SEE YOU IN COURT!

8 01 2012

Tomorrow, Monday, January 9, at 3:30 in the afternoon, I am going to be someplace I’ve never been before–inside the Federal Courtroom at the corner of Broadway and Eighth Avenue.  I’ve been outside it, involved in demonstrations, several times, but this is the first time I’m going in.  I’m not a witness or a defendant.  I’m a plaintiff, on behalf of the Green Party of Tennessee.  The State of Tennessee is the defendant, and it looks like we have them dead to rights, because we won virtually the same case once before.  We’ve just been the victim of delaying tactics by the state.  Delay, of course, is what governments and large corporations do when they’ve been caught in the wrong and don’t want to admit it.

Here’s the deal.  Way back in 2008, we filed a lawsuit alleging that Tennessee’s ballot access law, which regulates how political parties can get their names listed on the ballot, discriminates against non-duopoly parties–ones that aren’t the Republicans or the Democrats.  We knew we would win this case, because the same Federal Court in which we were suing Tennessee had just thrown out Ohio’s nearly identical, discriminatory ballot access law.

Both these laws shared the same flaws.  The first flaw was that the deadline for a party to gather signatures and get on the ballot was in March, for the November election.  The second was that the guidelines for what constituted a valid signature, or, for that matter, a valid petition, were pretty vague, and seemed to be largely left to the discretion of the Secretary of State, who, as a partisan political official, would have an interest in disqualifying any potential opposition. Another problem with the Tennessee law was that signers of the petition had to declare that they were members of the political party in question, which is a violation of personal privacy.   A fourth stickler was that, while an “independent” candidate only needs 250 signatures to get his or her name on the ballot, a political party needs the signatures of a certain percentage of the total number of voters in the most recent election–a number which currently hovers around the 40,000 mark.  Forty thousand valid signatures means eighty thousand gross signatures, a number that calls for paid professional assistance, at the rate of about two bucks per signature.  So, under Tennessee’s guidelines, it would cost a minor party about a hundred and sixty thou to get its name on the ballot.  Should the party fail to garner 5% of the vote in a statewide race, the process would need to be repeated.  The Democrats and Republicans get their party affiliation listed on the ballot for free.  A further complication is that the Tennessee law mandated that parties who came up with the required signatures then had to hold a primary election, at the same time, and in the same voting booth, as the Republicans and Democrats.  Tennessee, in case you didn’t know, has an “open primary” system–you don’t register as a member of a certain party, and, come primary day, you can walk in and ask for whichever primary ballot you feel like voting on.  Thus, by participating in this kind of free-for-all, a minor party could effectively lose control of its candidates–if a bunch of Republicans wanted to, they could vote for, say, a convicted sex offender as the Green Party’s Senate Candidate, and if enough Repubs crossed over and voted for the guy, the party would be stuck with the turkey for a candidate.

I’m not making that up, either.  It actually happened in South Carolina in 2010, when an impoverished convicted sex offender mysteriously came up with the $10,000 filing fee and won the Democratic primary.  South Carolina’s primary elections, like Tennessee’s, are open.  What’s even more amazing is that, when the loser, a genuine politician (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for you!) appealed to the state Democratic Party to redo the primary, the Dems declined to do so, and the vote wasn’t even close.  Still more amazing, this sham candidate (whose name, peculiarly enough, was “Greene”), managed to poll 28% of the vote, while a far better-qualified Green Party candidate only received 9%. It’s enough to make you wonder how many people vote in their sleep.

As I so often do, I have digressed.  As I said, we took the state to court, and the state, knowing it was caught red-handed, dragged its feet as long as it could.  We had hoped to have relief from the court in time for the 2008 election, but it didn’t happen.  Finally, in November of 2009, the case came up for a hearing, at which our plaintiff of record was first subjected to low-key torture by being denied drinking water for several hours, and then badgered on the witness stand by the state’s attorney.  Then, once again, silence, until August of 2010, when the court, of course, ruled in our favor–but too late for us to get our party name on the 2010 ballot.   Besides, through an unfortunate oversight, we hadn’t asked for “relief,” i.e., getting our party name listed with our candidates as an outcome of the court case.

