Friday, July 10, 2009

Vote Early Vote Often

I got into an argument recently about whether or not America is the greatest

democracy in the world. The center of the argument was the on-going protests in Iran

over their recent presidential election. As you are aware, hundreds of thousands have

taken to the streets of Tehran to protest the victory of the incumbent President Mahmoud

Ahmadinejad. The protests have shaken the Iranian government to it's roots. They have

killed at least eight protesters and arrested hundreds of activists and human rights lawyers.

They have either kicked foreign journalists out of the country or restricted them to their

bureaus with orders not to go out in the streets and report on the demonstrations. While

talking about these events, a colleague opined that he was not surprised that Iran's election

might have been fixed. After all, this was Iran, not America, where we have the greatest

democracy and democratic process in the world. He was shocked when I disagreed with

him, and angered when I suggested that our country is led by an oligarchy of the rich and

powerful; and that America's attitude about voting, and a broken democratic process, have

enabled a smaller and smaller percentage of our population to control the levers of power.

He demanded that I repudiate such anti-patriotic views, so I made some observations.

Recently, the state of Virginia held a primary for governor. The democratic primary

contained some prominent names including the Clinton's top fund raiser, Terry McAuliffe.

At the end of the day, a dark horse won the democratic primary to face the state's Republican

Attorney General in the general election. The real news, however, is that 6% of those eligible

to vote in the primary actually voted. If you needed 51% of the votes cast to win the primary,

that means you only need 3% of the people in the state to vote for you.

In state after state in this nation, fewer and fewer people vote. In our last presidential

election, observers were thrilled by a huge turnout. Approximately 60% of eligible voters

voted. Forty percent did not vote, and that's eligible voters with still millions more not

even bothering to register. Now add to all that a system for voting that is broken almost

beyond repair. In 2000, in Florida, more than 50,000 eligible voters were stricken from

the voter rolls without their knowledge. The then Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, a

Republican, hired a firm to clean the rolls of felons, the dead, etc. The result was that

mostly minorities were removed, in most cases for unfounded reasons; and coincidentally,

these were voters that analysts project would have voted for Democrat Al Gore, who lost

by only 537 votes. In 2004, in the state of Ohio, heavily Democratic strongholds did not

receive enough voting machines, voters had been removed from voting rolls, and voters

were challenged at the polls. The waiting time to vote in these counties could exceed three

hours. In Republican strongholds, more voting machines arrived and the wait to vote was

under half an hour. Had John Kerry won Ohio, he would have been President. Two

presidential elections, two Republican Secretaries of State, two close losses for Democrats

under questionable circumstances.

Did thousands of Americans take to the streets to protest a rigged election? Did

Americans storm the Supreme Court when five Republican judges selected George Bush

as President? Was there a cry for better election laws and a better system? In 2008, was

that better system any better? Why are Iranians willing to face prison and death over the

results of an election, while Americans just shrug and say "Oh well", if they even vote at all?

Since 2000, we have discovered that in every state in the union an average of

10-15% of all votes cast are disallowed in every election. As of today, no one has done the

work to look at the profiles of these voters. Are Democratic strongholds eliminating

Republicans and vice versa? What kind of democracy do we have when people are

disenfranchised in such a cavalier manner?

Why do we vote on Tuesdays? Why don't we vote on a Saturday or Sunday when

more people would find it easier to vote? Why don't the polls stay open for 24 hours? In

Oregon, they can vote by mail. It has increased voter participation with limited reports

of fraud. Why not offer that in all states and elections? (In reality, we already do it with

absentee voters.) Why can't you register to vote on the day of the election? Why aren't

all primaries open, so that you can vote for anyone you wish, no matter what party you

belong to? (The Democrats and Republicans fight "open" primaries like pit bulls in heat

because they know that "open" primaries would threaten their stranglehold over the

system which allows just the two parties.)

How is it in a land as diverse as ours and with "the greatest democracy", we only

have two parties? No offense to Libertarians, the Greens, etc., but we only have two

parties in this country who are allowed to run national candidates. Why do you have to be

on the ballot in all states to run for President? Why do television debates only include the

two parties' standard bearers and no one else? In the "greatest democracy in the world",

we don't even vote directly for President of the United States. How can anyone defend

our democracy and democratic process with the existence of the Electoral College?

The United States election system allows a small group of rich, powerful, and

out-of-touch people to control who gets nominated and elected. How else do you explain

the homogeneity of the Congress? Most members of Congress run the ideological gamut

from A to B. Even though they are a distinct minority in this nation, white males still

dominate the House, Senate, and White House. The game is rigged. In Iran, people are

willing to die to protest a rigged election. In America, more people vote for the next

American Idol than they do for the next President.

I get tired of people who want to claim that America is the best everything. Our

election process is a broken system designed to perpetuate the status quo and protect the

two parties in power. How easy it would be to start a new party like the Republicans did

when they replaced the Whigs in 1856? We need a labor party. We need politicians who

will represent Main St. rather than Wall St. Imagine a Senator or member of Congress

whose priority is wages, working conditions, and the jobs of average Americans rather than

the interests of the small cadre of powerful corporatists who run this nation. Yet, the

system is set up to make it as difficult as possible to politically organize.

Right now in Iran, people are risking their freedom and their lives for democracy.

What would Americans put at risk to defend this system? What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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