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Your Land, My Land

Looking across the great divide in search of democracy, common ground, and a place for progressivism in American life

The shock is slowly wearing off, and the time for deciding how to move forward is at hand. Whether it’s traveling to Ohio to demonstrate against voting irregularities, learning how to talk to your evangelical parents about politics, or moving to Canada, this postelection package offers a view to future possibilities.

 

Getting to Democracy

A checklist of sorely needed election reforms
By Metroland staff and interns

This year’s presidential election, for all its disappointments, got a huge number of people involved in politics who had never been involved before, knocking on doors, making calls, giving to candidates, etc. With myriad stories of voting problems coming in from every corner, it’s easy to feel like those efforts were for naught. They weren’t (hey, this was still basically only the third non-landslide presidential election we’ve had in the modern era), but the problems are also very real. Though Democrats and Republicans alike want to be proud of living in one of the world’s great democracies, right now we don’t appear to be living up to the name. So we suggest that a major outlet for progressive frustration is to start now working to make democracy in America come true. Below is a list of some of the major reforms that could restore the country’s honor and the world’s confidence in our electoral process.

Equal Access for Every Voter

Prioritize Integrity of Voting Lists

>From New Mexico to Florida, last minute “purges” of voter lists forced thousands of people who were wrongly dropped to vote by provisional ballots, whose chance of being counted is substantially lower. Lowering fraud by removing duplicates and dead folks on the rolls should still be done, but given the studies that show that vote suppression is more of a problem than vote fraud, the benefit of the doubt should always be to retain a voter’s right to vote. Goal number one: enforce the federal law prohibiting removing a voter’s eligibility within 90 days of an election and reduce “emergency” exceptions. Second should be a widespread education campaign letting voters know how to confirm their registration and contest any removal. This could easily be folded into the voter outreach drives that were so successful this year, but it ought to be the responsibility of the same boards of elections that are maintaining the lists.

Same-Day Registration

Though it’s conventional wisdom that the majority of the electorate only starts paying attention to elections two weeks beforehand, many states have registration deadlines almost a month before election day. A study of the 2000 elections by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate found that same-day registration was the most successful method for increasing voter turnout, and the six states that have it have the highest turnout in the country. Adopting same-day registration allows fairer access to late deciders and people who move frequently (i.e. young and poor voters), and removes some of the power of specious “challengers” combing voter registration rolls. Concerns about fraudulent registrations (which have not actually materialized in significant numbers where same-day registration is allowed) can be handled with online computerized state voter registries. See: www.demos-usa.org/page52.cfm

Uniform Ballots With Equal Chance of Spoilage

Here’s an alarming illustration of just how screwed we are: In the most recent issue of Harper’s, reporter Greg Palast recalls that in 2000, one in eight votes in Gadsden County, Fla., the only black-majority county in Florida, was spoiled. Spoiled, as in worthless, uncounted. Next door, in the primarily white, and considerable more affluent Leon County, “almost no votes” were spoiled. The difference? In Leon County votes were cast on newer paper-ballot machines equipped with optical scanners that allowed the voters themselves to check their votes. These scanner-equipped machines are far less expensive and far more reliable than the “trendier” touchscreens, which according to a July 2001 Congressional report, have a mysterious way of spoiling African- American votes at three times the rate of white votes. Here’s one place where we don’t support local control: Justice demands that everyone in the country should be voting in the same way, which the same chance of spoilage.

Make Election Day a Federal Holiday

Getting people out to the polls is hard enough without asking them to sacrifice hours at work or to put themselves in jeopardy with their employers, especially when waiting in line can take hours. Not having the day off disproportionately affects lower-income workers with less flexible schedules. The National Commission on Federal Election Reform, which was chaired by former presidents Ford and Carter after the 2000 election debacle, recommended the holiday as one a way to make elections fairer and more valid. See: www.workingfor change.com.

