Friday, August 05, 2005

Freedom Is On The Moonwalk

Y'all are familiar with the moonwalk, right? The legs look like they're walking forward, but in reality they're sliding backward? It's an apt description of Bush and the Republican party's approach to democracy (not to mention the Global War On Whatever They're Calling It These Days, but I digress): Talk a good game about how important it is and how committed you are to it, and then proceed to undermine it at every turn.

Most glaringly, consider the self-professed Johnny Democracyseed's willingness to cozy up to dictators from Vladimir "Oh, for the good old days" Putin to Islam "Boils well that ends well" Karimov so long as they provide us a tiny crumb of nominal, half-assed support. Consider the Republican party's eagerness to trample civil rights in the name of morality and national security. Consider the Republican battle against campaign finance reform, and their growing mastery of election-tampering. This last item is the one I want to focus on a little more here.

I was at Pittsburgh Drinking Liberally last night to meet Chuck Penacchio, an honorable and progressive Senate candidate that the PA democratic party would like to wish into the cornfield, and he brought up election reform as one of the issues that he would push for if elected. Along with media reform, this is one of my biggest hot-button issues, because without free and fair elections, we are not a democracy.

What mystifies me is that election reform is not a bigger deal. There was some kicking and screaming after 2000, which ultimately made things worse by opening the door for Diebold and their brilliant innovation of 100% paperless electronic voting. But despite the sizable pall of suspicion cast over the 2004 election, there doesn't seem to be any urgency for verifiable voting, or fair deployment of voting machines, or for an end to purges of voter rolls. I know there are some bills in the works, but I never hear anything about them.

Why IS that? Why are Democrats not pushing election reform hard? Why are they not speaking out about it? My suspicion is that they're afraid of being perpetually cast as the sore loser party, but I think they have an issue that is both important and powerful here, and they're foolish and negligent not to play it up. First off, as I said before, free and fair elections are the foundation of democracy, and they need to emphasize that, preferably juxtaposed with Bush's claims about his commitment to spreading democracy. Second off, how can anyone reasonably oppose election reform? I've heard the arguments against it, and they're incredibly weak, transparent rationalizations. Democrats are forgoing the opportunity to identify themselves as the pro-Democracy party, and to force the Republicans to either cave or admit that they oppose democracy. That's about as win-win as it gets.

I know the Democrats have a lot of other juicy targets in their sights, but most of those are symptoms of what happens when your democracy is broken. With a fair and aggressive media and a level electoral playing field, we can cut off politicians like Bush and Frist and DeLay at the source. Or, to put it a bit more colloquially, we won't have to swat flies if we drain the swamp.

UPDATE: I just wanted to append one additional thought. I honestly don't know for sure if the Republicans used electronic voting to steal votes from Kerry or anyone else, and I certainly have no way to prove it. What's scary is that there's no way to prove they didn't.


Ol' Froth said...

Good post, Eli, that is an issue we should push. I can't see how anyone can argue against having a verifiable paper trail. That said, high-speed vote counting, which is what push-button, optical scanning, and yes, punch cards are all about, benefits only one group, and it is not the people: It is the MEDIA, who love high speed ballot counting, because it lends drama to election night, and is usually concluded by the time most of us go to bed. Pre-packaged for a consumer audiance!

Eli said...

I have no problem at all with optical scan ballots; I don't even mind touchscreen voting *if* it has a paper trail. I'm all in favor of being able to count votes quickly.

BUT, it *must* be possible to recount the votes by hand at any time; in fact, I'd like to see exit poll discrepancies as one of the triggers for hand recounts.

Bottom line, though: Paperless electronic voting that can't be hand-counted is an *invitation* to fraud, because it's so damn easy to get away with it. I think the Republicans would think twice about trying to rig electronic voting if they thought there was any chance they could get busted at it. I'd like to think that would permanently destroy their credibility, but they shrug off credibility-destroying fiascoes on an almost daily basis.