We Americans take a great deal of pride in our democratic values. Ordinary citizens, actively exercising their God-given right to vote, have become the primary foundation for these feelings. And we do not stop at our national borders. With religious zeal, we proselytize anyone willing to accept that democracy paves the way to freedom and prosperity for future generations. We actively promote these principles and recoil with derision whenever we encounter election defalcations on the global stage, similar to the following events:
· Loud protestations of fraud from all political parties involved;
· Basic issues related to how votes are collected or counted;
· Legal lawsuits to contest the process and delay the outcome;
· Questionable results due to a regional government official that was related to the candidate that was eventually favored.
Our political press would have had a field day with these shenanigans, screaming for new elections in this overtly biased attempt to retain power in some distant third-world country. Surely the local military leaders, in cahoots with the appointed “puppet-in-charge”, were tainting this democratic voting process to prevent the voice of the people from being heard. If the results of this kind of “rigged” election were allowed to stand, then the efficacy of all future democratic election processes would be questioned going forward. Independent election observation teams arose from situations such as this.
We Americans are also quick to judge newly forming democracies for not being as pristine and orderly in their elections as we are back home, but wait a minute. The events above were not from some corrupt third-world country. These events emanated from our 2000 presidential election, more specifically from the state of Florida, where the “hanging chad” became forever ensconced within our lexicon of political terminology.
To make matters even worse, our Supreme Court had to step in to settle the dispute that, if it had gotten out of hand, then our reputation around the world would have been immeasurably sullied, as the fickle finger of fate revealed our own misgivings. President Bush was soon sworn into office, but the “stench” of manipulation took quite a while to leave the room. Surely we learned something from this ordeal. The voting process was to be revered, at least until 2004, when similar cries of foul surrounded the election results in Ohio. In this case, electronic voting machines and a heavily biased state official in charge of voting were the focal points.
It is sad to say, but you cannot make this stuff up. These two modern-day scripts appear ripe for a satirical screenplay that only the Cohen brothers could snap up and portray. You can almost hearnervously noting, “Damn! We’re in a tight spot!” Our voting “odyssey” did not, however, begin in the new millennium. Flash back to Watergate and Chuck Colson, the reputed mastermind of Nixon’s “dirty tricks” squad. He notoriously bragged that he would walk over his grandmother to get Nixon re-elected, but was eventually humbled and forced to serve seven months in prison for his crimes.
What did we learn from the 1970s? As far as Chuck Colson goes, he underwent a religious epiphany, became a committed fundamentalist Christian, lived to the ripe old age of 80, and passed away silently this past May. The counsel of “Deep Throat," the famous Watergate period informant, is, perhaps, more noteworthy, “Follow the Money!” John Mitchell, Nixon’s Attorney General that was also sentenced to prison in 1977, wins the award, however, for the most educational quote. “Watch what we do, not what we say,” soon became enshrined in our collective consciousness, even though it had more to do with efforts towards desegregation than with election campaign misdeeds.
Flash forward to the present day, and what do we find? Have campaigns learned from past transgressions? Is voting “gamesmanship” still an important winning formula? Democrats have certainly claimed that Republican “dirty tricks” are alive and well. A host of recent articles contends that GOP-led efforts range the gamut from strict, new voter-ID laws and limits on voter-registration drives, to the closing of early-voting windows, all designed to create longer lines and exclude minorities, the elderly, and students from the vote. Consider the implications of these additional developments:
· Republicans acquired control of 26 state legislatures, where GOP governors reside over 21 of those states.
· More than 180 restrictive voting bills were proposed in 41 states after 2010.
· While 27 restrictive voting bills in six states are pending, 25 laws and two executive actions have passed in 19 states after 2010.
· Restrictive voting laws have been passed in 17 states that could affect the 2012 election. These states control 218 electoral votes, or nearly 80% of the amount necessary to win the presidency.
In the words of President Clinton, these efforts have been the most blatant on record. Despite his comment, the reality is, however, that voter suppression is nothing new, nor is voter disenfranchisement a matter that was ignored by our Founding Fathers. They were the first ones to limit voting to white, male property owners, merely 15% of the nation’s early population. Women, minorities, and poor people were excluded. From these early beginnings, the road forward has been tortuous, requiring various amendments to the Constitution and major civil rights legislation to broaden the electorate.
While appearing apparently outnumbered in every election contest, Republicans have had to appeal to the broader populace with their message and actions, typically more oriented toward business and fiscal responsibility. Their oft heard refrain that Democrats only “tax and spend” has won them grudging support, but the party’s decided shift to more extreme conservative views over the past few years has not won positive favor. Extreme viewpoints tend to scare away, rather than attract, new voters.
The courts are presently adjudicating these contentious issues. Democrats now sound more like the party of integrity and moderate fiscal responsibility, leading many observers to remember, “If you want to live like a Republican, then vote for a Democrat.”
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