U.S. ‘democracy’ disenfranchises many
By Dee Knight
Published Nov 5, 2008 3:11 PM
“I have this sense of impending doom. We’ve had a couple of elections stolen already,” said Jon Downs of New Hope, Pa. “The only thing worse than losing is to think that you’re going to win and then lose.” (New York Times, Oct. 31)
With a possible landslide looming for Obama as the campaign comes to an end, many worries remain. Stolen elections in 2000 and 2004 have caused only part of the fear. History is rife with lessons about the fragility of voting rights and electoral democracy itself.
In the beginning, under the U.S. Constitution, ordinary citizens could not vote for president. White men with property could vote for electors, who in turn chose the president. Today, the Electoral College actually chooses the president. The only change is that the electors are chosen by the popular vote.
Black men could not vote until 1870 after the long and bloody Civil War freed the slaves and the 14th amendment to the Constitution was passed. Then poll taxes, literacy tests and pure terror waged against Black people by the Ku Klux Klan as well as police, courts, employers and “white citizens’ councils” prevented many Black people from voting. It took the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s to win the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Women finally won the vote after World War I. Young people aged 18 to 20 got voting rights in 1971–after tens of thousands had lost their lives in Vietnam, and millions had demonstrated against that illegal war.
Massive voter registration drives this year showed how passionate people are about voting. But George Bush is very passionate about preventing voting–so much that in 2002 he signed the Help America Vote Act. The HAVA empowered aggressive efforts to disenfranchise voters. As a result, in 2004 over three million votes were cast and not counted, according to Greg Palast, author of “Steal Back Your Vote!” sponsored by Voto Latino, Operation Rainbow/PUSH, Change to Win and others. (www.stealbackyourvote.org)
On top of uncounted votes in 2004, there were hundreds of thousands of disqualified voters, especially in Ohio, which helped Bush win in that decisive state. Bush appointed an Elections Assistance Commission before the 2004 election. It found that Black voters’ ballots were nine times more likely than those of white voters to be lost or disqualified. Latin@ votes were five times more likely to be lost than Anglo votes. Bush fired the experts who submitted the report, says Palast.
Bush empowered secretaries of state across the U.S. to challenge people’s voting credentials. But the U.S. Supreme Court dealt him a setback in mid-October. It overturned a lower court order that would have forced the Ohio Secretary of State to provide information about new voters that did not match their information in state databases.
These types of mismatch–typographical errors, missing middle initials, address changes, changed marital status–are at the core of the deceitful “voter fraud” campaign launched by Bush’s devious mastermind Karl Rove and trumpeted by McCain in the last TV debate. McCain made it seem that the national grassroots organization ACORN was killing democracy by reporting some of its volunteers’ mistakes on voter registration forms.
In Florida voter registration groups were fined $5,000 for every voter form submitted with any type of error. Florida’s Secretary of State rejected 85,000 voters, most of them African Americans. Colorado’s Secretary of State eliminated one in five voters from the voter rolls this year. Bush later appointed her chair of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.
California’s former Secretary of State blocked 42 percent of new registrations. Those rejected were “Latino, Vietnamese, Chinese, Muslim-surnamed citizens” and the poor in general, according to new Secretary of State Debra Bowen. (stealbackyourvote.org)
During this year’s primary in Indiana, according to brand-new rules, about 145,000 voters were turned away because they didn’t have acceptable identification. Those rejected were disproportionately African American, according to data from the University of Washington. Thousands of elderly voters who had voted many times and thought they knew the rules were disenfranchised.
Many college students have been discouraged from voting this year due to lies propagated by Republicans that they must live with their parents or face losing financial aid. Long lines for early voting and absentee voting are also prohibiting many, mostly poor and disproportionately African-American people, from voting.
Not everyone has the economic or physical ability to wait in line for six or eight hours. Jobs and children are just two factors that impact this situation. These difficulties are felt disproportionately by poorer people, those with two jobs, those who can’t just inform their boss they need extra time to vote. Many polling places are totally unprepared for the record turnout expected on Election Day.
Palast advised people not to accept provisional ballots and urged people to become poll watchers. That’s something Obama’s field organizers and volunteers plan to do in the thousands.
The Obama campaign’s massive field operation proved the rule: if you’re not rich, you’d better get lots of money behind you. The hundreds of millions of dollars Obama raised enabled him to make history as the first Black presidential candidate to win a major party nomination. A large part of that money was in small contributions, which showed his huge popular base. But a big chunk came from Wall Street, Silicon Valley and other traditional sources with traditional strings attached.
Ancient Greece gave us the word democracy, but then it was restricted to male citizens who weren’t slaves. When democracy came to American shores, white men could vote as long as they owned property. When George Bush talks about democracy, he seems to mean what happens in corporate boardrooms and exclusive country clubs: as long as you’re an insider, you can vote.
In other times and places democracy has meant poor people taking over land kept from them by absentee landlords. Or Indigenous people reclaiming their country after centuries of colonial enslavement. Or workers striking, walking picket lines and taking over plants—or whole cities. This type of democracy depends less on ballots than on the disenfranchised banding together with determination to change the system that locks them out. That’s a more dependable and durable democracy.
Note the date on the article.