Commit to Investigate All Infringement of Voting Rights

Do we really even have to point this one out? Well, yes, apparently, we do. We need a voter’s-rights A-Team. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made direct intimidation and suppression illegal, and targeted many specific time-honored practices such as poll taxes, literacy tests and racial gerrymandering, but the fight is far from over. Legally, there’s still enormous gray area as to what exactly constitutes “intimidation”—there are different standards for evaluation of intimidation at the polling place than in your mailbox, for example. And there is the problem of enforcement. The Department of Justice’s Voting Section, which is responsible for ensuring the protections of the Voting Rights Act, responds primarily to intimidation based on “racial animus,” and generally defers to state governments. They advise, somewhat uncertainly, that if you have information about fraud or intimidation you contact the nearest office of the FBI or the local U.S. Attorney’s office. Unless it involves the aforementioned racial animus, in which case contact the Voting Section, or the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division. Or, maybe, I don’t know, the Bat-signal would work, or something.

Reverse Voter Disenfranchisement

An estimated 4.7 million adults have lost their right to vote in America. Forty-eight states deny felons the right to vote in jail. Thirty-five states don’t allow felons to vote while on probation. Seven states permanently deny the right to offenders. 1.4 million black men have been disenfranchised; that is seven times the rate of the national average. Experts insist that if the goal of imprisonment is reform, then felons who have discharged their debts to society should reclaim their full rights as citizens. Some states allow former felons to attempt to reclaim their right to vote, but the process generally entails a waiting period and a drawn-out process that usually deters people from following through. Felony disenfranchisement also opens the door for voter suppression through inaccurate lists of felons, as has been seen in Florida, and inaccurate information given about when the right to vote is regained, as has been seen in Ohio. See: www.sentencingproject.org

Every Vote Counted

Voter-Verified Paper Trail

At this point it seems like this should go without saying. As reports of all sorts of suspicious results, security holes, and just plain inscrutability keep flooding in about computerized voting machines, and Diebold machines in particular, there is one simple, practically a no-brainer answer: Each machine should provide a physical printout of how the voter voted. After verifying that it is correct, the voter would deposit the receipt in a secure place where it could be called upon for a recount in the case of such “odd” results as the primarily Democratic counties in Florida that mysteriously turned in large numbers for Bush, or in the case of a close race that justifies a recount. Legislation to require this is being promoted in many states and at the federal level. See: www.verifiedvoting.org.

Nonpartisan Electoral Commissions

Though local boards of elections are generally bipartisan, ultimate decisions about voting procedure are in the hands of often adamantly partisan secretaries of state. A non- or bipartisan commission overseeing (and standardizing!) the conduct of elections is one of the prerequisites for the Carter Center to work with other countries to monitor their elections, and it seems like it would do us some serious good here in the States. A key corollary to this would be a ban on election officials working on any campaigns. See: www.centerfordemocracy. org/elect_monitor.html

Guaranteed Protection for All Absentee Ballots

There is a deadline by which to apply for absentee ballots—what about a similar deadline for the boards of elections to send them out? Tens of thousands of absentee ballots were not mailed out this year, and others arrived too late to be cast. Ballots should be legally required to be sent within a minimum time after an application arrives. Deadlines should also be set to allow military overseas ballots to arrive in time to be counted. And when they are sent back, they should be tracked so a voter can confirm that their ballot has arrived, and been stored in a secure place to be counted.

Always Count All the Votes

It is gratifying to hear from the Democratic Party of Ohio that all the votes will be counted and that at least some irregularities are being investigated. No one should have to demand that their vote be counted, and it shouldn’t happen a year later when it’s too late to install the real winner, as happened in 2000. We could make this careful accounting and investigating a matter of course, with the expectation that elections won’t be officially decided until three weeks after Election Day. Save the concession and victory speeches until then. The winner will be free (or at least much freer) from accusations of illegitimacy, and confidence in the process will go up considerably. Groups like www.n3.com are trying to make this a reality in Ohio this year.

Equal Access for Every Candidate/Party

Instant Run-Off Voting

In IRV, voters list their candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of people’s first choice votes, second-choice votes are added in, and so one until someone has a majority of the vote. This would eliminate the spoiler effect, by allowing people to vote first choice for who they really want to win, but know that if that person doesn’t win their second-choice vote will count. Also known as ranked choice voting, IRV is considered by many the only way to allow voters to not always vote for the “lesser of two evils.” See: www.fairvote.org/irv.

Nonpartisan, Independent Redistricting Commissions

Nonpartisan redistricting commissions whose members are not elected officials or party representatives, charged with drawing districts based only on population and natural geographic and neighborhood boundaries, would go a long way toward overturning the pro-incumbent bias of our elections from local to federal. Such an independent commission is number one on a list of desired reforms in New York state put out by a coalition of good-government groups. For more information: www.fairvote.org/redistricting.