But we had successfully overturned the state’s ballot access law, which meant that the legislature needed to pass a new one.  So….what did the lawmakers who had revoked the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act do?  Why, they repassed the old law, with as few changes as they could get away with.  Fewer, actually.  While they removed the privacy-violating qualification from the petition, they only moved the petition deadline back a month, which, according to legal precedent, is not sufficient, and they still insist that we nominate candidates in a primary election–which, as I pointed out earlier, effectively takes the process of candidate selection out of our hands, denying our right of free association.  It would be a little different if we were a big enough party to have competition about who got to run for various offices, but at this point, unfortunately,there are more offices to run for than there are Green Party candidates by a long shot.  In any case, the state’s denial of our right of free expression (putting our party name on the ballot along with our candidates’ names), and their denial of our right to chose our candidates in an appropriate manner are both clearly unconstitutional.  The state’s demand for 40,000 signatures is not, according to legal precedent, considered burdensome, although it sure looks that way to me, but the fact that the state has delegated definition of the guidelines for accepting those signatures as valid to the Secretary of State is, by precedent, unconstitutional.  That is why we are taking the state to court, and that is why we expect to win.

But that’s only half the battle. Let’s take a little music break, and then I’ll tell you about the other half.

music:  Bob Marley, “Get Up, Stand Up”





STONEWALL HARGETT

9 01 2010

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is continuing the old Southern tradition of dogged, faithful persistence in a cause that is just plain wrong.  Like Stonewall Jackson before them, he, and the rest of the Tennessee Republican party are grimly holding off the future, using every trick they can muster.  But, just as the South was ultimately overwhelmed in the war over secession, the green tide of history will ultimately  roll over Hargett, Marcia Blackburn, Susan Lynn, Ron Ramsey, and all their tea-bag slinging cohorts.

Well, I don’t often start with “the deep green perspective” on things, do I?  So…what am I blathering about now?

I’m talking about a couple of related campaigns.  One is not on many people’s radar, while the other has a much higher profile, but they both reveal similar, peculiar, and disturbing patterns, not just in the way Repuglycans and Dimocrats jostle for power, but in the ways they work together to guard their joint monopoly on that power.  This two-party monopoly (call it a duopoly for short) is in many ways responsible for the disconnection between what the people of this country want and what becomes the law of the land.  There’s more than one way to run a democracy, and at the end of this talk I’m going to do my best to explain how we could tweak our governmental operating system to make it more responsive to popular ( as in, from the people) viewpoints.

First, the specifics.  The Green Party of Tennessee has been putting up candidates for over ten years now, but the words “Green Party” have only once appeared on a Tennessee ballot–in 2000, for no apparent reason, the state decided to give the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties a ballot line.  Then they changed their mind.   Why?  We’d like to know!

In Tennessee, our candidates are listed as “Independents,” down there in the miscellaneous list with the solitary visionaries and crackpots, even though we are affiliated with  an international movement and the Green Party has more members in the US than in any other country in the world.  This is partly because, here in Tennessee and in several other states, the duopoly has set up election laws, and an election law bureaucracy, that make it extremely difficult for any other parties to be listed by name on the ballot.

Here in Tennessee, a “third” party has to get petitions signed by tens of thousands of those who voted in the previous election, stating that they are members of the new party and want it to be named on the ballot.  Or something like that.  When we tried to petition for ballot access, our representative was told by officials that, while they couldn’t tell her exactly how the petitions needed to be worded, if they were not correctly worded, they would be rejected.  Can you say Kafka, boys and girls?

Moreover, the petitioning process is time-consuming and expensive, with the cost of gathering signatures estimated at about a dollar each, which is prohibitive for a small party.  It would cost us $40-50,000 to get on the ballot via the petition route, a fee the Democrats and Republicans do not have to pay.  Hey, some animals are more equal than others, as George Orwell pointed out.

Ohio’s laws were similar, and the Green Party there went to court and had them struck down as unconstitutional.  With this case for a precedent, we in the Green Party of Tennessee figured it would be no big deal to get our state to change its law.  Well, we didn’t figure on ol’ Stonewall Hargett, or the stalling tactics of his Dimocratic predecessor, Riley Darnell.  They do not want no stinkin’ Green Party line on the Tennessee ballot, no sah.  Once was enough.

