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 email@example.com