Monday, January 07, 2008

Reclaiming Democracy, One Person At A Time

[Originally posted at on Jun 7, 2006]

They're at it again! Greg Palast's new book, Armed Madhouse, details how Republicans are about to throw yet another election. His previous book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, detailed the shenanigans that surrounded the Florida 2000 election. Mark Crispin Miller devoted a whole book (Fooled Again!) to how the last two presidential elections were stolen. And now Robert Kennedy Jr.'s article about the electoral fraud perpetrated by the Republican party in 2004 (and 2000), featured in this week's Rolling Stone magazine, finally brings into the public forum an issue that, much more than gay marriages and flag-burning, threatens the put a stake through very heart of our democracy.

Kennedy's critics have wasted no time trying to dismantle his article. Conservatives accuse him of having said nothing new, of simply rehashing old blogosphere tales. They say that the DNC and, above all, John Kerry himself have conceded that while irregularities have abounded, there never was tangible evidence of a fix. While Republicans are correct in stating that no conclusive evidence exists, suspicions abound about how the election was carried out in Ohio under the decisive leadership of Ken Blackwell, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State and, simultaneously, the co-chair of the Committee to Re-elect George Bush in Ohio. In reality, there is ample evidence that the election was manipulated, not too subtly either, to make it harder for Democrats to cast a valid vote then for Republicans (long lines, too few machines, faulty equipment, the disenfranchising of large numbers of black voters, who traditionally favor Democrats, and so on.)

Immediately, Conservatives jumped at the opportunity fortuitously afforded them by an article that appeared in the online magazine Salon the day after Kennedy's article surfaced on the web. The article's author, self-proclaimed liberal Farhad Manjoo, a young reporter who has made election reporting his specialty, alleges several inaccuracies in Kennedy's piece (already contested by Kennedy in a letter to Salon's editors,) as if they invalidated the premise that fraud has indeed taken place. Despite Manjoo's criticism, at times fierce, many of Kennedy's points stand up to scrutiny, pointing to a systematic effort to suppress Democratic vote and to unevenly apply Ohio's electoral laws, with the unevenness favoring Republican vote. Nor is Manjoo's criticism to Kennedy's analysis of the problems of electronic voting. The use of uncertified electronic voting machines (EVMs) in many precincts has been the object of much controversy, since the EVMs currently in use produce no paper trail, and the electronic audit trail can be manipulated much too easily by ill-intentioned people with access to the machines. Many of the most implausible results on Election Day were recorded by EVMs. You don't have to believe me: Bev Harris and her website,, have done a painstaking job of detailing the many fraud-inviting and fraud-enabling failures of electronic voting. In essence, and in spite of the criticism leveled at the article from many sources, Florida's results in 2000 and Ohio's results in 2004 leave anyone with an ability for critical thinking quite doubtful about the true outcome of the election.

Of the two contested presidential elections 2004 is probably the more shocking, since it produced a reversal that left a rather unpopular incumbent in his place, in spite of polls and exit polls that had clearly shifted towards Kerry in the days leading up to the election. If fraud has in fact taken place, as seems most likely, it must have been part of a larger strategy. Such an implausible last-minute reversal of fortunes, in the face of so many contradicting exit polls, would have raised too many eyebrows. An explanation had to be prepared that could account for the dramatic last minute shift from exit poll predictions to actual results. Something was needed to create the illusion that the exit polls that saw Kerry lead in most of the eleven battleground states were flawed, by failing to account for a segment of the Republican population that showed up unannounced on election day to balance the upsurge in Democratic registrations that far outweighed Republicans (in some districts by as much as 10 to 1.) Enter the moral issues that defined all post-election analysis. Instead of exploring the many irregularities that were reported on and before Election Day, the media decided to focus on the moral issues, like abortion, the state referenda on gay marriages, on the legalization of certain drugs, and on euthanasia, which supposedly explained how Goobers and Jim Bobs decided to leave the sticks in the nick of time and report to polling places in unprecedented numbers. This wave of so-called value voters, we were told, is the sole explanation of the discrepancy between exit polling and actual election results.

