Democracy Devalued

By Ben G. Price

Election reform isn't just for third world banana republics with little experience in democratic practices. The American experience with the national election of 2000 made it clear that even in the world's oldest ostensible democracy it's imperative for citizens to remain vigilant against fraud and ballot manipulation. It is also abundantly clear that the mechanics of voting must be re-examined and revised when and as needed so that they never fail to secure and guarantee the legitimacy and force of every vote.

In all but the U.S. version of democracy it would be ludicrous for any faction to challenge election results if a universally admitted majority of voters had fairly chosen another candidate. Such a challenge would be easily dismissed for making a ridiculous argument that the challenger should take office despite having received fewer votes than his opponent. Unless, of course, a clear fraud, a preference for some political option other than the democratic method advertised were being perpetrated. In this country it is not only possible, thanks to the Electoral College, it actually happened.

Actually, what happened is that the Supreme Court sided with the loser of the popular vote who insisted that votes in a crucial state (Florida) that had been ignored by mechanical counters should continue to be ignored. A legal, in fact mandatory recount was initiated, and hand-counts were begun where machine error was suspected. In a few counties it seemed clear that many legally cast votes had not been mechanically registered. Had George W. Bush's campaign not insisted that these votes NOT be counted nor even examined by people sworn to impartially determine their legitimacy, a true determination of the winner of the Electoral College would have been completed in time to meet all legal deadlines. But a fair outcome was disallowed through legal maneuvering and hoodlum outbursts orchestrated within the party challenging the fair vote count.

We might briefly entertain the arguments of those who violently and legalistically stopped the vote counting had their tactics been less patently self-serving. What should have been the culmination of democracy devolved into a mockery. A thick fog of fraud and obfuscation billowed out of the Everglades, giving cover to Jeb, George, and their co-conspirators. For lack of an independent media, the fraud was not challenged. In the heart of Disney (both the state and the corporate network) fantasy ruled. It was not a legal challenge that won the presidency for George W. Bush. It was, in the final analysis, a nation's reluctance to face the truth and put up a fight to defend it.

It is not enough to nostalgically congratulate ourselves that "the system worked," or to bless our lucky stars that our "Founding Fathers" set the wheels in motion that created the train wreck of an election we have just endured (I might have said "survived," but that remains to be seen). The two iron horses of American governance that plowed into each other headlong on November 7th (and continue to smolder to this day) are identifiable in the wreckage: Personal Ambition backed by Monied Sponsors, and Citizen Sovereignty. Only one has survived intact, its blunderbuss boilers having been reinforced by a windfall of cash from demagogues, ideologues, plutocrats, pulpit-bangers, nob-headed anti-intellectuals and speakers in tongues who believe in endless natural resources and a whole n'other agenda than the one their candidate ran on.

Ironically, the U.S. Supreme Court, defending its split decision to throw the election to the loser of the popular vote, argued that not to do so would violate the principle of Equal Protection. On the question of whether only those voting districts with ballot irregularities should have their votes recounted manually, a bare majority of justices argued that to do so would unfairly discriminate against voting districts and counties where rampant irregularities had not occurred. Clearly a Freudian case of fraud envy. The court was not interested to question whether an even more malodorous violation of the Equal Protection principle would result from preventing tens of thousands of Floridians from having their votes counted with equal weight along-side their fellow Floridians simply because the machinery in their districts was inferior. Nor did the court wonder publicly if choosing a president through the Electoral College might similarly violate Equal Protection, granting as it does a heavier weight to votes cast in Montana, Idaho, and Delaware than votes cast in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Ohio.

States' rights, party politics, conservative ideology, generalized animosity...these were some of the box cars hooked to the locomotive of ambition that ran Individual Sovereignty off the track of democracy. Every historical effort to broaden the franchise in America has been met by conservative resistance. From women's suffrage to literacy tests to poll taxes to felony disenfranchisement, the same impetus to reduce those represented and eligible to participate in democracy has been at work. It is the same ideology that found voice in the Bush campaign's battle to prevent the vote count, and the same elitist undercurrent that possessed the Supreme Court to invent new law when it protected George W. Bush's candidacy from having its rights violated by counting the votes that might have ended it.

We hear apologists for the Electoral College hailing the wisdom of the nation's founders who created it. What wisdom is reflected in the Electoral College? I suspect only the mythical kind attributed to idealized progenitors and traditions considered above suspicion and error. In short, I suspect a theology of the "word" parallel to the fundamentalist religionist viewpoint that finds its comfort in victimizing people of other beliefs and lifestyles. The error, and it is real, exists not in the stars of our patriarchal history, but in the selves of those who think of themselves as our betters, and from that false religion attempt to institutionalize the opinion through PR, well-funded self-promotion, and other dog-eared methods of tyranny. A little help from influential friends and parent-appointed bench sitters doesn't hurt either.

We have a new form of government now. We used to have a crypto-plutocracy masquerading as a democracy. We now have a de facto plutocracy sprouting on the grave of a decimated republic, disguised as a privatized democracy. George W. Bush may have won the office of the presidency, but not without disgracing the memory of a democracy that, had he participated in its preservation, might have sweetened his or another man's victory with the aura of legitimacy.