Campaign Finance Reform

Since 1974, there has been a modest form of public funding for federal elections, which levels the playing field for less-wealthy or connected candidates—in theory. Simply, any candidate accepting public funds must agree to a campaign-spending cap. The 2002 McCain-Feingold bill, which banned the unlimited “soft-money” contributions to campaigns via a political party and aimed at civilizing political advertising, further checked the rampant infusion of special-interest funds into candidates’ coffers. Right? Well, in a word: Noooo. First of all, candidates can opt out of the public- funding system (which is struggling to remain liquid anyway) and thereby skirt the imposed limits. Secondly, the organization charged with policing these campaigns, the Federal Election Commission, is swamped, inefficient, partisan and plodding. Many advocates agree that full public funding of the elections, while desirable, is an uphill battle; but given that the two leading candidates in this most recent presidential election each took in over $200 million in private contributions (“Some day I may ask you for a favor . . .”) it’s a battle worth waging. See: www.citizen.org, www.whitehouseforsale.org, www.nvri.org.

Open Debates

>From 1976 through 1984, debates were organized by independent nonpartisan groups. That was until the Democrats and Republicans got together and decided to run the show by themselves. The parties formed the Commission on Presidential Debates, which established exclusionary rules such as a candidate must have at least 15 percent support in five national polls to participate. One alternative standard that has been suggested is that anyone on the ballot in enough states to be able in theory to win the race should be included. Third-party candidates have made attempts to open up the process with lawsuits aimed at the CPD and the Federal Election Commission, but not much has been done by the government to ensure an open and fair process where a wealth of viewpoints can be heard. See: www.debatethis.org, www.fair.org/debates.

Ballot Fusion

This is something we enjoy here in New York, but is actually very rare around the country. With ballot fusion, multiple parties can endorse the same candidate—and all votes for one candidate, cast on whatever ballot line, count toward the total. This way smaller, more energetic, activist parties like Working Families or Right to Life can more directly influence the direction of mainstream parties, and voters in a winner-take-all system have a direct way to indicate to candidates which parts of their base their support is are coming from. See: www.nmef.org/solution.htm.

Proportional Representation

In our fat, dumb, happy land, most elections operate on the basis of winner take all. So, for example, the (Republican) Texas state legislature can carve up their U.S. Congressional districts along absurdly partisan lines to effectively disenfranchise thousands of (Democratic) voters. (It’s a bipartisan practice; the Dems do it, too.) Under proportional representation, a common practice in Europe, on the other hand, an elected legislature would reflect the actual proportion of votes cast. Gee, making every vote count; what a concept? For more information on the different ways this can work, see: www.fairvote.org/pr.

Come Together . . . Right Now
By Keith Ammann

The worst thing progressives can do is to turn their backs on ‘red’ America

John Kerry won 48 percent of the popular vote nationwide, but in the wake of this year’s presidential election, some conservatives are crowing with glee that liberals are out of touch with mainstream America.

You know what? They’re right.

I’m not saying that we’re wrong to believe what we believe. But out of touch—yeah, I think so.

Something happened this election cycle that really bothered me. Two friends of mine from college informed me that they were voting (later, had voted) for George W. Bush.

Both of them had once been supporters of Bill Clinton (more so than I’ve been—I defected to Ralph Nader in 1996). Both of them are smart, stand-up guys. Neither of them is a bigot or a religious nut.

So what possessed them?

Before the election, I was bewildered and a little bitter. Afterward, I began to think that maybe their decisions held an important lesson for the Democratic Party.

I remembered an old quote from the humanist philosopher Bertrand Russell: “When an intelligent man expresses a view which seems to us obviously absurd, we should not attempt to prove that it is somehow true, but we should try to understand how it ever came to seem true.” Sean and Derek are intelligent men. If I want an explanation of why they voted for Bush, I have to assume that they made a rational decision based on whatever premises they held at the time. And I have to ask where those premises came from.

This is where the fabled red–blue divide comes in. It’s not so much geographical (all but four “red” states have at least one county that went “blue”; all but three “blue” states, along with the District of Columbia, have at least one county that went “red”) as it is social and psychological. We may live next door to each other yet, in our worldviews, be thousands of miles apart. And we haven’t really shown much interest in coming together. We prefer to live in our own respective echo chambers, habituated to our own points of view and accustomed to shutting out opposing ones. We become addicted to the serenity of never having to question ourselves.

