Sunday, October 26, 2008

It is Time to Break the Silence about Voter Suppression!

By: Harry Waisbren

I am quite excited for tonight’s edition of Forward Forum, and it’s not only because of the fact that our first guest (who authored a book about Sarah Palin) will undoubtedly give me plenty of opportunities to make fun of George W. Bush with lipstick. However, our second hour will analyze a topic that I have become increasingly involved and vested in. We will be interviewing Jon Pincus who I have been collaborating with on the Voter Suppression Wiki, and our discussion will include how we can connect both online and on the ground activists to prevent the continuance of this horrific wrong. How is it that in 2008 Americans still need to fear for their votes, and why am I so committed to breaking the silence on this particular issue? Context is needed here to understand the enormity of what we are dealing with, as we must recognize that what we are seeing today is merely emblematic of a much horrific evil that has eaten away at the soul of America since its inception.

Ever since our founding there has been an internal struggle regarding who would truly wield power in this country. This controversy is most evident in the evolving definition indicating which members of our society compromise the term “the people” who, supposedly, are designed to rule in this land. The changing nature of this democratic ideal can be measured by whom we grant the right of voting, as this right deciphers categorically which segments of the population are/were considered worthy of representation as an equal to those even more powerful or wealthy.  There can be no equality without congruent voting rights, and the dream of America can not be achieved without a true acceptance of the radical concept that we are all equals.

Within even the most idealistic of our founding fathers were views on this issue that we consider abhorrent today. African Americans in this country continued to be bereft of freedom, and, of course, did not have the right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote. Those who were not wealthy enough to own property were not allowed to vote. This changed though throughout our history, as patriots fought and died to attain and retain this sacred institution. However, the combined forces of those prone to lose the most power from the shifting equilibrium were, and remain, fiercely strong. Far too many members of our country’s wealthy and powerful elite have decided both then and now that they benefit most when there are fewer people allowed the information and ability to vote and assert their own interests. Quite regrettably, far too many of our fellow citizens do not recognize the repugnant nature of this incentive, and despite civil war, despite reconstruction, despite generations of strikes and protests, despite the end of Jim Crowe, despite countless victories, voter suppression efforts of those with the least political power continue and thrive to this day.

Let me be unabashedly frank: the conservative movement in this country has wholeheartedly embraced modern day tactics to prevent minorities and the youth from voting. These tactics have a new name and justifications, but their deplorable nature remains the same as any other voter suppression effort historically. This time the justification is coming through preventing “voter fraud”, yet a cursorily analysis of these bankrupt charges expose how this campaign is merely indicative of the same failings of mankind that have hampered our democracy from its inception. Below is a portion of the explanation about the history of voter fraud from Eric Alterman and George Zornick of the Center for American Progress that exposes this dynamic:

Members of the mainstream media often give too much credence to empty claims of “voter fraud,” while ignoring the institutionalized disenfranchisement that occurs too often in America. “Voter fraud” is not an infrequent claim, especially before elections. The claim is most often applied to voter registrations submitted for people who are ineligible or don’t exist.

Yet these accounts lack the crucial context that should be included in every journalistic account of such charges—that voter fraud allegations are frequently based on shaky evidence with partisan goals in mind.

Project Vote recently released a detailed study of how accusations of voter fraud are often efforts to stop minorities and young people from voting. Called “The Politics of Voter Fraud,” the report details “how charges of voter fraud are used to discredit voter participation efforts and prime the pump for voter suppression efforts, such as the passage of voter ID bills, pushing for proof of citizenship, engaging in draconian voter purge efforts, and imposing severe restrictions on voter registration drives.”

Digby at Digbysblog has also written extensively about this rancid and undemocratic effort. Like Alterman and Zornick, she also puts an onus on the media for legitimizing these charges. Not only has our mainstream media failed to expose the blatantly partisan and corrupt nature of voter fraud allegations, but they have also refused to discuss the very ongoing and real campaigns to suppress votes as if our country was still dominated by Jim Crowe:

The process of turning ACORN into a terrorist sleeper cell has begun and I see little hope that they aren't going to be successful. The press is clearly fascinated by the right wing caricature of a group of shiftless "community organizers" trading crack for Obama votes in the inner city and have done exactly zero research into the issue, so the reporting has been hysterical.

 I have written many times about this report (pdf) from 2004 about the history of Republican vote suppression efforts and I urge you to take the time to read the whole thing if you haven't. This has been a tool of conservatives of all parties since the beginning of the Republic, but it's only been since the 1980s that the Republicans professionalized it

That the media is running after this story like a bunch of toddlers gleefully chasing puppies is typical, but still disheartening. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a special prosecutor was named in the US Attorney firings after the Inspector General found that that some of them, notably David Iglesias, were fired because they failed to prosecute bogus voter fraud cases. In light of that you would think that the press would be a bit skeptical of voter fraud allegations by Republicans

Digby’s point at the end that the Bush administration has already been repudiated for these efforts should strike a particularly powerful cord with anyone who cares about the rule of law. Charges of voter fraud are being given credence immediately after the same people making these claims were caught red handed pressuring U.S. attorneys to pursue such allegations of voter fraud despite knowing full well that they were unwarranted! These charges were directly and officially laid out in a recently released US Attorneys report on this very subject

"The most serious allegation that we were not able to fully investigate related to the removal of David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, and the allegation that he was removed to influence voter fraud and public corruption prosecutions," the report's conclusion reads. "We recommend that a counsel specially appointed by the Attorney General assess the facts we have uncovered, work with us to conduct further investigation, and ultimately determine whether the evidence demonstrates that any criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of Iglesias or any other U.S. Attorney, or the testimony of any witness related to the U.S. Attorney removals."

The promotion and enaction of voter fraud charges despite their voter suppressing results is a criminal matter, and a special prosecutor has ALREADY been appointed to treat it as such. However, our mainstream media remains almost uniformly negligent in exposing these criminals and educating the public about the nearly successful institutionalized destruction of the rule of law just last year. This negligence has been so absolute that voter fraud allegations will most likely once again impact this election--even if they do not decide its outcome this time. 

Fortunately, Barack Obama has not sat as idly by like our mainstream media has while the Republican Party continues this farce. Obama’s legal team has asked Attorney General Mukasey to have the recently appointed special prosecutor also analyze the "emerging pattern of apparent unlawful coordination between the McCain campaign and the Department of Justice and state law enforcement agencies controlled by Republican officials."

This is true leadership from Obama, and it is time for other leaders to come forward and call out this pernicious scheme for what it is. Our country is a land where minorities’ and young people' rights to equality under the law remain in jeopardy, yet the silence from this nightmare remains deafening. It is of the upmost necessity for political leaders and grassroots activists alike to say ENOUGH to this sort of blatant racism and attempts to subvert democracy!

During the show tonight and in the following days we will be deciphering the best possible ways for us to do this, and I hope to gain support for this effort. Right now, I do not believe there is any effort more important than exposing these bigoted anit-democratic cretins and working to reestablish a public discourse that recognizes the importance of equality in the definiton for what it means to be an American!

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