Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Column

This one is, I think, my penultimate one. Next week I'll sign off with the Bachmann essay that I published here a week or two ago, thinking the paper was going with that one. Anyhow, for a complex of reasons, I'm gonna bag the column thing. Maybe it's because it's actually been pretty successful, with a strong preponderance of positive reaction. Can't handle success, maybe. But, mostly, it's a feeling that I have no business writing a column that lots of people actually read. Here, on the blog, there's only a few dozen regular readers (triple digit page views, but, compared to the newspaper, it's pitiful potatoes), and they're anonymously scattered all over the world. The column is read by friends and neighbors.

Plus, it's clear that, as with this blog, minds don't get changed. Preaching to the choir, arguing with the fully Foxified. (I did hear from one man, months ago, pre-election, that my column on Mitt Romney had opened his eyes and changed his mind. So that's, what, one for infinity?) So without further ado, a local and general one:

Because democracy depends on free and fair elections by well-informed voters, these are depressing times. Increasingly we see the attempts of one party to suppress voting among minorities and the elderly, no matter that they’re perfectly legal and registered citizens. Faster than you can say “whites only,” the moment the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, they were at it again. Fanned by the flamers at Fox “news,” the fire is fueled by the falsehood of fraudulent voting, virtually non-existent nowadays. But if you’re the sort that believes right-wing media, you’ll think it’s everywhere, like Bill O’Reilly’s latest ghostwritten book. 
The “well-informed” part is fast becoming hopeless, too, with education under attack by those preferring to transfer public funds to private schools, where Biblical truths and Foxified falsehoods will render future voters unable to tell fact from fancy. (Did you hear about the Texans (!) who booed and walked out on Bill Nye for saying the moon reflects the sun’s light?) But, regarding the “free and fair” part, there might be a twinkle of hope, right here in Washington. 
I was a little disappointed when universal mail-in voting happened, and it wasn’t when I realized I’d misheard the “all mail” part. It was because I liked driving to the nearby Lutheran church, checking the parking lot on the way in to see if there’d be long lines, finding the same nice ladies at the same folding tables, trying to recall which precinct was mine. Much as I enjoyed inserting and punching the cards, the sound and retro feel of it, switching to electronic machines didn’t bother me much when it happened. I worried some about the fact that the makers of the software were a right-wing company, and that I’d seen videos of easy hacking, and of votes credited to one candidate when another had been selected. I didn’t dwell on it, though I probably should have. I always stuck the “I voted” sticker on my shirt, too. 
There’s no excuse for what we saw last time around in a number of red states with Republican-controlled legislatures: intolerably long wait times in minority districts; early voting curtailed when large numbers of them were showing up; voter identification requirements that excluded people who’d been voting legally for years with no problems, now turned away because they’d had no way to comply. By design, the restrictions affected mostly Democratic voters, and those legislators made no attempt to hide it: “We knew it would prevent Democrats from voting,” they said in Florida. “This will give our state to Romney,” they crowed in Pennsylvania. If your ideas are pre-failed, suppressing rational voters is all you have, I guess. 
Much has been made of examples of registration fraud, numbering in single digits. (As with debt and deficit, some people have a hard time understanding the difference between registration and voter fraud.) Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, as Fox told their viewers round the clock, had shown up on signature rolls gathered by ACORN. Despite the fact that it was ACORN who discovered and reported the fakery, and who got burned by their own signature gatherers, and that no fraudulent vote was ever cast, it put ACORN, an asset to poor communities in important ways besides voter registration, out of business. (Hear about the guy who forged several THOUSAND signatures on petitions to get Newt Gingrich on the ballot in Virginia?) 
I’m unaware of any examples of voter fraud since mail-in voting began in Washington. First time around, I had to reopen the envelope before I figured out where to sign. But I don’t miss the other stuff all that much, and if it allows legitimate voters a chance to cast a ballot when they might otherwise have been unable, it’s a good deal. Were mail-in voting to become the law of the land, long lines and on-site intimidation would become things of the past. (Fox looked long and hard, in 2012, before they found a single so-called New Black Panther, one guy holding doors open for ladies; Tea Partiers sent minions all across the land to hassle minority voters.) 
There’d be howls, of course, roaring from the reddest of revanchists. Funny, isn’t it? In the battle over who loves democracy more, it’s Democrats who value expanding suffrage to all who are eligible; and Republicans who aim to restrict it at every turn. Just one more thing to ponder, as I try and fail to make sense of what’s happened to our politics.
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