President Barack Obama has suddenly concluded that the Republicans don’t really like democracy. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/us/politics/criticizing-gop-obama-says-the-right-to-vote-is-threatened.html?_r=0)
The GOP, he says, is doing all it can to deny the vote to women, the poor, people of color, young people and millions more in the 99%: “Across the country, the Republicans have made it harder, not easier, to vote.”
Welcome to the twilight of American elections.
Such shenanigans have been with us since the 1790s heydays of Elbridge Gerry, father of gerrymandering (so named because the districts he drew looked like salamanders).
But a whole new level of bought, rigged and stolen elections has re-defined American politics since 2000, when George W. Bush stole the big one from Al Gore, and 2004 when he did it again to John Kerry.
Let us count some of the ways:
1) Stripping Voter Registration:
In Florida 2000 Gov. Jeb Bush stripped tens of thousands of suspected Democrats from the voter rolls in an election decided by less than a thousand. The ploy was blatantly racist, targeting mostly black and Hispanic citizens based on a Confederate-era law banning ex-felons from voting. Nearly all those banned had no criminal records at all.
In Ohio 2004, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, co-chair of the Ohio Committee to Re-elect Bush/Cheney, helped strip more than 300,000 mostly urban suspected Democrats from voter rolls in an election officially decided by less than 120,000. Another 1.25 million Ohioans were stripped from the rolls between 2005 and 2008, with 1.1 million more gone by 2012.
Meanwhile the GOP continues to systematically purge registration rolls wherever it can, disenfranchising life-long voters on whatever details can be summoned. These trashed voting rights involve millions of citizens and continue to help skew local, state and federal electoral results.
2) Corporate Campaign Finance Gone Wild:
John Roberts’s supremely corporate Court has opened the floodgates for unrestrained cash to buy elections. The Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions equating money with speech degrade them to “one dollar, one vote.” The Robber Baron tsunami of misleading, false and inflammatory advertising and bought corporate media bloviation has made a bad joke of the open dialogue necessary to a truly democratic process.
3) Elimination of Non-Corporate Campaigns:
Since the 1848 victory of Zachary Taylor (a Whig), no candidate has been elected president who was not from the Democrat or Republican parties. The corporate duopoly aggressively maintains control with media marginalization and ballot restrictions aimed to eliminate the competition outright. This year, for example, the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature has effectively barred gubernatorial campaigns from the Libertarian, Green, Socialist and Constitutional Parties.
Federally, the Electoral College, born largely to empower slave-owners, remains a barrier to third party prospects. As in 2000, it makes it possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and still become president.
4) The Reborn Poll Tax:
From the 1865 end of the Civil War to the 1964 adoption of the 24th Amendment, southern white racists used the poll tax to prevent black citizens from voting.
That’s now reborn in the form of photo ID requirements. Sold with phony claims of voter fraud, they disenfranchise the wide range of citizens who don’t have official ID, can’t afford it, don’t want it, or are prevented from getting it. The new voting rights legislation before Congress specifically exempts voter ID laws, allowing the states to continue enforcing them.
5) Limited Voting Opportunity:
The Founders chose the first Tuesday of November (after the first Monday) as a voting day because it was also a market day. But now that choice discriminates heavily against working people.
Numerous states continue to make available more voting opportunities, but the GOP is fighting hard to restrict the process wherever possible.
6) Voting Day Misdirection, Intimidation and Elimination:
On voting day in Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, thousands of voters were directed to non-existent polling places, or to ones deliberately shorted on both voting machines and paper ballots. Thousands more---mostly Hispanic and African-American---were subjected to physical intimidation by police, election officials and partisan “observers” let into polling stations---often illegally. At the same time, Blackwell threatened to arrest United Nations observers if they came near Ohio precincts.
Throughout our history voting-day disenfranchisement has always been available to the party in charge of the precinct. It remains so today.
7) Electronic Vote Theft:
The electronic vote counts in both Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004 were turned by computerized manipulation. The final tabulation of Ohio 2004 was outsourced to a computer bank in Chattanooga, Tennessee that also housed the email of Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee.
Electronic voting has since spread throughout the nation. It remains the cheapest means of last resort for corporations with unlimited cash to buy outright those vote counts they can’t merely manipulate.
The original manipulation tactic today guarantees a US House and numerous state legislatures that rarely turn over. The vast majority of districts are drawn to be safe, no matter how bizarre the incumbent.
In Ohio 2012, a statewide electorate that gave majorities to Obama and a liberal Democrat Senator (Sherrod Brown) somehow voted in a Congressional delegation that numbers 12 Republicans versus 4 Democrats. Both houses in the state capitol have nearly 2/3 Republican majorities.
The situation runs parallel throughout the US, depending on which party controls the redistricting process.
9) Slamming Union Elections:
But the warping of our general elections is not enough. Even more than open democracy, the corporate state hates trade unions. When the Nazis took power in 1933, the first people they sent to the concentration camps were not Jews, Gypsies or gays---they were union organizers.
In this country, the decision by working people whether or not to join a union has long been protected by a wide variety of laws. At a large Volkswagen facility in Tennessee, the Robber Baron elite has just made a mockery of the process with a very public campaign of intimidation and extortion to defeat unionization. Amazingly enough, Volkswagen management actually was in favor of the unions, having found that worker participation improves quality and productivity.
The process is being repeated at Northwestern University, where the coach has very publicly denounced the attempt by NCAA football players to form a union. His actions and those of others involved in the process are borderline illegal at best. But don’t expect any prosecutions.
Throughout the US, the destruction of the union movement proceeds, with dire consequences for the future of what’s left of American democracy.
Here are some solutions:
For the unions, enforce the laws, and redouble all organizing efforts in all fields, including collegiate sports. No industrial democracy can long survive without a vibrant, powerful union movement.
As for general elections:
1) Multiple Voting Days: Expanding voting opportunities well in advance of Election Day, including weekends, has vastly improved turnout. The GOP continues to fight these expansions across the board.
2) Local Precincts Everywhere: More precincts in more neighborhoods also improves turnout. The GOP generally works in the opposite direction, aiming to consolidate precincts into large, centralized operations that cause delays and confusion. This often results in voters voting in the right building but wrong precinct.
3) Eased Registration Access: Allowing citizens to register to vote at motor vehicle bureaus and other easily accessible institutions effectively broadens the franchise, as does same day registration. We need to move beyond this and make it incumbent on the government to register all citizens.
4) Broad Use of Absentee Balloting: Voting by mail allows a broad range of citizens who cannot get to the polls to voice their democratic rights. The fair and monitored use of mailed-in paper ballots can significantly expand the franchise.
5) Hand-Counted Paper Ballots: Canada, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and other advanced nations do not use electronic voting machines. Ireland had them and threw them away. Only universal hand-counted paper ballot can offer a usable paper trail to check and re-check election results. All electronic voting must be ended except in rare and limited cases involving special needs.
6) National Non-Partisan Redistricting: Congressional and statehouse districts must be revised through a federal system of non-partisan districting aimed at fair, sane allocations based on population density and democratic representation, not party manipulation.
The American system of general election and legislative representation is badly broken. Bought, rigged and stolen elections are now the name of the game for keeping the rich and powerful beyond the reach of the general public.
It’s time we move this nation to a new level of democratic accountability. It won’t be easy. But unless we want to live in a world dominated by a tiny cabal of the very rich, we have no choice.