Protecting Elections From Democracy

Few people take seriously the issues and problems of democracy. This is apparent to me as an American watching the inanity of supposed democracy in action, i.e., the campaign season for electing the next president.

We don’t have a functioning democracy and few people have ever experienced a functioning democracy. On top of that, the media doesn’t help inform the public, assuming that even those working in media understand democracy. It’s hard for Americans to imagine what democracy might mean, what an actual and fully free society would look like.

I’ve pointed that out all before. It’s nothing new. And it is understandable. It isn’t as if past generations understood democracy better. We forget how young modern politics still is.

When some of the American founders proposed democracy, they had little clue what might result. Other founders didn’t want democracy at all. Once the post-revolutionary government was established, only a few percentage of the population had a right to vote or run for office. In some states, the majority was enslaved. And, in all states, most women only had slightly more freedom than a slave in their being treated like property of their fathers and then their husbands.

That isn’t a propitious beginning for freedom and liberty. Consider that, if one includes the colonial era, America has existed longer with slavery than without it. And there is also the long history of mistreatment toward other minorities. The results in recent politics shouldn’t be surprising. The winning of full protection of voting rights for most Americans happened within living memory. There hasn’t been a moment in American history when there wasn’t a ruling elite running the show. In some ways, it has gotten worse with wealth and power more concentrated than it has been in a long while, wealth and power that now has a truly global scope. We are in banana republic territory. Plus, systemic and institutional racism continues.

I was reminded of this because of various discussions about the campaigns. In response to my complaints about lesser evilism, C. Derick Varn (Skepoet) brought up an important issue about specific populations. He said to me, “Look at the demographics tied to political machines in Democratic cities, particularly in states that are otherwise red.” And added that,

“The Southern States have an enriched city based political elite that is dominant in the African American community. It may not reflect the option of African Americans as a whole because about 50% of black men can’t vote due to felon and prior felon exclusion laws in those states.”

That last point is what bothers me. Mass incarceration is directly rooted in slavery, as I’ve noted before. Along with keeping the population demoralized and apathetic, not to mention ignorant and propagandized, this continuing disenfranchisement of the historically oppressed is a powerful force for maintaining the establishment and keeping genuine democracy from emerging. These people who have had their voting rights stolen from them are a large enough part of the US population to potentially swing elections one way or another.

The same goes for voter suppression tactics: shutting down polling stations, voter purges, difficult ID laws, etc—all intended to shut down any hope of democratic process. Not to forget other important anti-democratic factors such as gerrymandering, big money campaign financing, speaking fees and other legalized bribery, special interest lobbying, revolving door between big biz and big gov, regulatory capture, and on and on.

Professional politicians in both of the main parties know this. Many of them wouldn’t be able to win elections if all US citizens were able to vote and did vote. What matters is to create the appearance of democracy, without letting it get out of control so that actual democracy might threaten to create a free society.

Voting Rights Act: a Last Defense Against Voter Suppression

An important case has attracted attention recently. It is about voting rights.

I will never understand why this is seen as a partisan issue, specifically why Republicans make it a partisan issue. If Democrats (or any other party) sought to suppress Republican voters (or any group of voters), if they sought to disenfranchise Southern whites, conservatives and fundamentalists, I’d be as strong of a critic of this practice as when Republicans have done the same in recent elections.

Why do Republicans, conservatives and libertarians lack principles about democracy? Or refuse to apply their principles in principled fashion? What do they fear about democracy? Why do they do to others as they would never accept others doing unto them? If their principles don’t include democracy and the constitution, what do they represent?

Here is one article making clear the issues at hand.

Millions Of Voters Of Color Will Be Affected By The Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision

As the nation awaits a decision in the Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, the future of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act hangs in the balance. The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

As the repeal has become official, let’s ponder the consequences. The reason the Voting Rights Act was passed in the first place was because certain states were practicing legal oppression of citizens and suppression of their voting rights.

Consider this in terms of the criminal system. With the Voting Rights Act, certain states were in a sense put into prison with the hopes of rehabilitation and one day release into normal life.Replace the crime of unconstitutional and anti-democratic political action. Replace it with some more mundane crime against one’s fellow citizens, let’s say: theft, murder or rape.

The criminal is caught, charged, given a trial, and imprisoned. After many years, the prisoner appeals for release. Would the appeal committee release the prisoner without looking at his record of behavior while in prison? One would hope not. If the thief, murderer or rapist had had stolen, murdered or raped while in prison, should he be released simply because he had been in prison for decades? Of course not.

