Shirley Malcom of AAAS named to election reform commission


Shirley Malcom, the head of Education and Human Resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has been named to an elite panel convened by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III to develop reforms for America's troubled system of voting.

Malcom will join 17 other top political, civic and academic leaders in a project that will explore the integrity and inclusiveness of the federal electoral process and the technology that supports it. After public hearings and input from a range of election experts, the Commission on Federal Election Reform is aiming to deliver its report and recommendations in September.

"Dr. Malcom is a distinguished, world-renowned scientist with a wide range of experiences internationally and on many foundation boards," said Robert A. Pastor, the commission's executive director and vice president of international affairs at American University. "Among the many issues that the commission will address are those that deal with electronic voting machines and those that deal with civic education. A scientist like Dr. Malcom, with such vast experience in education, will be invaluable as the commission considers those issues." Among other members of the bipartisan panel are:

Tom Daschle, a former U.S. senator from South Dakota who served as the Senate minority leader; Robert Mosbacher, the former Commerce Department secretary and past chairman of the Republican National Committee who served as national finance chairman for the election campaigns of Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush; Rita DiMartino, formerly the vice president of congressional relations for AT&T, and now the principal U.S. delegate to the Inter-American Commission of Women; and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, who served as vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and now is president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Malcom was one of the chief organizers of a AAAS initiative in 2004 that convened a panel of top scholars on elections and voting technology to evaluate a system that has come under close and often critical scrutiny in recent elections. After their deliberations, the panelists warned that the American system of voting is broadly vulnerable to error and abuse. They called for a crash-course of study and reform to make election results more reliable by improving technology and creating better access for voters-especially those who have historically encountered serious impediments to voting.

The AAAS panel later delivered a report detailing its concerns and recommendations. (See Malcom, in an interview, noted that she was one of the few representatives of the science community on the Carter-Baker commission. "This is an incredible opportunity," she said, "but it's also an incredible responsibility. There's a chance here to take what we've learned about voting technology, and also to look at the entire electoral system, and then apply what we know and what we will learn to the most fundamental exercise of democracy."

For Malcom, the appointment also has deep personal significance. She grew up in Birmingham, Ala., during the most volatile years of the U.S. civil rights struggle. In an era of poll taxes and literacy tests, she recounted, her grandmother voted for the first time only when she was in her 70s.

"I know that people died for the right to vote," she said. "For me, this is a continuation of a struggle to make sure that every vote counts. We have to make universal access a reality."

Malcom has built a broad record of accomplishment and advocacy in her career. She is regarded globally as a leader in efforts to improve science and engineering education and diversity in those fields. In 2003, she received the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the highest award given by the Academy. Last year, she was named one of the 50 most important African-Americans in research science by the editors of Science Spectrum and US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazines. She holds more than a dozen honorary degrees.

Malcom also serves on several boards-including the Howard Heinz Endowment and the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment-and is an honorary trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. She serves as a regent of Morgan State University and as a trustee of the California Institute of Technology.

She served on the National Science Board, the policymaking body of the National Science Foundation, from 1994 to 1998. From 1994-2001, she served on the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. Malcom received her doctorate in ecology from Pennsylvania State University; her master's degree in zoology from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a bachelor's degree with distinction in zoology from the University of Washington.

Formation of the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform was announced last week. American University's Center for Democracy and Election Management will organize the work of the commission, in association with the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, The Carter Center in Atlanta, and, a national clearinghouse of election reform information sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

"I am concerned about the state of our electoral system and believe we need to improve it," Carter said in a statement released by American University. "I have monitored elections all over the world, and there is much we could learn from other democracies and from our own citizens. We will try to define an electoral system for the 21st century that will make Americans proud again."

"America's democracy is the backbone of our society, and only through fair elections can we guarantee that our system remains healthy," Baker said. "To help reach that goal, I welcome the opportunity of working with President Jimmy Carter on a bipartisan commission that will recommend ways to improve our federal voting process. A prior commission, which President Carter co-chaired with President Gerald Ford, made recommendations that resulted in significant changes for the 2004 election. But more can be done to guarantee the integrity and accuracy of our elections."

The new commission is expected to study the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, as well as the congressional elections of 2002. All of these have been marked by controversy, including charges of voter fraud, unreliable voting technology and systematic efforts to discourage or exclude of some voters.

The panel is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on 18 April at American University in Washington, D.C.; a second hearing will be convened in June at Rice University in Houston. Additional meetings will be held in August and September. A report could be ready after Congress returns from its Labor Day recess in September.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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