Because their side has the power and momentum for the time being, conservatives can be content with this state of affairs. We can’t. We have to do something that many of us are going to find difficult and distasteful: We have to re-engage with Bush voters.

Why did so many of this country’s swing voters ultimately support Bush? Because Kerry and the Democratic Party did not speak to them in their own language, in terms that made sense to them. Because we made our arguments in the terms that we care about, not in the terms that they care about.

Probably at this point there are readers who are protesting: “Why do we want to talk in their terms? Their terms are all about Jesus and queer-bashing and French- bashing and baby-killing. Screw their terms, and screw them.”

But those aren’t “their” terms, that is, the terms of the swing voters who decided this election. Those are the terms of the conservative echo chamber, the obnoxious pundits, the radical base. And here’s an uncomfortable fact that we need to remember: Some of our terms come off just as badly. We need to find different ones.

Another old friend of mine—this one a Kerry voter—drew my attention to a book called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. “The worst possible way to negotiate is to select a position and hold onto it at all costs,” Anthony wrote to me. “A more effective technique is to converse with the other side in a manner which identifies what they want and need, what you want and need, and searches for mutually beneficial concordances.”

Howard Dean and John Edwards did this with some success during the Democratic primary season, appealing to working-class Southern voters by pointing out the impact of Republican economic policies on them. Democrats could have, and should have, pushed this rhetoric further. Supposedly, this election was won on “values”; well, when you put them in the right terms—honest pay for honest work, helping those who are down get back up rather than punish them for their mistakes and misfortunes, liberty and justice for all—Democratic values have an undeniable appeal. Unfortunately, Democratic voters, anxious about “electability,” once again chose a presidential candidate who, while brilliant and capable, couldn’t deliver such a plainspoken message, on the one hand falling back on the mealymouthed buzz phrase “a woman’s right to choose” and on the other pledging unconvincingly to pursue terrorists and “kill them.” No better illustration of how out of touch we liberals are with the mainstream could have been concocted: Much of the time we don’t say what we mean, and almost as often people have a hard time believing that we mean what we say.

Russell again: “In studying a philosopher”—he was talking about philosophers, but I think it applies to Bush voters as well—“the right attitude is neither reverence nor contempt, but first a kind of hypothetical sympathy, until it is possible to know what it feels like to believe in his theories, and only then a revival of the critical attitude. . . . Contempt interferes with the first part of this process, and reverence with the second.” In the past, the Democratic Party has been overly reverent of swing voters, moderating its positions further and further until it wasn’t clear what the party stood for, if anything. In the present, we run a severe risk of permanently alienating Bush voters with our postelection contempt.

We cannot remain detached. We have to engage, respectfully (but not reverently), with Bush voters, we have to articulate our principles in language that makes sense to them, and we have to demonstrate the value of those principles in the way we live, before their very eyes. They don’t read The American Prospect. They don’t listen to NPR. They’re not going to listen to us preaching at them in our own cant. They will, however, believe what they see with their own eyes, which means that we have to be there to be seen.

In Michigan, a handful of “red” communities voted against the anti-gay marriage amendment that passed in that state. Not coincidentally, those communities were ones that both are predominantly Republican and have large gay populations. In DuPage County, Ill., a bastion of right-wing Republicanism, liberal Senate candidate Barack Obama ran away with two-thirds of the vote, while conservative Alan Keyes took only one-third. If you want to know how Obama did it, replay his Democratic National Convention keynote speech a few times.

The lesson for progressives is clear: There is no democracy without dialogue, and there is no dialogue between people who aren’t speaking to each other. Our fellow Americans are not the enemy. Our fight isn’t with Bush voters. Our fight is with their premises, and we can only win that fight one conversation, one disagreement, one cordial debate, one handshake at a time.

Finding Our Religion
By Rabbi Michael Lerner

To win back American voters, Democrats need to address their need for a deeper meaning in life

For years the Democrats have been telling themselves “It’s the economy, stupid.” Yet consistently, for dozens of years, millions of middle-income Americans have voted against their economic interests to support Republicans who have tapped a deeper set of needs.

