Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If You Don't Build It, They Won't Come

The joke in the Soviet Union used to be that if you saw a line, better join it. At the end might be toilet paper, milk, some necessity. Here, if you see a line, people must be trying to vote. And it's no joke. On this Election Day (emphasis on singular), how many people will turn away, give up, not vote because the lines are absurdly long, because there is barely any organization, barely any instruction?

At my voting place in Brooklyn's Crown Heights (a largely black, middle class and poor area), the poll workers were phenomenal — helpful, outgoing, patient. And they were overwhelmed. When I arrived with my 6-year-old daughter (hoping to share with her the excitement of this election), there must have been nearly one thousand voters, weaving this way and that in six lines. Two lines for each election district represented. Ask three people where to go, you got four answers. I gave up waiting with my daughter and went back later.

And I am very lucky. Imagine a single parent of two or three kids, holding down two jobs, trying to vote on a day when the kids have no school. In many respects, the voting system seems calculated to deter less-advantaged voters. The voting apparatus is discriminatory.

In New York State, most people still find themselves using ancient machines which are notorious for breaking down or not working at all. Couple this with the one-day-only voting opportunity in New York, the deplorable Board of Elections web site and phone service, and the anti-deluvian voter registration scheme of New York and voting becomes a massive inconvenience. (It must be noted that when I have gotten through to people, they have been great — offering more information than I needed. Hats off to them.)

With regard to one-day-only voting: When we see a "One Day Only" sale, we know it's a gimic, a bait and switch scheme designed to lure us through the door. But, One Day Only Voting is supposed to be a triumph of the democratic process, if you believe the Michael Bloombergs and George Bushes of this world.

Despite all this, I saw lines many times today. People determined to vote. Whether their votes will actually be counted, if they actually manage to vote, is an open question, given the state of New York's electoral machinery. And across the country there are many many comparable stories.

So inconvenient (at best) is the American electoral process that we must ask whether the intent is to deter people from voting. Republicans have stopped just short of expressly admitting that they dread massive voter turnout, knowing that most Americans are indeed Democratically inclined.

What the Democrats' excuse is for acquiescing in disenfranchisement by inconvenience is anybody's guess. In machine states like New York, perhaps incumbent Democrats dread a large turnout just as much as Republicans do. We know that two powerful New York politicians — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — do indeed oppose the democratic process when it threatens to deprive them of longer political careers and, in Quinn's case, when it threatens to deprive her of the multi-million dollar slush fund scheme she has contrived with others on the City Council.

What is to be done?

It seems to me the time has come for a constitutional amendment forcing standardization across the country and stipulating that a right to vote means a right in law and in fact.

The Facts

News of problems is to found in most media outlets, so far less than a pessimist like me would expect. The best yet? Actor Tim Robbins was turned away from his polling place in Manhattan. Reason? He had been struck from the voter rolls. He, unlike many sharing his problem today, knew his rights and knew what to do.

The Indianapolis Star reports that two Republican election workers were removed from an Indiana polling site "for using improper methods to challenge voters' rights to cast a ballot".

MSNBC reports that in two of the most important swing states, Virginia and Pennsylvania, voters have complained of problems. Florida, Ohio, and Colorado are also plagued by problems. Pennsylvania is particularly troubling because problems seem to center on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both of which are Democratic strongholds.

Greg Palast describes on Truthout.org how McCain could win as a result of Republican criminal activity:
Swing state Colorado. Before this election, two Republican secretaries of state purged 19.4 percent of the entire voter roll. One in five voters.
Swing state New Mexico. One in nine voters in this year's Democratic caucus found their names missing from the state-provided voter registries. And not just any voters. County by county, the number of voters disappeared was in direct proportion to the nonwhite population.
Swing state Indiana. In this year's primary, ten nuns were turned away from the polls because of the state's new voter ID law. They had drivers' licenses, but being in their 80s and 90s, they'd let their licenses expire.... But what isn't cute is this: 566,000 registered voters in that state don't have the ID required to vote. Most are racial minorities, the very elderly and first-time voters; that is, Obama voters. Twenty-three other states have new, vote-snatching ID requirements.
Swing state Florida. Despite a lawsuit battle waged by the Brennan Center for Justice, the state's Republican apparatchiks are attempting to block the votes of 85,000 new registrants, forcing them to pass through a new "verification" process. Funny thing: verification applies only to those who signed up in voter drives (mostly black), but not to voters registering at motor vehicle offices (mostly white).
The Ugly Secret. Here's an ugly little secret about American democracy: We don't count all the votes. In 2004, based on the data from the US Elections Assistance Commission, 3,006,080 votes were not counted: "spoiled," unreadable and blank ballots; "provisional" ballots rejected; mail-in ballots disqualified.
The long and the short of it is that the United States has a deeply corrupt electoral process, jury-rigged repeatedly to serve political ends, especially, after years of conservative government, Republican ends.


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