How to Stop the November Elections From Being Stolen
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"We can't let the machinations of possible electoral problems prevent us from getting to the polls in massive numbers; in fact, it is an argument to get even more people to vote, so that the majorities are foolproof." -- Robert Greenwald, producer, director " Iraq for Sale" and " Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices."
Emotions are running high as the midterm election approaches, and polls show Democrats are ahead in many key congressional races. Less than two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, the latest Associated Press-AOL News poll found that likely voters overwhelmingly prefer Democrats over Republicans.
Voters are angry with President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress, and say Iraq and the economy are their top issues. In the poll, 56 percent of likely voters said they would vote to send a Democrat to the House, and 37 percent said they would vote Republican -- a 19-point difference. Only 12 percent of likely voters say they are enthusiastic about the administration. The percentage of those who say they are angry with it has grown to 40 percent from 32 percent in early October."
In the light of such overwhelming poll numbers, Democrats and progressives sense the opportunity to win back at least one of the houses of Congress, perhaps both, ending the iron rule of the Republicans. But -- there is a big "but."
The hope of many Democrats for success on Nov. 7 is sharply tempered by still-fresh memories of perceived Democratic victories turned into defeat in 2000 and 2004. Even more disconcerting is the fact that since 2004, there has been overwhelming documentation of voter repression and fraud. The result is that many believe that past elections have been stolen, and efforts to prevent people from voting -- especially minorities -- have been successful.
Voter protection groups gearing up
In the face of the fear about what might be in store come election day, a veritable cottage industry of voter protection/election reform groups and coalitions has emerged. It includes ElectionDefenseAlliance.org, Do More Than Vote, VerifiedVoting.org and the Velvet Revolution, which has developed an Election Protection Strike Team (the Strike Team has offered rewards for evidence of fraud and have a hotline for people to call: 1-888 VOTETIP), and MoveOn.org has a comprehensive progressive voter contact program to reach out to voters.
Other innovative efforts are emerging and ratcheting up their operations for Nov. 7 to protect the vote and stymie the voter shenanigans that have frustrated the country in recent elections, including: Video the Vote, which is taking advantage of inexpensive video cameras and the internet, planning for their teams to be the eyes and ears of the voter protection effort. Meanwhile, Working Assets has created a Voter Protection Immediate Response Network for using text messaging to alert voters of problems where they may send a message about a short and easy action that could be taken -- like get more voting machines to a precinct that is overloaded.
Overcoming the negative expectations
However, part of the struggle leading up to the election is to neutralize negative expectations about voting and counting, as well as increased turnout amidst widespread worries that votes won't be counted or that voters will be turned away at the polls. Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, told Ian Urbina of the New York Times:
...[E]pisodes of voter suppression that were dismissed in 2000 as unfounded recurred in 2004 and were better documented because rights groups dispatched thousands of lawyers and poll watchers. In addition, the first national data-tracking tool, the Election Incident Reporting System, offered a national hotline that fed a database of what ended up to be 40,000 problems. This hotline is live for the 2006 election at 1-800-OUR-VOTE.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile told the Times, "This notion that elections are stolen and that elections are rigged is so common in the public sphere that we're having to go out of our way to counter them this year. This will be the first midterm election in which the Democratic Party is mobilizing teams of lawyers and poll watchers to check for irregularities, including suppression of the black vote, in at least a dozen of the closest districts."
The voting situation is dicey
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the overall voting situation is dicey and volatile. Advocates and experts who have exposed the system for its many failures are now faced with the fact that very little has been fixed or changed to make the system more transparent, accountable or trustworthy. In fact, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, writing in the Los Angeles Times suggests: "Election Day could bring a new round of problems, confusion and partisan rancor. Unproven electronic voting machines, stricter voter identification requirements in many states, new databases and partisan disputes over registration campaigns are all contributing to the concern."
Thus, the situation at the polls is arguably worse than in 2004, and the steady drumbeat of election fraud has had its impact. No one disagrees that the Republicans benefit from low turnout: the lower the better, to take advantage of their effective consumer voter targeting -- something that the Democrats have yet to master. In fact, some would say that Karl Rove is smiling at every report of election fraud and machine breakdown, thinking that it will make the Democratic voters more paranoid. Rove's recent assertion on NPR that, based upon "secret polls," the Republicans are going to keep control of Congress was evidence to some that the election was already being stolen.
