Oct 30, 2008

Gary Younge on the Problem of Voting

Gary Younge is a journalist for the Guardian (UK) born in Barbados, and writes out of New York. I agree about the recent email about the young Obama workers trying to pull a fast one and voting not in their home districts, but where they were registering voters, though I have not had a chance to follow up on it and see what the penalty was was. Gary Younge, however, writes of my greatest fear, presented more eloquently than I could ever do.

You would think that a country that can put a man on the moon and have the greatest military technology in the world would have figured out a way to run a true democratic vote, but it's not happening. Even the Election Assistance Commission which was supposed to look into this stuff failed to report the entire story, and we know conclusively now that most of the 12 US attorneys were fired because they looked into voter fraud and found nothing there. And that's a from a Republican who supports McCain: David Iglesias, from New Mexico, one of the fired US attorneys.

After reminiscing about the problems with the franchise in South Africa, Younge then turns to the anticipated long lines in our upcoming election. Here are some selections from Younge's article, "Black
America may get a president before black Americans get to vote," published in The Guardian on October 27, 2008:

In Jackson County, West Virginia, people have been hitting the touch-screen for Barack Obama and finding they have voted for John McCain. In Florida they are testdriving the third ballot system in three election cycles. Election workers are struggling. Those who thought they would vote early and avoid the queues are waiting in line for three hours.

Added to the technological flaws with machines and lack of technical training for those operating them are technocratic electoral laws that aren't fair, don't work and in any case aren't being heeded. According to the New York Times, tens of thousands of eligible voters in six battleground states have been illegally removed from voter rolls or will be prevented from voting in ways that violate federal law. In Wisconsin, one in five voters' names on the registration database did not completely match names on other state records, including four of the six former judges charged with overseeing the elections. Both presidential candidates may have been wasting their time wooing Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher - aka Joe the plumber - at the last debate. He is registered as Worzelbacher, and therefore may find himself ineligible to vote.


While this is happening everywhere [snip], it is compounded by a protracted Republican effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters under the guise of combating voter fraud. Voter fraud is a serious issue. The trouble is it barely exists. In the six years since the Bush administration has made it a priority, barely 100 people have been convicted and fewer than 200 have been charged. The overwhelming majority were either people who thought they were eligible but weren't (immigrants, felons etc) or those registering fictitious people.

"If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a statewide election, that would be significant," Richard Hasen, election law expert at the Loyola Law School, told the New York Times last year. "But what we see is isolated, small- scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent."

But that hasn't stopped Republicans trying. Five of the 12 US attorneys who were fired last year, in the scandal that led to the resignation of US attorney general Alberto Gonzales, were axed because they refused to pursue the issue of voter fraud with sufficient vigour. It also explains the Republican attacks on the community group Acorn, which pays people to register voters in low income and minority areas. Some of Acorn's workers made up names. That should be and has been condemned. But there is no evidence that it has resulted in a single fraudulent vote ever being cast since Acorn began its large-scale voter registration drives four years ago.


The practical consequences of this interference, manipulation and, at times, intimidation is twofold. It disenfranchises people who either don't have the time, inclination or wherewithal to stand up to officialdom. And it creates huge lines while others stay and fight. A Democratic party survey from 2004 found half of the state's African-American voters in Ohio reported some problems at the polls on election day. On average, black voters waited in longer lines than whites, were more likely to be asked for identification when they got there and felt more intimidated.

It remains one of the paradoxes of this election that black America may yet get a president before black Americans have fully secured their right to vote.

Even if Obama succeeds, who can tell whether the votes have been accurately counted? Perhaps a majority will really have been a significant majority? There was so much gaming of the elections in 2006, who knows if the Democratic majority in the House wasn't really under counted? If McCain wins, will we really know for sure that he did? Either side's victory is lessened by the inconsistency of voting laws, the unreliability and secrecy of computer systems, and the efforts to deny the franchise to people. There is much to be done in this country, and making the voting systems uniform, transparent, non-partisan, and just is one of the structural constitutional issues we must address.

As always, this matter will be put on the back of the top shelf after the election.