Joining with the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, we filed our case in 2007….and waited….and waited…..until May of 2008, when the state presented us with a voluminous number of highly detailed questions to answer–and only a month to answer them in.  The nature of the questions was such that the request seemed more like a stumbling block than anything truly relevant to the case.  They wanted to know every instance of anybody in the Green Party talking about getting on the ballot, the history of the Green Party in Tennessee, the history of the Green Party in the US, the details of every Green Party ballot access struggle in every state, the details of Green Party elections in every state–all in just one month, no extensions.

Well, we did it.  And then–nothing, again, for nearly a year and a half, when, in November of last year, we got notice that the State Attorney General would be taking depositions from all three parties involved…in just one week.

The Green Party’s designated litigant, Katey Culver, duly showed up at the Attorney General’s office–and did not get treated to any ol’fashioned southern hospitality.  First and foremost, she would have to wait for five hours while the state cross-examined the litigants from the Constitutional and Libertarian parties.  Oh, and by the way, there was no drinking water available.  Gee, was that some not-so-subtle physiological pressure being applied?  And of course there was the cross-examination….very cross, to hear Katey tell it–the state’s lawyer did her best imitation of a pit bull, badgering, insulting, splitting hairs, demanding irrelevant details, anything a lawyer can do to intimidate and browbeat a witness short of profanity and physical violence, and used up every minute of the two and a half hours allotted.  Hey, that’s what lawyers do…ain’t the adversarial American justice system wonderful?

And now….how long will it be until we can get a court to respond?  This was all done in relation to what is called “a motion for summary judgement,” meaning that the State essentially has no case for defending a law that has already been judged unconstitutional, and so we are asking a Federal judge to make them stop stalling and do the right thing already.  But a Federal Court order doesn’t necessarily get much traction here in Tennessee, where even state law is enforced at the discretion of those in power, as we shall shortly see, when we look at Stonewall Hargett’s strategy in failing to implement the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act.  First, though, let’s wrap up the Green Party story.

We are currently being given the runaround by Tre Hargett, who, as Secretary of State, is charged with administering elections, but we were equally mistreated by Riley Darnell, his Democratic predecessor.  Neither of the big boys wants to give the Green Party a seat at the table.  We’re an almost embarrassingly small operation, but we see having “Green Party” listed next to our candidates’ names on the ballot as essential to growing ourselves, and we feel that an increased “Green” presence in local, as well as national, politics is essential for the rescue of this nation.  What is the duop0ly afraid of?

music:  Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Small Axe

OK, now for the high profile stonewalling case–Tre Hargett, et al., vs. the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act.

The TVCA was passed with near-unanimity by the Tennessee legislature in 2007 after a concerted campaign by local activists under the name “Gathering to Save Our Democracy.”  This act mandated that Tennessee voting shall be conducted on paper ballots and counted by the same kind of optical scanning machines that are used to grade standardized tests and validate powerball tickets.  This technology is well established, inexpensive, fast, and fairly foolproof.  Only one machine per precinct is needed, instead of the large number of what amounts to dedicated computers that touch-screen voting calls for.  Voters need only a private space and a number two pencil to mark their ballots, rather than each voter occupying an expensive machine for however long it takes to indicate her choices, as is the case with touchscreen voting.  It’s a much more efficient system.

This is especially significant when we look at what happened in Ohio in the 2004 election, which was conducted on touchscreen equipment.  The highly partisan Ohio Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, assigned fewer machines to Democratic Party strongholds, which lead to long lines, which lead to some people not voting because of inclement weather, work obligations, and general frustration.  Strangely enough, it was Blackwell who reversed Ohio’s decision to use optical scan voting machines, and instead use Diebold touch-screen machines…a company in which he just happened to own stock…I don’t know which of those two facts is more peculiar, especially in light of what’s going on down here.

Yeah, so what’s going on down here….in 2008, Tennesseans voted on touch-screen machines, and every open seat in the legislature was captured by a Repuglican.  Some observers chalk this up to a racist reaction to Obama in rural, mostly white Tennessee, and to the namby-pamby nature of the Tennessee Democratic Party, which is even more of a Republican-lite Party than the average state Democratic organization.  Others wonder if some chicanery was involved, but with electronic voting, “vapor ballots,” as some activists call them, there is simply no way to tell.

