Saturday, October 23, 2004


Block the vote

The Republicans electoral strategy includes a major vote-suppression effort – how can these guys look at themselves in the mirror?

After all my railing against the Bush administration's strategy of false consciousness and denial to sell the American public on bad policies that most of us don't want, it turns out that the majority of voters do indeed reject the George w. Bush presidency and his bid for re-election. The Republicans know this – hence, as reported in the New York Times today, they have enlisted thousands of paid ($100 per day in Ohio) "poll watchers" in an effort to block the vote.

It's bad enough that George w. Bush was originally elected with less than 48% of the vote, and fewer popular votes than his opponent Al Gore. What's more, he didn't even really win the electoral vote. As is now well documented, his 500 vote "winning" majority in Florida depended on the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Democratic, mostly black voters who were wrongfully included on a "convicted felon" list, not to mention the rejection of some 170,000 ballots actually cast that were rejected on various technicalities (e.g., marking of Gore's name and writing it in on the blank line for "name of candidate). Had these voters not been turned away at the polls, or had all the ballots been counted, Gore would have won the election.

The Republicans are pulling the same kinds of stunt this year. In Ohio, the Republicans have recruited 3,600 monitors and will pay them $100 to challenge the eligibility of voters who show up at the polls. There are four grounds to challenge a voter at the polls: she is not 18 years old, not a citizen, not a resident of the county where the polling place is located, or has not lived in Ohio for 30 days. Republican organizers claim their effort is needed to safeguard against "voter fraud" resulting from massive voter registration drives undertaken by Democrats this election year. But what fraud?

Is there a serious contention of registering thousands of "illegal aliens" as fraudulent voters? These are folks who won't report employers who pay them less than minimum wage, and won't even report violent crimes committed against them, for fear of deportation. Do you really think they are going to show up at the polls in droves to commit the felony of willfully violating the election laws by casting illegal ballots?

So what is it – are the Republicans trying to convince us that the Dems have bussed thousands of non-Ohioans into the state iwth less than 30 days to go before the election, again, to vote illegally?

Of course not. There is not "voter fraud" stemming from the registration drives. Rather, the Republicans know that the Bush administration has governed so badly the past four years that millions of people have been energized to get off their butts for the first time to vote these rascals out. Many of these new voters are lower income people, and minorities, people who would naturally favor Democrats, but who usually feel alienated from a political process aimed more at the interests of the middle class or the wealthy.

The Republican poll watchers – and they will be out in force in every battleground state – are not there to make good faith challenges to voters, but to gum up the works. Every challenge to a voter, even if it ultimately fails to disenfranchise that challenged individual, takes up the time of one or more poll workers. You know what happens in a grocery checkout line when you get that one really slow person – the one who needs the price check on several items, and then fumbles for his checkbook only after all the items have been rung up? Imagine the lines at polling places when Republican "poll watchers" challenge every Latino voter as a "non citizen" or every scruffy-looking young person as "under 18," or every black person as an out-of-stater? It takes time to clear up each one of these challenges, and the lines will get long and slow. Many people will be scared away by seeing the inquiries at the head of the line, or frustrated away by the long slow lines. The Republicans know this, and they are targeting heavily Democratic precincts, particularly urban areas with concentrations of minority voters.

Despite several polls showing Bush ahead, the insiders all know the score. The polls showing Bush with a lead are "likely voter" polls that do not account for the very newly registered voters whom the Republicans will hope to challenge in droves. If everyone who is registered and eligible casts a vote, and all those votes are counted, Kerry will win nearly all of the battleground states, and will win the election by comfortable margins in both the popular and electoral vote.

There is a sickening set of ironies to all this. The Republicans made a great hue and cry in 2000 against Al Gore's recount challenge in Florida in 2000, accusing the Democrats of legalistic and litigious behavior. But think about it. The Republicans simply cannot let all the votes be counted, because they know they are pursuing anti-majoritarian policies: tax cuts for the rich, social control for the religious right, war in Iraq for God knows what. Therefore, the Republicans will assert every technicality they can think of to cause voters to be turned away at the polls, and to undermine the efficient flow of voters through the polls.

It was not so different in Florida in 2000. While Gore ultimately relied on lawyers to challenge the Florida vote, that was only after the Republicans relied on legalistic rulings by the Republican-controlled state election bureaucracy (remember Kathleen Harris?) to throw the tens of thousands of eligible black voters off the voter rolls and then to lock in a vote that favored Bush only by throwing out tens of thousands of Gore ballots.

In 2004, the Republicans are again trying to game the system. Elections have rules to prevent fraud, but the Republicans are plainly manipulating those rules in order to suppress the vote. This is supposed to be a democracy, and the attitude of the parties should be, let the votes be counted and the chips fall where they may. But the Republicans of 2000 and 2004, who rule in the interests of the few, depend on minority, not majority, rule. They've hired party faithful, not lawyers, but they will be out there at the polls crying "objection" in order to make sure that not all the voters have their say.

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