Now, let’s analyze the original crime that caused these states to have this law enforced upon them. Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, have these states committed these crimes again? Have they committed these crimes recently? Yes and yes. Have they been rehabilitated? Should they be released because of good behavior? No and no.

So, what is Section 5 all about and how does it specifically relate to recent political issues?

The greatest legal protection for voters of color, Section 5 requires states with a history of discriminatory voting laws to submit all voting changes for federal preclearance before they can be implemented. Nowhere is its modern-day significance clearer than in the experience of voters of color in the 2012 election, when a tidal wave of voter suppression policies threatened to restrict full participation.

A new report, to be released next month by Advancement Project and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, comprehensively analyzes that experience for the first time, and recommends election reforms to ensure the ballot remains free, fair and accessible for all. (See a five-page summary with key data from the report here.) Entitled Lining Up: Equal Access to the Right to Vote, the report highlights the determined efforts of the two civil rights organizations, from the courtroom to the streets, to combat voter ID laws, challenges at the polls, deception and intimidation, proof-of-citizenship registration practices, unacceptably long lines, and the improper use of provisional ballots.

The report also tells the story through testimonials from African-American and Latino citizens who were impacted by – and stood up to – voter suppression laws and policies. Collectively, this illustrates the continued need for federal laws, such as Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protecting the right to vote. In addition, the report explores the critical role of Section 5 in blocking legislative assaults on voting, and the continued voting problems in states covered by the provision. Findings include:

  • In states covered by Section 5 in the 2012 elections, more than 22.9 million Black, Latino and Asian-American voters were able to cast a ballot.
  • Laws that shortened early voting periods in 2012 contributed to long lines in some locations, which voters of color faced more. Black and Latino voters were reportedly two to three times more likely than whites to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.
  • In 2013, 11 of the 15 states that are either fully or partially covered by Section 5’s protections – more than 73 percent – have introduced restrictive voting bills.

 

“While African-American, Latino and Asian-American voters came out in historic numbers in 2012, those numbers were possible only after voter protection organizations, community groups and voters themselves, who fought tirelessly to defeat restrictive laws across the country and other attempts to suppress voters of color,” said Katherine Culliton-González, Senior Attorney and Director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project. “Without the intervention of the Justice Department through Section 5, the impact of these assaults on democracy would have been far worse.”

Push to overturn Voting Rights Act tied to GOP voter suppression efforts
Zachary Roth
MSNBC

In 2012, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted caused an outcry when he ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military. The change would have made it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans—to vote. As Rachel Maddow and MSNBC.com noted at the time, Husted brought in Consovoy to defend the move in court, after it was challenged by the Obama campaign. Ultimately, the court required that the early voting days be restored.

Also last year, Florida Republicans passed a law that cut back on the state’s early voting days. Among other changes under the new system, polls would have to be closed on the Sunday before the election—a day when many black churches help get their members to the polls right after services. The Justice Department blocked the law. As The Nation‘s Ari Berman recently noted, Wiley Rein was brought in by Florida to argue the case in court. Consovoy claimed that reducing early voting was necessary to combat voter fraud—though there’s almost no evidence of significant fraud occurring. The early voting days were ultimately restored, though long lines nonetheless plagued both early and Election Day voters in the Sunshine State.

To block Florida’s early voting cutbacks, the Justice Department cited Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which allows the federal government to stop any election changes in most southern states if they’re deemed to reduce minority voting power. It’s Section 5 that’s at issue in the Shelby County case that goes before the Supreme Court this week, and voting-rights advocates have held up the Florida case as an example of why the provision is still needed.

American Democracy?

I had someone ask me why they should care about politics. It was just a few days ago. They were responding to my posting a bunch of political stuff on facebook. They didn’t see how politics helped one live one’s life.

I gave a rational response. Everything is political. One should care about politics because one cares about anything at all. Whether or not one is involved in politics, politics is involved in every aspect of one’s life. The personal is political. But rationality doesn’t by itself offer anything compelling, much less inspiring.

I’m not a person who is obsessively involved with politics. I often don’t even feel sure that voting matters. I see how democracy functions to a limited extent on the local level, depending on the local politics, but it is for damn sure hard to tell if democracy is functioning even slightly on the national level. If it is, it’s barely hanging by a thread.

This has become increasingly apparent as I’ve grown older.