Touchscreen voting machines are computers, and as computers, they are highly suspect.  We all know that computers can have bugs, and computers can be hacked.  One example is a local, one-issue election in Georgia, where touch-screen machines recorded 200 blank votes–as if people would bother to show up for a one-question election, step into the voting booth, and then not vote.  Yeah, right.

Another, more serious example occurred in Florida.  In the words of the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

Voters from Sarasota County announced today that they are filing suit in state court in Tallahassee asking for a re-vote in Florida’s 13th congressional district. The suit alleges that thousands of citizens were disenfranchised when massive undervotes plagued the tight congressional race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan. In a high-profile battle over former Rep. Katherine Harris’ seat, the result was decided by 363 votes, yet over 18,000 ballots cast on Sarasota County’s e-voting machines registered no vote in the race, an exceptional anomaly in the State.

Official investigation of this contest failed to confirm that this was a problem with voting machines, but consider what official investigations found (or failed to find) about the Kennedy/King assassinations, CIA cocaine smuggling, 9-11, last year’s economic collapse,  the Christmas bomber in Detroit, or what-have-you, and you realize that doesn’t mean much  (except that a lot of us have lost faith in the government, quite possibly for good reason)…and this is, after all, only one example of the many problems with electronic voting.  Plus, let’s not forget that the president of the Diebold Corporation, one of the primary manufacturers of touch-screen voting machines, is famous for saying he wants to help elect Republicans, and that all the companies that manufacture touch-screen voting machines are controlled by known Republicans.

So, back to Tennessee.  Now in the majority for the first time since Reconstruction, the Republicans had a change of heart:  they listed  repealing or  further delaying implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act as one of their primary goals, part of a broad offensive aimed at limiting voter participation and election accountability by requiring photo IDs to register and vote,and a host of other proposals generally designed to make it more likely that they would remain the party in power.  Most of these bills died in committee, but the GOP did succeed in stacking the state election commission and replacing many experienced county election administrators with Repuglycan  operatives, who now form an ersatz authoritative “echo chamber” for the Repuglican campaign against the TVCA.

The campaign against paper ballots whas been a classic propaganda play.  Secretary of State Hargett and State Election Co-ordinator Mark Goins cried crocodile tears, insisting that they wanted to carry out the law and switch to optical scan machines, but there wasn’t enough time, there were no machines that met the legal standard, and it would cost too much.

Every single one of these statements is a lie; but, as Nazi propaganda master Josef Goebbels said, if you repeat a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough, people start to believe it, and that’s what Hargett  and Goins did.  Their lies have been unquestioningly echoed in newspapers across the state, creating the illusion that there are good reasons not to switch to a verifiable voting system by the next general election.

Their claims were ludicrous on even cursory examination–other states have changed over to optical scan systems in less time than Tennessee has to make the switch, and those states have demonstrably saved money by doing so; the money to buy the machines is available from the federal government at no cost to Tennessee, and the cost estimates provided by the GOP’s hand-picked election commissioners were way out of line–claiming that it would cost $50 per ballot to do a hand recount (when states like Missouri and Nevada spend a nickel per ballot for hand recounts), or that it would cost $70,000 to store a filing cabinet full of ballots for two years.

Like Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, Stonewall Hargett’s campaign almost worked. Last year, the Tennessee legislature came within one very principled Republican vote of putting off the TVCA “until 2012”–which you can bet would turn into forever.

So, they are going to try again this year.  Gathering to Save Our Democracy, Common Cause, and that radical hotbed, the League of Women Voters,  are doing what they can to persuade some of the non-ethically challenged Republicans in the Tennessee Senate to keep the TVCA on track for implementation in 2010. (Full disclosure:  I know there are Republicans who are not ethically challenged because my father was one–but that’s another story.)

This month will reveal the outcome of the struggle in the Tennessee Senate, but, unsure whether there will be a “Rock of Chickamauga” in this battle,  some election activists are looking ahead and establishing communication with the US Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission.