Tens of millions of Americans feel betrayed by a society that seems to place materialism and selfishness above moral values. They know that “looking out for number one” has become the common sense of our society, but they want a life that is about something more—a framework of meaning and purpose to their lives that would transcend the grasping and narcissism that surrounds them. Sure, they will admit that they have material needs, and that they worry about adequate health care, stability in employment, and enough money to give their kids a college education. But even more deeply they want their lives to have meaning—and they respond to candidates who seem to care about values and some sense of transcendent purpose.

Many of these voters have found a “politics of meaning” in the political right. In the right-wing churches and synagogues these voters are presented with a coherent worldview that speaks to their “meaning needs.” Most of these churches and synagogues demonstrate a high level of caring for their members, even if the flip side is a willingness to demean those on the outside. Yet what members experience directly is a level of mutual caring that they rarely find in the rest of the society, and a sense of community that is offered them nowhere else, a community that has as its central theme that life has value because it is connected to some higher meaning than one’s success in the marketplace.

It’s easy to see how this hunger gets manipulated in ways that liberals find offensive and contradictory. The frantic attempts to preserve family by denying gays the right to get married, the talk about being conservatives while meanwhile supporting Bush policies that accelerate the destruction of the environment and do nothing to encourage respect for God’s creation or an ethos of awe and wonder to replace the ethos of turning nature into a commodity, the intense focus on preserving the powerless fetus and a culture of life without a concomitant commitment to medical research (stem cell research/HIV-AIDS), gun control and health-care reform, the claim to care about others and then deny them a living wage and an ecologically sustainable environment—all this is rightly perceived by liberals as a level of inconsistency that makes them dismiss as hypocrites the voters who have been moving to the right.

Yet liberals, trapped in a long-standing disdain for religion and tone-deaf to the spiritual needs that underlie the move to the right, have been unable to engage these voters in a serious dialogue. Rightly angry at the way that some religious communities have been mired in authoritarianism, racism, sexism and homophobia, the liberal world has developed such a knee-jerk hostility to religion that it has both marginalized those many people on the left who actually do have spiritual yearnings and simultaneously refused to acknowledge that many who move to the right have legitimate complaints about the ethos of selfishness in American life.

Imagine if John Kerry had been able to counter George Bush by insisting that a serious religious person would never turn his back on the suffering of the poor, that the Bible’s injunction to love one’s neighbor required us to provide health care for all, and that the New Testament’s command to “turn the other cheek” should give us a predisposition against responding to violence with violence.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk about the strength that comes from love and generosity and apply that to foreign policy and homeland security.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could talk of a New Bottom Line, so that American institutions get judged efficient, rational and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize people’s capacities to be loving and caring, ethically and ecologically sensitive, and capable of responding to the universe with awe and wonder.

Imagine a Democratic Party that could call for schools to teach gratitude, generosity, caring for others, and celebration of the wonders that daily surround us!

Such a Democratic Party, continuing to embrace its agenda for economic fairness and multicultural inclusiveness, would have won in 2004 and can win in the future. Please don’t tell me that this is happening outside the Democratic Party in the Greens or in other lefty groups—because except for a few tiny exceptions it is not! I remember how hard I tried to get Ralph Nader to think and talk in these terms in 2000, and how little response I got substantively from the Green Party when I suggested reformulating their excessively politically correct policy orientation in ways that would speak to this spiritual consciousness. The hostility of the left to spirituality is so deep, in fact, that when they hear us in Tikkun talking this way they often can’t even hear what we are saying, so they systematically mishear it and say that we are calling for the left to take up the politics of the right, which is exactly the opposite of our point. Speaking to spiritual needs actually leads to a more radical critique of the dynamics of corporate capitalism and corporate globalization, not to a mimicking of right-wing policies.

If the Democrats were to foster a religious/spiritual left, they would no longer pick candidates who support preemptive wars or who appease corporate power. They would reject the cynical realism that led them to pretend to be born-again militarists, a deception that fooled no one and only revealed their contempt for the intelligence of most Americans. Instead of assuming that most Americans are either stupid or reactionary, a religious left would understand that many Americans who are on the right actually share the same concern for a world based on love and generosity that underlies left politics, even though lefties often hide their value attachments.

