Land, My Land
across the great divide in search of democracy, common ground,
and a place for progressivism in American life
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
checklist of sorely needed election reforms
By Metroland staff and interns
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
Access for Every Voter
Integrity of Voting Lists
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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.
Access for Every Candidate/Party
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:
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,
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,
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.
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.
Together . . . Right Now
worst thing progressives can do is to turn their backs on
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
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
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.
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
win back American voters, Democrats need to address their
need for a deeper meaning in life
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
a Democratic Party that could talk about the strength that
comes from love and generosity and apply that to foreign policy
and homeland security.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
not wait four more years to figure out if someone is hacking
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
which a despondent Metroland staff writer considers
seriously what everyone’s been joking about
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
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.
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.