Just what is at stake here?  By holding on to power in the state through the 2010 election, the Repugs will be able to redraw district lines after the 2010 census in ways that will guarantee them solid majorities in the state legislature and the state’s US congressional delegation–though it’s easy for me, as a Green, to argue that most of our so-called Democrats, being of the blue dog stripe, are hardly better than Republicans, anyway.  Well, there is a difference.  Democrats, however conservative they may be, generally feel obligated to at least make a nod to the real world in terms of environmental/ethical/social justice legislation, while the great majority of Repugs pledge allegiance to corporate profits only and throw no crumbs to the common people.

But, as I said when I started talking, the green tide of history, or perhaps the end of history if we are not careful, will roll over the Republicans, and most Democrats as well, like Sherman marching through Georgia.  The power they are grasping for will turn to sand and slip through their fingers. While they are busy passing laws to let people pack concealed heat and keeping gay couples from adopting children, or even laws to make everybody buy private health insurance, the growth economy that is closer to the core of their belief system than Jesus Christ Himself is imploding, the gasoline that powers their SUVs is drying up, the global industrial economy that produces the Prius is coming apart at the seams, and the climate is bucking like a wild, unbreakable horse with an unwanted  rider on her back.  Nature bats last, and don’t you ever forget it. Those who are not “reality-based” enough to deal with all this are setting themselves up for a very painful collision with..reality.

music:  Zappa, “A Lie So Big”

OK, I’ve been giving you an earful about the travails of the Green Party as we try to get our name on the ballot, and the shenanigans of the Republican Party as they maneuver to maintain dominance over the Dims and keep us out of the picture.  Is there a better way?

There are several improvements that could be made to the US voting system, although, considering the hash we just made of health care reform, my hopes are not high for their implementation.  Look, we set out to drive stakes through the hearts of the health care, insurance, and pharmaceutical vampires and it looks like we’re ending up with a law that fines us if we don’t give them our blood .  So, do I really think the Repugs and Dims are going to open up their monopoly on electoral power?  Do the good cop and the bad cop ever hang it up and bring in a mediator instead?  The Green Party is part of the ruling coalition in some countries, but we can barely get a ballot line in this one.

When I look at political reality in this country, I do actually find some grounds for hope, specifically when I look at the issue of the so-called “Drug War.”  While the federal government has done everything it can to maintain worldwide marijuana prohibition, local campaigns have opened one state after another to legally, readily available medical marijuana, and the federal government has had to get on board and stop prosecuting medical marijuana users and suppliers in states where it is legal.

In a similar way, it may be possible to make changes in the way we vote for candidates that gradually percolate up to the national level.

The way that many  Green Parties have gotten into parliaments in Europe is through the practice of “proportional representation,” in which, as I understand it, voters cast their ballots for the party of their choice, and then the seats in the legislature are divvied up according to the percentage of votes each party receives, whether the party got a majority in any one location or not.

Much as I like this idea, I think this would be a hard sell in America, where people are used to the idea that their local representative in government is literally representative of the views of a majority of those in her district.  Another practice, however, is more compatible with what we are used to in this country and, I think, would be an easy sell for a referendum, although I’m sure both major parties would fight it as fiercely as private insurance battled the public option and expanded Medicare.

That practice is called “instant runoff voting.”  It’s pretty simple.  You get to vote for your first choice AND your second choice, in races where there are more than two candidates.  A candidate has to have a clear majority to win.  If no candidate has a clear majority, the second choices of those who voted for the candidate in last place are counted, and so on up the line, until somebody has a clear majority.  This eliminates the “spoiler effect” that happens when liberal votes get split between two competing candidates (say, Ralph and Al, just f’rinstance), allowing the conservative candidate (let’s call him “George”) to win without a majority. If everybody who voted for Ralph could have indicated that Al was their second choice, then, since Ralph is running behind Al and George, and nobody has a majority, all those second-choice votes for Al turn into real votes for Al, and Ralph is Al’s savior instead of his spoiler, and maybe Ralph gets a place in Al’s cabinet instead of his picture getting a place on Al’s dart board.