On the eve of what promises to be a hotly contested congressional election, it seems hardly a coincidence that Republicans have resurrected the gay marriage ban and the anti-flag burning constitutional amendments (along with the ever-lingering abortion controversy.) Senate Republicans waited until three months before the elections to start their doomed campaign to attempt to pass these constitutional amendments. The timing is, at the very least, suspect. While Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia, and other electronic voting machine vendors, largely controlled by Republican activists, will do their best (and shadiest) to take care of the counting, Republican candidates in battleground districts, a majority of whom are still trailing their Democratic opponents, will be out campaigning on supposed moral issues, to lay the groundwork for another election day upset. Thus will the myth of the power of value voters be perpetuated.

In spite of all that we know, and of all that can be surmised, there is no evidence that the tide of irregularities that have compromised the regularity of the 2000 and 2004 elections will not happen again in the upcoming 2006 congressional election. Only two safeguards exist against the possibility that the principles on which this country was founded will be further eroded in favor of a tragicomical alliance between corporations on one hand and a party that, in spite of its daily proclaims to the contrary, is devoid of any moral restraints and has surged to quasi-totalitarian power by co-opting a religious fringe hungry for absolute power. These two safeguards are the free people (you and I,) and a free press.

Frighteningly, the evidence that a free press has abandoned its responsibility to expose fraud and abuse, and to defend the rights of the people against an overpowering government, is plentiful. So far, those who have had the courage to raise the massive suspicion and evidence of fraud have been treated as the looniest of conspiracy theorists by a press corps increasingly under the thumb of the corporations that own them. A growing number of journalists has forsaken its duty to act as counterpoint to power and its obligation to honor the sacrosanct privileges which it enjoys under the First Amendment, to become instead paid shills in a rigged game of democracy. And so it is that Katie Couric now sits where Walter Cronkite once did, that the Bill O'Reillys of the world prosper, and that the exceptions to the rule of sheepish journalism can be counted by a kindergartner. For this reason, I invite you to join the fight, by following Thom Hartmann's pledge to support Bobby Kennedy Jr. You will find it at the bottom of Mr. Hartmann's excellent article on Common Dreams . Let's give the press a wake up call! Without a truly free press, we cannot prevail.

At this crucial juncture in the history of this nation, Republicans are about to derail another election. With only three months to go to Election Day, the likelihood that we will be able to prevent them from doing so is low. But the fight to preserve democracy in this country is going to take a long time, and much unwavering effort. We can waste no more time, for as long as the majority of this country remains in a state of apathy, things will not change for the better. They may, still, change for the worse. Think how much has changed in the last five years: over 2500 of our countrymen and women have lost their lives. Many suffered lifelong injuries. Many more have lost their livelihood. The government has been caught spying on the citizens of this country, in violation of the Constitution. Citizens can be detained indefinitely in military prison in the name of a war, the War on Terrorism, which will end only when we say so, as there is no one government to negotiate a peace treaty with. Katrina, with the complicity of an inept government, has all but wiped away one of this nation’s historic cities and hundreds of lives. We don’t know where this story of tragic errors and usurpation of power ends, but we can trace its beginning back to the last two presidential elections.

Under such extreme circumstances, no one should feel exempt from the civic duty to participate in the democratic process. Learn the facts, and participate in the effort to put our country back on track. You can start by picking up the books and visiting the websites that I mentioned in this article. If they manage to convince you that something untoward is going on, make them available to your friends and family. Be sure to tell even those that would likely disagree with you. Right now, they might have an interest in supporting the status quo, something to gain. But in the end everybody loses. Make copies of this article and share them, or pass a link to everyone you know. Ask them to get involved in the process of restoring true democracy, and remind them that there is no room for sectarianism and partisanship when everybody is about to lose what the Founding Fathers fought for: the right to have our voices heard.

Most importantly, take immediate action yourself: contact your representatives and tell them you support voting reform, to ensure that your vote will be count as you cast it. Support public campaign financing reform in your state, so that one day you may be able to vote not for those candidates who are good at raising money for their campaign, but for those who are good at doing the right thing for our nation. The sooner we begin, the sooner we will reclaim the power that is ours from the oligarchies that have taken it. We can do it, one person at a time.

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