Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Election III -- The Ugly

Elizabeth Drew writes with uncharacteristic indignation in the New York Review of Books that Obama’s re-election occurred despite a scheme ‘concocted by small-minded men to subvert the natural workings of our most solemn and exhilarating exercise as a self-governing nation’. Republicans failed to suppress enough votes among the Democratic base to win, but the attempt, Drew cautions, was a grave assault on our democracy nonetheless.

The details are worth a look at the full article and include both well-known and obscure tactics: requiring special voter IDs and making them hard to obtain; restricting early and absentee voting; setting up inadequate polling places without enough poll workers to ensure lengthy waits (up to eight hours in Florida); even, in one case, forcing voters to fill out their own provisional ballot forms, thereby sharply raising the chance of errors and the loss of the vote. The outcome was that thousands of people met enormous obstacles in their exercise of their most basic right as citizens.

Drew also notes the bank of lawyers the Romney campaign had standing by to put on a repeat of the 2000 Florida challenge that put Bush II in power. We can gloat that because their guy was trounced so thoroughly, not one state hung in the balance, and they had nothing to do after all. But that’s slight reassurance, and the parallel with 2000 is particularly disturbing because it reminds us that the GOP paid such a negligible political price for ripping off a presidential election 12 years ago that it felt emboldened to try it again.

We’ve been treated over the last four years to the spectacle of a die-hard opposition in Congress saying ‘Nicht’ to anything coming from the Obama White House, just ‘because’. But let’s fantasize: what if the Democrats had adopted a similar posture after seeing the election of 2000 snatched by judicial coup and had based their intransigence on the perfectly serviceable theory that the incoming Bush Administration was illegitimate? True, this is like asking my aunt to have cojones, but it does illustrate how Romney’s team could have seen no reason not to try for a repeat.

Drew writes that the plan backfired because the people targeted for disenfranchisement—blacks, students, the elderly, workers—were outraged and streamed to the polls in greater numbers than ever, assisted by the Obama campaign’s meticulous planning to get them there. But she also notes how Obama tossed off a casual reference to the mess in his post-midnight victory speech while people in Florida were still waiting in line to vote. ‘By the way, we have to fix that’, he said, as if the breakdown of the cornerstone of democratic rule were a technical glitch rather than intentional voter suppression. He obviously knows better and chose not to make an issue of it. This is wrong and dangerous.

ACORN, the voter registration nonprofit entrapped and pilloried eventually to death over a handful of errors, is no longer around. But Karl Rove’s super-PAC is, and while his team is suffering for its lousy performance and its waste of ridiculous piles of money, no one is on the spot for its concerted attempts to undermine the act of voting itself. They goofed this time in a host of ways, especially by being so bloody obvious. But they’ll be back, and since voter suppressors need fear no retribution, their tactics will be more sophisticated next time around.

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