So what do you tell voters to help them combat this psychological problem that could depress voting? "I tell voters we have to win by such an overwhelming margin that it isn't close enough to steal," says Bob Fertik, the head of Democrats.com, an activist website not part of the Democratic party, that calls its members "aggressive progressives." Robert Greenwald says, "This is no time to play victim, bemoaning all the problems in the voting system. Our job is to get people to the polls and make sure they can vote, and be absolutely tough about it. "
Fair voting advocate Brad Friedman, whose Bradblog.com has become possibly the most popular spot to gather information on all-things-voting, says: "There is absolutely zero evidence that speaking about this depresses voter turnout. In fact, I've found evidence suggesting precisely the opposite. Candidates across the country who have come out strong for electoral integrity have been winning huge at the box office so far this year."
According to Friedman, "It's not talking about election suppression that keeps folks from turning out. They know about these matters (a recent Zogby poll showed that 92 percent believe their votes should be counted transparently, 80 percent were against secret software counting their votes, and 62 percent had already heard about these concerns). It seems that when these issues are not discussed, people feel the system is rigged -- nobody in D.C. cares, so why should I bother to turn out?"
Time will tell as to whether this analysis is correct, but at the moment, there is some evidence to suggest otherwise, at least potentially for black voters. African-Americans are key constituencies in Senate races that are necessary for the Democrats to secure a majority -- particularly in Tennessee and Missouri, where African-American voters are the key to victory for Democrats.
But as the New York Times notes, a Pew Research Center report found that blacks were twice as likely now than they were in 2004 to say they had little or no confidence in the voting system, rising to 29 percent from 15 percent. And more than three times as many blacks as whites -- 29 percent versus 8 percent -- say they do not believe that their vote will be accurately tallied: "Long lines and shortages of poll workers in lower-income neighborhoods in the 2004 election and widespread reports of fliers with misinformation appearing in minority areas have had a corrosive effect on confidence, experts say."
The larger question of course is whether voters' negative experiences at the polls will diminish turnout, or will the overwhelming dissatisfaction with Bush and the Republicans, as noted in the polls, translate to substantial voter turnout?
Mark Crispin Miller, author of Fooled Again, who travels the country talking about election fraud, is clear that theft is on the Republican the agenda and isn't very confident that Democrats will be able to stop them. Miller says: "We need the national turnout to be very high because the GOP intends to steal this one, too. In other words, people should turn out to vote, not because they can be confident that their particular choices will prevail. It would be irresponsible to offer that assurance. Rather, the American people must turn out to vote as an essential protest on behalf of free and fair elections. To turn out on Nov. 7 is to make a statement of no confidence in Bush or his 'elections' and a call for the salvation of U.S. democracy. The higher the turnout, the harder it will be for the Republicans to spin their looming 'upset victory' as legitimate. That's why I advise against early and absentee voting -- because it will dilute the impact of the actual E-Day turnout."
The challenge to protect the vote
Democrats clearly have a big challenge on their hands. They need to run effective campaigns, pull out potentially discouraged voters, protect voting rights, document instances of voter suppression and election fraud, monitor voter counts and grapple with electronic machines that offer no transparency. Fortunately for the Dems, the stolen election issue has become a cause celebre, raising consciousness about the issues among many activists, and mobilizing people to fight for voter rights at the polls.
Mark Ritchie, a voter reform candidate, who is running hard to be secretary of state in Minnesota, says: "We know the policies that are needed to help ensure fairness, like paper ballots, Election Day registration and post-election random audits. We also know that we have to go beyond good policies to include active citizenship. Everyone needs to be a poll watcher. Every voter needs to know who to contact if there suspect any problems. Every person needs to feel empowered to make sure our elections are free and fair."
Blogger Friedman adds, "When we talk about these issues, people realize that someone does care, is fighting to make sure their vote is counted and counted accurately, and they are given tools to use to try and help make sure that will be the case." Democrats.com's Bob Fertik says, "We have to get involved in organized efforts to audit the elections by groups like ElectionDefenseAlliance.org, VelvetRevolution.us, BlackBoxVoting.org, etc. I'd also like to see Democratic voters hold candlelight vigils outside each county's board of elections after the polls close, holding signs saying 'Count Every Vote' and 'No More Stolen Elections!' Imagine a Blue Revolution, every bit as joyous and historic as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia -- right here in the United States of America."
So, when you add it all up, the consensus seems clear, if not a little daunting. For the Democrats to win big, as they hope, they must work for a large turnout and big voter margins. But especially in races where the margins are razor thin, active volunteers and voters must play their parts, encouraging voters, monitoring polls, documenting foul play, and insisting on voters rights. Only then, and of course this is a sad commentary on democracy in America, do they stand a chance of winning elections, even those where they have healthy advantages in the polls.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.