Yet to move in this direction, many Democrats would have to give up their attachment to a core belief: that those who voted for Bush are fundamentally stupid or evil. It’s time they got over that elitist self-righteousness and developed strategies that could affirm their common humanity with those who voted for the right. Teaching themselves to see the good in the rest of the American public would be a critical first step in liberals and progressives learning how to teach the rest of American society how to see that same goodness in the rest of the people on this planet. It is this spiritual lesson—that our own well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else on the planet and on the well-being of the earth—a lesson rooted deeply in the spiritual wisdom of virtually every religion on the planet, that could be the center of a revived Democratic Party.

Yet to take that seriously, the Democrats are going to have to get over the false and demeaning perception that the Americans who voted for Bush could never be moved to care about the well-being of anyone but themselves. That transformation in the Democrats would make them into serious contenders.

The last time Democrats had real social power was when they linked their legislative agenda with a spiritual politics articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. We cannot wait for the reappearance of that kind of charasmatic leader to begin the process of re-building a spiritual/religious left.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is national co-chair (with Cornel West and Susannah Heschel) of The Tikkun Community, an interfaith organization that seeks to build on the political vision articulated above (you can read more at www.Tikkun.org); editor of TIKKUN, a bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, author of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco.

 

Need to Know
By Stephen Leon

Let’s not wait four more years to figure out if someone is hacking our votes

Do you think George W. Bush got reelected as president of the United States because the country really is more conservative than we progressives would like to believe?

I think not.

Do you think Bush got reelected because he demonstrated stronger moral values than John F. Kerry?

I think not. (And for what it’s worth, Bush doesn’t have stronger moral values than Kerry, not by a long shot.)

Do you think Bush got reelected because voters believed he would do a better job than Kerry of keeping us safe from terrorism?

I think not. (And for what it’s worth, anyone who does feel safer with Bush isn’t living in the real world. The past four years have been the most jittery and unsafe in our lifetimes. Even if all or most of those terror alerts were fear-mongering bullshit. Half the world hates us now, and our military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq likely has created thousands of potential new terrorists who would gladly car-bomb us at the earliest opportunity. Just ask New Yorkers, who bore the brunt of the horror of 9/11, and who voted overwhelmingly for Kerry.)

Do you think Bush got reelected because voters believed he would be better than Kerry for the economy?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Do you think Bush got reelected because Karl Rove and his team did almost as good a job as the Democrats of getting out new voters, and that generally, Rove is a more brilliant strategist than anyone on the blue team?

Well, maybe, sort of, a little. Rove is a brilliant bastard.

But here’s the real question: Do you think George Bush got reelected?

I think not.

For starters, he couldn’t have been reelected. He wasn’t elected the first time. The full-recount analysis of Florida proves that. And that’s not even counting the purged voters, the “spoiled” votes, the Jews for Buchanan, etc. He wasn’t elected, he was appointed, by a slim 5-4 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court. So, like I said, he couldn’t have been reelected.

OK, rephrase: Do you think Bush got elected? This time?

I think not.

I can’t prove he didn’t, not yet. And you can’t prove he did. At the moment, all we can do is consider the evidence. And given the suspicious nature of much that has happened in polling places around the country, especially in Florida and Ohio, we need to be considering the evidence—you, me, the mainstream media, boards of elections everywhere, and John Kerry. We knew this was coming. We knew more voters than ever before were going to be voting on touch-screen voting machines leaving no paper trail. We knew the fates of many vote counts rested not in the hands of ordinary people or nonpartisan electoral commissions but in the hands of Republican-connected companies like Diebold and ES&S. We knew that Republicans in power in Florida and Ohio (and bear in mind, the Florida Legislature already had rejected a bill calling for a paper trail on electronic machines) were in a position to manipulate the results. We were warned.

There is a small army of electoral-reform activists out there investigating this. And a handful of us are writing about it. But are we, as a nation, taking the possibility of massive vote-count fraud seriously enough?

I think not.

Since this is a conspiracy theory, a word or two on conspiracy theories.

To many people, the words “conspiracy theory” immediately conjure images of bug-eyed, unshaven freaks with too much time on their hands locked in basements, dressed in yesterday’s clothes, e-mailing their equally wacky friends with the latest piece of evidence from some obscure Web site, or the back of a cereal box, or something the cat blurted out before reverting to purrs and meows and pretending he never said it.

In other words, many people dismiss all conspiracy theories as loony.