The first election I cared about was in 2000. And what happened? It was stolen. There was never a full recount done and the supreme court chose our president. American democracy became the joke of the world. If this scenario had happened in a third world country, it would’ve been an international scandal necessitating outside intervention. Gore did nothing in response, no demand for a full recount, no righteous defense of democracy, nothing. The 2006 election also was problematic.

More recently, there was disinformation campaign that destroyed ACORN. That was an organization that helped average and below average Americans, especially in terms of voting. Republicans attacked them and Democrats caved. It was one of the most morally depraved acts in recent years. Now, Republicans have stepped up their campaign against democracy by pushing voter suppression.

Citizens United was maybe the tipping point toward a new era of corporatism. Polls show that the average American is far to the left of the Democrats and yet the majority position is rarely heard in the mainstream media or from either of the two main parties. Even a strong majority of voters can’t compete against the corrupting power of big money.

I’m not sure which is worse: Republicans attacking democracy or Democrats refusing to defend it. I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the moment, voting against the attacks on democracy is strategically more important. If democracy is finally and completely corrupted and disempowerd in national politics, then any other attempts at defense are meaningless.

The last thing I want to see is Republicans being rewarded with votes for attacking democracy. It’s sad that this attack has happened at all. It’s even more sad that the mainstream media and the Democratic Party has given it so little attention. There is no more important issue in a democratic system than ensuring democracy functions. The only unforgivable sin in a democracy is to undermine democracy itself.

I don’t care about either candidate in this election or either main party in general. All I care about is saving what remnants of democracy that have managed to survive. However, if Romney wins this election, I’m going to give up on American democracy. I’ll join some critical leftwingers in their assessment that the entire political system has become dysfunctional beyond saving.

There apparently is a very large number of Americans who either don’t understand democracy or don’t care about democracy… or else maybe it is just cynicism and apathy. Democracy can’t defeat a highly organized and well funded campaign of propaganda and disenfranchisement. I’d like to believe that democracy has a fighting chance, but it is hard to keep the faith.

So, what is the point? When rationality fails me, my cynical response is to say, “Wake me up when the revolution begins.”

Romney’s Class War

I’ve been saying for a while that this election is Obama’s to lose, but I have to admit recently that Romney is doing his best to lose. I’m not even speaking as an Obama supporter.

The media is particularly getting excited about Romney’s comment that 47% of Americans are freeloaders with a victim mentality and that these people will inevitably vote for Obama because they are looking for handouts from government. Two things stand out to me. First, Romney is admitting there is a class war and that he is fighting on the side of the rich. Second, this recording simply proves what many rich Republicans say in private when around other rich Republicans.

Even though I’m not an Obama supporter, I have decided to vote for Obama. My decision came before this recent event. What brought me out of voter apathy was the endless attacks by Republicans to suppress the votes of the poor and disadvantaged. This became most clear recently with the changes to state voting laws, although it had already become clear with the morally depraved attack on and destruction of ACORN, one of the few organizations that helped lower class Americans.

It forms a truly dark picture of cynicism. This class war that isn’t just about economics, isn’t just about unemployment and stagnating wages, isn’t just about ensuring tax cuts for the rich, isn’t just about outsourcing American jobs, isn’t just about redistributing America’s wealth to the already wealthy, isn’t just about eliminating the remains of the safety net. More fundamentally, the voter suppression tactics demonstrate Republicans are trying to disempower and disenfranchise all Americans who aren’t apart of the upper classes. Republicans are flirting with plutocracy and the Republican elite seem to have already fully embraced their role as plutocrats.

I find this disturbing. I know the Democratic Party has its own problems. I realize Democrats haven’t always been the best defenders of democracy. But at least Democrats aren’t actively attacking average Americans who are just trying to get by.

That is why as an Independent I’m voting for Obama. I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. My vote isn’t about party politics. I’m voting for Obama in order to vote against those who attack democracy. I’m rather fond of democracy and I don’t want to see it any further harmed. Democracy and plutocracy are incompatible. Every generation must choose democracy again and so every generation faces the possibility of losing democracy.

 
Unlike Romney, I don’t see all of this as a simple class war. There are rich people for democracy and lower class people against democracy. The American Dream of an egalitarian society isn’t about attacking the rich and giving to the poor. It’s about making a better life possible for everyone.

Voter Suppression in Arizona

Republicans know that minorities and immigrants vote for Democrats. This is the whole purpose behind the Arizona racial profiling. It’s the same type of tactic Bush used in Florida to win there. It’s an effective tactic. Republicans don’t care about democracy or rather they only care about democracy for white people.