Saturday, July 12, 2008

Voter Protection

Voter Protection

- The African World - By Bill Fletcher, Jr. - Executive Editor

I asked a good friend what I should write about for this week. Without missing a beat

she said: "Write about what I am working on!" I looked

at her and asked what that was. Her response: "Voter protection."

Elections in the USA have rarely been clean. Electoral

theft is not new. Infamous big city machines were known

for throwing elections one way or the other. The 1960

Presidential election has always been shrouded in some

degree of mystery, particularly with regard to the

voting results from Illinois . African Americans,

Chicanos and Asians have had plenty of experience with

electoral fraud, having been effectively denied the

right to vote for most of the period since the end of Reconstruction (1877).

Yet, in the period particularly since the passage of the

Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Watergate infamy

(1973-74), an assumption emerged in Mainstream America

that elections were, for the most part, honest and on the up and up.

Then came the November 2000 elections.

There were several things that were striking about the

November 2000 elections. One was the audacity on the

part of the Bush forces, dramatized in the recent HBO

film, Recount. Their arrogance and boldness completely

took the Gore campaign, as well as many pro-democracy

groups, entirely off guard. While the Bush campaign was

prepared to agitate, including through demonstrations,

on behalf of their candidate, the Gore forces were

paralyzed. Staff and volunteers linked to organized

labor mobilized to go to Florida , but found themselves

doing little more than taking affidavits from

individuals who alleged that they had been deprived of

their democratic rights.

The tactics that were used in both the 2000 and 2004

Presidential elections by Bush-aligned forces were quite

amazing. Black voters, for instance, found themselves

eliminated from the voting rolls. As reported by the

journalist Greg Palast, letters were sent to the home

addresses of Black active duty military service

personnel who, if they did not respond, had their votes

challenged. This last point is remarkable since it was

the votes of those who were literally in the line of

fire who were being denied their right to have their votes counted.

Added to this has been the introduction of computer

screen voting. Described as making the system more

efficient, the lack of hardcopy proof of voting along

with numerous examples of computer glitches (and

possible computer tampering) raises further questions as

to whether the right to vote is being eroded.

Thus, the irony is that we have witnessed a Presidential

administration that has heralded the right to democratic

elections overseas (even if all they have been concerned

with is that there is more than one party in the race

rather than whether there has been genuine democracy),

yet tactics have been implemented which they have not

challenged (if not outright encouraged), that deprive

entire sections of the US population of their right to vote.

The awareness of the shenanigans of the 2000 and 2004

elections has led to a very broad-based mobilization

around what is being called "Voter Protection." Unions,

community-based organizations, and other non-profits

have enlisted in this battle, one which starts with

increasing public awareness of the dangers of voter

disenfranchisement. Further involvement in this work is

of great importance, and is often missed when the focus

of our electoral discussions are on the candidates

alone. The political Right, fearing a loss by McCain,

will do all that it can to suppress the Black vote, the

Latino vote (except among Cuban Americans), older

citizen vote and the youth vote. It will more than

likely do this through a shrewd combination of

propaganda aimed at defaming Senator Obama and

encouraging fear as to who he actually is (i.e., the

false allegations that he is a Muslim; does not do the

Pledge of Allegiance; is actually not a US citizen), as

well as through the tried and true tactics of the 2000

and 2004 elections. With regard to outright voter

suppression, for example, volunteers will be needed at

all poll sites to ensure that there is no voter

intimidation or misinformation. This is a lot more than

traditional voter registration/education and Get Out The

Vote (GOTV). It is really a democracy mobilization.

In November 2000 I was deployed by the AFL-CIO to

Florida for several days following the election. I

watched and listened as reports came in regarding

spontaneous demonstrations taking place in various parts

of the state by disenfranchised voters; voters who

WANTED their votes counted. I watched and listened as

affidavits were completed. I watched and listened as the

Bush forces made it appear that they were the righteous

and that Gore was the spoiler. I watched and listened as

the Gore campaign and its allies completely caved in.

I am not going through that again. We must provide the

support for voters to ensure that their votes are

counted, but if there is further theft it is not

permissible to accept that the election was stolen fair

and square. The tables will need to be turned.

[For more information on voter protection, see] Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher,

Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy

Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica

Forum and co-author of the just released book,

Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a

New Path toward Social Justice ( University of California

Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA .

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