That’s simplistic for a number of reasons. While you shouldn’t believe in every CT that comes down the pike—I, for one, have a hard time wrapping my brain around the notion that we never landed on the moon—a spirit of inquiry and open-mindedness would suggest considering any new theory on its own merits. And remember, the massive and sinister PR apparatus that protects governments and corporations who are engaging in secret crimes knows all too well how to marginalize the crusaders and whistle-blowers by associating them with the very freaks described above.

And often, the story told by the cover-uppers is equally, if not more, incredible. Just because the government has been batting away conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination for more than 40 years now shouldn’t blind us too the fact that the Warren Commission report is a reality-defying conspiracy theory in itself. As for 9/11, one of the most persistent arguments I’ve heard to dismiss the conspiracy theories is that no American president or administration would knowingly sacrifice the lives of thousands of Americans for political gain—a naive assertion on the face of it, as many leaders in the past (here and in other countries we consider civilized) have made such Machiavellian calculations, and the Bush administration is doing it right now in Iraq.

Now, back to this election. The reason I assumed the Bush regime would use electronic voting machines to steal votes in this election, especially in Florida, but also in Ohio and several other states, is simple: because they could. Bush’s henchmen already had established (in 2000 and in the months prior to this year’s election) that they would do anything it took, however unsavory or illegal, to win. The Republican connections to Diebold, ES&S and other voting-machine companies are well- established. The voting process in Florida and Ohio, as well as several other states with touch-screen machines, are under Republican control. Given the importance of Florida and Ohio on the electoral map—and the fact that they were swing states, with polls showing them slipping ever more toward Kerry—I can’t imagine why the Bush people wouldn’t have tampered with the count.

That said, evidence would have to surface for my theory to have been anything but idle speculation. And oh, is it surfacing. In Carteret County, North Carolina, 4,500 votes irretrievably lost by an electronic machine. In Ohio, a computer glitch awarding nearly 4,000 Kerry votes to Bush. In Florida, software that began subtracting votes when the counts reached 32,000. Also in Florida, startling anomalies in which heavily Democratic counties where optical scanners were used to read paper ballots went heavily for Bush (in counties where the scanners were not used, the vote fell much more predictably along party lines). And in a number of states, persistent anecdotes of touch-screen voters casting their ballots for Kerry, only to see them register on the screen for Bush.

(For more on electoral irregularities, try www.blackboxvoting.com, www.black boxvoting.org, and www.votersunite.org.)

Now add the exit-poll factor: Most of them had Kerry winning handily. According to Zogby and others, Kerry won Florida, Ohio, and a number of other swing states that eventually were counted as wins for Bush. Also, Kerry’s margin of victory in New Hampshire was dramatically lower than what the exit polls showed.

The Republican explanation is that the exit polls were rigged to discourage turnout in western states. But what if the exit polls were right? What if it’s the vote count that was rigged? What if the will of the people really was to elect John Kerry president?

We may never know the answer. And even if we suddenly find out that either Florida or Ohio was miscounted, and that Kerry actually won—it’s unclear what would happen next. It’s hard to imagine Kerry announcing a press conference, demanding a Bush concession. (OK, he wouldn’t demand—he’d ask politely. No need to get snippy.)

But we need to know. We need to put the doubts and fears to rest—or confirm them, so we can generate the political will to fix them.

And, not incidentally, so Democrats of all shades can look back on this campaign not with anguish and accusations over what they did wrong, but with pride and hope over what they did right.

 

Oh Canada
By Rick Marshall

In which a despondent Metroland staff writer considers seriously what everyone’s been joking about

I’ve never been the patient type. In fact, some have gone so far as to describe me as “impulsive” or “reckless,” and that’s just what my friends call me to my face. The thing is, I’ve never been a fan of religious zealots and homophobic bigots, so as you might expect, the results of this election have got me in quite a tizzy. In fact, I don’t think I’m handling this whole “patient, progressive persistence” thing well at all, as my friends keep running out of the room like it’s a fire drill every time I start talking politics, my coworkers keep moving my desk into the broom closet and I just caught my girlfriend slipping tranquilizers into my soda after I asked her how she felt about Diebold’s connections to the Republican party.

So what’s a guy like me to do when faced with the prospect of four more years of Jesus-told-me-to decisions coming from the White House?

