then, her face turned completely white, as I heard her say, "Oh, well, just one minute Mr. Spacey. ..."

Politics: What lessons do you think we should have learned from Florida that we haven't yet learned?

Klain: We still have tremendous problems with the way we cast and count our ballots. On the casting side, Florida has gotten rid of punch cards, that's the good news. The bad news is we've had a four-year unresolved national debate about what system should take the place of that. There's a big debate about touch-screen voting that still remains very unsettled. And fundamentally there still remain great disparities between ways votes are cast in richer neighborhoods and poorer neighborhoods: how many machines there are, the length of the lines. It's just much harder to vote if you're poor in America than if you're rich. To have that kind of disparity in a democracy seems unacceptable. Then, on the counting side, we still have a situation where the apparatus for counting votes in the vast majority of states rests in the hands of ardent partisans, people who are inside campaigns, people who are elected officials. That seems way beneath the kind of system we should have here. Most other countries have neutral officials counting the votes and we don't. And that's a problem.

Politics: How do we move forward to a more fair system?

Klain: The public has to demand that the administration of these systems be moved away from partisan officials and into the hands of professionals and experts. That's true in some states, but those states still remain a minority.

Politics: It seems like there's not going to be any public outcry unless another Florida happens.

Klain: I think that sometimes you do have more localized disasters and problems, and that tends to spur local activism. You would think that Florida would be enough to do it, and it has not been. I don't know if it will take something quite that catastrophic to do it again, but hopefully people will stay on this issue and we will get more reform.

Politics: Would reform have more luck if somebody like Al Gore took it up as a charge?

Klain: The challenge I think for someone like him is, one, he's really busy on an even larger issue, which is saving our planet from the dangers of climate change. Secondly, no one wants to seem like they're a sore loser. I do think we are going to see more instances where the winner of the popular vote is not the winner of the electoral college. Hopefully that will spur people to change.

Politics: Do you have a preference for popular vote versus the electoral college?

Klain: Yeah, I think we should have a popular vote to elect our presidents. Right now some of the debate around this is a little gamed up in partisanship. I think that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to have district-by-district popular votes was just an effort to gain Republican electoral votes. But I think if you really could have national reform, the person who gets the most votes should be our president. …

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