Medical marijuana had to struggle for a while before it started catching on, but this idea is much less divisive than legalizing the noble herb.  At least, I haven’t heard about anybody saying that Jesus spoke out against instant runoff voting, or that instant runoff advocates are sinners who will roast in hell for our immorality.

So…it’s not immoral, it’s certainly not fattening, and it’s not really illegal, just not yet the law of the land, and I like it….hmm, I must be getting old…but I digress.

Instant runoff voting is not a guarantee of success for the Green Party.  We would still have to contend with mainstream media that has a blatantly corporatist, duopoly party bias and enormous disparities in fund-raising ability, due to the fact that we, on principle, will not take money from the usual political sources. (Who, considering their principles, are unlikely to offer it to us anyway.)

Here in Tennessee, there is no provision for popular referendum, but it might be possible to persuade a city to make the move.  To do that, we will need progressive, persuasive candidates at all levels, and we will need to pump up our state organization and create some political muscle.  Would you like to be part of a political organization that works for  people instead of big business?  We are having our annual meeting and nominating convention in Knoxville on February 20, and would love to be overwhelmed by fresh faces.  Check out our website, gpoftn.org, where details will be posted soon.  Hope to see you there!

music:  Leonard Cohen, “Democracy





ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH, GOOD FRIENDS….

11 05 2008

The Green Party of Tennessee met in a smoke-free back room at Nashville’s Italian Market last Saturday.  I’d like to say we decided the future of Tennessee, with Party co-chair Katey Culver playing the part of capa di tutti capi, but overall I’m afraid our effect on Tennessee politics is just not that powerful.

The party is, however, beginning to make itself felt.  Chris Lugo, who is once again the party’s candidate for US Senate, reported that the two months he spent as the only person seeking the Democratic nomination finally shamed the Democrats into running somebody against Lamar Alexander, who has been all but endorsed by our so-called Democratic governor.  It’s a bad news/good news situation for Chris–while he’ll be in competition with a Democrat, candidate Bob Tuke is calling for a slow, “phased withdrawal” from Iraq and escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving Chris as the “get out now/settle by non-military means” candidate.  The rising tide of frustration with the war and the Democrats’ failure to end it, plus the fact that this is Chris’s second run, will hopefully improve his showing.

The party nominated TSU political science professor John Miglietta to run against 5th District Congressman Jim Cooper.  John has a tremendous advantage over just about anybody else the Green Party could run, because he is not now, and never has been, a hippie, unlike most of the rest of the party.  If most of us got anywhere close to mounting a serious challenge to the two-party system, the Demopublicans would have no trouble finding dancing skeletons in our closets, which they would use to fan the flames of voter hysteria, and, if necessary, have us arrested or at least publicly humiliated for daring to think for ourselves.  But John, bless his heart, is just as square as they come, and he still sees things our way.  That means a lot to me. For him, it means he could go all the way to the top.

One of my old hippie teachers used to talk about the importance of acceptance of our ethos by “honest squares.”  This is actually quite scientific; if the hippie/Green world view can be arrived at by someone through a process completely independent of the counterculture, that amounts to independent validation of the results of the decades long “thought experiment,” to borrow a phrase from Einstein, that was originally launched by the late and much lamented trio of Dr. Hoffman, Dr. Leary, and Aldous Huxley.  Well, this doesn’t have much to do with our current race for political office and against time, and will probably embaras the hell out of many Greens, but I just had to go and open my big mouth, now, didn’t I?  Well, I’m not responsible for the fact that the Green Party’s lineage goes back through the North American Bioregional Congress to the Haight-Ashbury Diggers to the San Francisco Mime Troupe.  I just think we should be proud of it, that’s all.

Back to the subject at hand!  We also selected delegates to the party’s national convention, and determined who they should vote for–five out of eight are committed to Cynthia McKinney, with Kent Mesplay, Kat Swift, and “uncommitted” each getting a delegate.  I have a hard time getting excited about Green Party Presidential candidates.  In my view, it’s just a publicity stunt unless we’ve got a shot at getting a majority in Congress.  We’re a grassroots organization, know what I mean?

Anyway, Cynthia is black, she’s a woman, and she hasn’t sold out.  I wish her well.