Well, organizing a violent rebellion seemed like a decent idea at first, but then I remembered that my leadership skills probably weren’t up to snuff for the sort of project overthrowing a global superpower was bound to become. After all, years went by before I could play a whole game of “duck, duck, goose” without wetting myself every time it was my turn to decide who to tag, and now that I think of it, everything I know about revolution I learned from the liner notes in Rage Against the Machine albums.

So where does that leave me?

About 200 miles from the Canadian border, that’s where.

Sure, everyone and their civil-union partner said they were going to pack up and move north if the cowboy “dun got hisself reelected,” but I haven’t heard of anyone actually doing so—not yet, at least. So, why not be the first? After all, how difficult can it be to get the puck sliding (see? I’m a natural!) on a new life in the great northern wilderness?

Well, it didn’t take long for me to discover that I wasn’t alone in this grand experiment. According to Reuters, the Web site for Canadian immigration (www.cic.gc.ca if you want to jump on the bandwagon) received six times more traffic than normal from the United States on Nov. 3, doubling the previous record high for one day’s total visits. Canadian officials say that six months will have to go by before they’ll be able to report any surge in new applications.

“As Canadians, you’ll have to learn to embrace and use all the products and culture of Americans, while publicly bad-mouthing their way of life,” wrote Canadian columnist Thane Burnett in a recent issue of the Toronto Sun. “Though the number in your party is far smaller than expected before last Tuesday’s presidential election, we do have strict rules for becoming citizens of Canada.”

And he wasn’t joking.

Despite having one of the broadest immigration policies for a nation its size, Canada is awfully picky about who gets to be called a Canuck. In order to apply for immigration into Canada as a skilled worker—one of the most common classifications of new immigrants—you need to prove whether you’d actually be an asset to the country or just another slacker who’s seen Strange Brew too many times. There’s a test available on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada site (www.cic. gc.ca/english/skilled/ assess/index.html) intended to give you an idea of the requirements, but I’ll save you some disappointment and just tell you that I—your average American—flunked it.

Yup, there I was, thinking that 17 years of schooling in the American system had to translate into at least 24 years of Canadian education—not to mention all those years of full-time employment that could be converted into the Canadian equivalent. But alas, surfing the Internet and pretending to be busy eight hours a day for four years only equates to a score of 65, two points short of the passing grade. And would you believe that knowing how to ask “Will you sleep with me tonight?” in French doesn’t count for even a single point?

I probably couldn’t afford it anyway, though. Contrary to popular belief, moving to another country is a bit more expensive than changing apartments. (Actually, I’m probably the only one who believed this.) According to a quote I requested from www.moving canada.com, it would cost more than $2,500 to get me, the contents of my apartment, and my two cats from Albany to Toronto, and that’s with me doing all the packing.

All is not lost, however. After calculating and recalculating the potential outcome of the test, it’s become apparent that there is one surefire way to get me—legally—across the border: I need to get married. Yes, Canada will not accept single, unqualified Americans, but they will welcome you with open arms when you arrive in pairs. Check the site for yourself: The extra points you gain from having a “spouse or common-law partner” with a college degree are just enough to make this sick-of-it-all American on the fringe of expatriatism break out into a celebratory song. (“Oh, Canada!” of course.)

Still, if you don’t want to go through all of that pesky paperwork, marriage vows and the potential realization of wasted years, you can always just marry into the country. Anticipating a flood of postelection permanent vacationers, www.marryanamerican.ca is filled with men and women offering to “sacrifice their singlehood to save their southern neighbors from four more years of cowboy conservatism.”

Something tells me my girlfriend won’t go for it, though.

Now that I think of it, it’s probably all for the better. According to CIC, becoming a permanent resident of Canada can take up to a year, and full citizenship can take at least three more years. Sure, CIC claims that the application process actually takes that long, but you and I know the truth: Just like the Americans have a “cooling off” period on gun sales, it takes one full presidential term before you can officially begin laughing at the “stupid Americans.”

Well, it looks like there are not as many options available to the average impatient American as I initially thought. Short of becoming a “mail-order groom” or spending some time in jail for inciting riots, the options for immediate expatriatism are pretty limited—and expensive.

So it looks like I’m going to stay American, at least for the next four years. Here’s hoping that everyone around me can handle it.

rmarshall@metroland.net


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