Speaking of grass roots,  I wish I had a whole lot more candidate news for you.  I wish we had a crew of people running for the state legislature, where many races are uncontested, but we are awfully thin in the ranks.  However, we do have a plan afoot that could change that.

The plan is our Ballot Access Lawsuit.  The Demoplublicans have written the rules for getting on the Tennessee ballot in such a way that it is virtually impossible for any other parties to get their party name printed on the ballot.  The only problem is, that’s unconstitutional, according to a court in Ohio, where the laws were about as tortuous and monopolistic as they are here.  The Tennessee legislature could have changed that, but, being made up of Demopublicans and Republicrats, they had more important things to do, like allow mountaintop removal in Tennessee.  So, we are having  to sue in Federal court to overturn Tennessee’s laws.  Since it’s the same Federal Court that overturned Ohio’s laws, we think we have a reasonable chance for success.

The State Attorney General, being a committed Demopublican, doesn’t want to let the Green Party on the ballot, and so he is doing everything he can to drag this case out past this year’s election, just as the state’s election officials are doing everything they can to stall legislation that will replace the state’s touchscreen voting machines with equipment that will produce a verifiable, recountable paper trail.  Put that together with the fact that the US has more people in prison than any other country in the world, a quarter of the world’s known prison population, in fact, and you can get downright cynical about what a wonderful, free country this is.

Well, anyway, the Ballot Access lawsuit will put our party name on every ballot in the state, even if the newspapers won’t give us the time of day.  That could just be the little match that starts the big fire.  Maybe that’s a lot to hope for, but the future of the human race is at stake.  “Once more unto the breach, good friends…..”





DOING THE AFTERMATH

9 02 2008

It’s all over but the shouting in the New Hampshire recount, and the results, I would have to say, are mixed at best. On one hand, Hillary Clinton won fair and square, and there were not major inaccuracies in the count. On the other hand, the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office reportedly treated the recount request, and the ballots themselves, in such an offhand manner that it was hard for observers (biased ones, admittedly) to believe they weren’t trying to hide something.

Electronic memory cards were missing. Ballots were kept in open boxes. Gee, I always thought of New Englanders as neat by nature, but according to the accounts I’m reading, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a very prim-looking guy, was treating the cornerstones of democracy the way a distracted teenager treats his homework. I’m surprised we didn’t hear the line, “the dog ate my ballot.”

Meanwhile, we have Brad Friedman of Bradblog and Bev Harris of BlackboxVoting.org straining hard to find voting machine problems, but ultimately having to admit that “Most of the big reports are election administration failures. Administration failures are those failures that cannot be blamed on voting machines or the voters or poll workers. They are those failures that fall directly in the laps of clerks or registrars or boards of elections. Not enough paper ballots at the precinct is an administrative failure.”

One of the administrative failures was ballots in California that seemed rigged to cause independents to disqualify themselves from voting in the Democratic primary by failure to mark the right box on the ballot. Also in California, many people who intended to register as “Independent” were instead registered by the Board of Elections as “American Independent,” which is George Wallace’s old party, and were thus barred from voting in the Democratic primary. Another was that, in Green Party primaries, conducted by Republican and Democratic officials, there were (somewhat predictably) major glitches that may have been negligence and may have been malice–like ballots not being sent to rural counties in Arkansas, or Illinois’ decision to print a green stripe on Democratic ballots and a brown stripe on Green Party ballots, and fail to inform polling officials of the Green Party ballots’ existence, so that many Green Party voters were given green ballots instead of Green Party ballots.

Hey, guys, everybody knows the Dems are the ones with the brown stripe! But seriously, until we have a Green Party hefty enough to have representatives in the Board of Elections, we are not going to get any respect from the big guys. They are so insecure, and with such good reason…By the way, in case you hadn’t heard, the Greens are splitting between Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader like the Dems are splitting over Hillary and Barak.
But there have been no reports of weird results from the voting machines, no complaints of voter intimidation. Of course, it is just a primary, but would Diebold really skew their machines for Hillary? Considering the amount of attention that’s on this issue right now, the odds and consequences for getting caught probably look unacceptably high.

Here in Tennessee, we had faith-based voting, which is what you have to call voting on touch-screen machines. This may be our last video poker election, though! More on that in a minute.

Faith-based voting brought a big win for the faith-based candidate, Mike Huckabee, who wants to put Jesus in the Constitution, just like they did in The Handmaid’s Tale. He hasn’t said if he wants to change the name of the country to The Republic of Gilead. Tennessee also went for Hillary Clinton, in a pattern that I find very disturbing.

Obama won big in all the urban counties, including Williamson, which is usually considered a conservative hotbed–I guess what Dems there are around Franklin are liberal ones. In rural, redneck Tennessee, however he rarely polled more than 20% of the vote, and there were counties in which John Edwards did better than Obama.

Couldn’t have been because he’s white, now, could it?

What I infer from this is that racism is not dead in Tennessee, and I don’t think that bodes well for Obama’s chances should he win the nomination. If he doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not sure Hillary will be able to win the election, because she’s going to have to squash a lot of people’s hopes to prevail.
Here’s a couple of numbers for you: so far, approximately 17 million people have voted for Democratic candidates in the primaries, and only 11 million have voted for Republicans. I’m sure that if the Dems try hard enough, they can blow that lead.

And of course, John McCain is now the Republican front-runner, and the buzz on him is that a lot of conservatives and evangelicals won’t vote for him, so he can’t win, either. This is kind of a backwards way of arriving at the conclusion that the 2008 Presidential election is a no-win situation, but really it is. Whoever wins the election is inheriting a bankrupt, spendthrift country that can’t get out of a war it has no moral justification in pursuing and no money to pay for, a country that almost singlehandedly (through our prostitution of China and widespread promotion of “the American way of life” is pushing the planet into a heatwave the likes of which have not been felt since there were crocodiles in Greenland.

Phew….let’s not talk about that now…it’s almost too horrendous to contemplate…can we have a little good news? Even if it’s just a little?

OK, how’s this…as I said earlier, it looks like Tennessee is going to be able to dump its touchscreen voting machines, hopefully by next fall’s election, if the feds co-operate. (Downside: more toxic high-tech junk!) In spite of tremendous, almost inexplicable resistance by Tennessee Election Commissioner Riley Darnell, who acts like his salary gets paid by Diebold rather than Tennessee taxpayers–and hey, maybe it is, how would we know? In spite of resistance from the state’s election officials, and the same goes for them, a small group of committed citizens talked to enough legislators and got enough other citizens to talk to their legislators to get a bipartisan bill to the floor of the Tennessee House that calls for Tennessee to switch over to optical scan voting machines by 2010 at the latest, and this year if the feds come up with the funds. New Jersey Representative Rush Holt is pushing a bill through that will make funds available to states to switch back from the touchscreen machines mandated by Bush’s Helping America Vote Republican Act of a few years past. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement that, hopefully, can be improved upon.

Speaking of improving on the improvements, the next step after verifiable voting in Tennessee is getting somebody on the ballot who’s worth voting for. Current ballot laws in the state map out a tortuous and unlikely pathway for third parties to get a named ballot line–that is, for candidates to be identified on the ballot as being members of the Green Party, just for example, rather than as “independent.” A recent court case in Ohio ended with the Federal Sixth Circuit Court declaring that Ohio’s law, which is quite similar to Tennessee’s, is in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The Green Party of Tennessee has joined with the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party to initiate a lawsuit to overturn Tennessee’s ballot roadblock, and we have every reason to believe that the decision will be handed down in time for the November election.

It’s a little step, but it’s the first one we can take, and whatever we do, we can only do it one step, one day at a time. I hardly even see how it connects with changing the big picture, considering the resistance even a relative lightweight like Barak Obama met out in the hustings of Tennessee.

Perhaps all that’s left for us at this point is to meet the coming catastrophe as gracefully as we can, because it’s becoming obvious that politics-as-usual is going to prevail in the short run, and politics as usual is as capable of dealing with what’s headed our way as the Polish cavalary was capable of stopping the blitzkreig. And we, with our scattered little Green Party here in Tennessee, are metaphorically even more powerless than the Polish Cavalry. But we have a vision, and a call to live that vision–so what else can we do?

music: Eliza Gilkyson, “Milk and Honey”








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