OUR DAY IN COURT

11 02 2012

Monday, January 9th, the Green Party of Tennessee went up against the State of Tennessee in Federal court.  I have had a lot of negative things to say about the cost of our court system and the radical conservative activist judges who increasingly populate it, but, fortunately, we did not find ourselves in the presence of one of those judges, and in our particular case, the price of justice was no problem–because we won our case, and the State of Tennessee was therefore liable for all expenses, including our attorney’s fees.  (And yes, I realize that, as a taxpayer here, I am one of those whose money is going to the state’s ill-conceived effort to fight our court case.)  Anyway, here’s what happened.

The hearing was scheduled for three in the afternoon, possibly in deference to the fact that our lawyer, Alan Woodruff, was coming in from the far eastern part of the state, but, late riser that I am, I was glad for the civilized hour of the hearing.  Also traveling in to attend and glad for the late start was  Richard Winger, editor of the Ballot Access News, who arrived on a red-eye flight from San Francisco and was quite happy to take a couple-hour nap at our house before attending.

I had put out the word to the local GP about the gathering, passing along Alan’s warning that we needed to be fly-on-the-wall spectators and not a three-ring circus, and several members who, like me, don’t work the straight 5-8 were able to attend.  Alan strongly suggested suit-and-tie as attire, but I have owned neither since about 1969, so I wore black pants and a dark sweater, clothes I wouldn’t garden or chop wood in.  We met at a local coffee shop before moving on to the downtown Federal Courthouse, where we had to undergo a security inspection/metal detector walk-through in order to proceed.   (One of our attendees had to declare her underwire bra to pass, but at least they didn’t make her remove it!)  With directions from the courthouse staff, we threaded the labyrinth of the massive building and found our way to the 8th floor, where we sat outside the courtroom and talked quietly until they were ready to let us in.

When our time came, we entered a room nearly the size and height of a basketball court, with ceiling lights that resembled a skylight–though, since they didn’t fade as five o’clock drew near, we knew we were under artificial light.   The thick carpeting, tables for plaintiff and defendant, judge’s dais, and seating sufficient for about a hundred people made it unlikely that a game of basketball will ever be played in that room–but, come the revolution, who knows?  The effect created a feeling of distance, not intimacy.  It was difficult to hear the judge or the lawyers when they spoke off microphone, which they occasionally did, before being asked by whoever the speech was addressed to (judge or lawyer) to please make use of the amplification.  The only spectators in the sea of seats were the four of us from the Green Party, Richard Winger, and a youngish guy who turned out to be a reporter from the Tennessean.

Judge Haynes entered the courtroom, we all did the ceremonial rise, the judge sat, then we all sat down, and the hearing was under way.  Alan Woodruff has bad legs and walks with the help of a cane, so Judge Haynes allowed him to present his case seated at the plaintiff’s table, directly in front of us.  Alan had warned us that the hearing would probably be pretty boring, and, as he presented the facts I was so familiar with, I did indeed struggle not to nod off.  The room was warm, the lighting just slightly dim, and even with amplification, the speakers’ voices were not all that loud…what can I say?  Alan’s’s running for Congress as a Democrat in the 1st District–I trust his stump speeches are more exciting.   They’ll have to be pretty motivating for him to win–the Republicans have taken the 1st district in every election since 1879.

I definitely woke up when I heard him point out that, while Tennessee’s requirement that 2.5% of those voting in the last election need to sign a petition to get a minor party candidate’s party affiliation on the ballot has been established as a legal precedent, there is no proof that it is, in fact, fair, and that, considering the cost of gathering 60-80,000 signatures, it could reasonably be considered unfair.  This had not been, to my understanding, part of the original brief, and I was glad to see it included.  It costs a lot of money to gather tens of thousands of signatures for a petition–anywhere between one and five dollars per valid signature, according to Ballotpedia, which would make the cost for getting a “minor party’s” name on the Tennessee ballot somewhere between $40,000 and $200,000.  That’s not minor.  That’s a chunk out of anybody’s campaign budget.  Bit of a barrier, dontcha think, especially since it’s an expense neither the Repubs nor the Dems have to cover?

Back to our story–Judge Haynes let Alan speak his piece, and then it was time for the Assistant Attorney General, Janet Kleinfelter, to argue the state’s case.

Janet is the attorney who, in the hearings on our original case, had unmercifully badgered the Green Party’s witness with exactingly detailed but ultimately irrelevant questions about the minutiae of how we run the Green Party of Tennessee.  This time, it quickly became her turn in the hot seat, as Judge Haynes repeatedly interrupted her, pointing out that she was raising arguments that had not been raised in the state’s earlier case as well as that she was repeating arguments that had already been struck down by Haynes’ previous ruling,  and that some of her assertions were hard for him to believe.  “You mean you still haven’t yet fully complied with the Americans With Disabilities Act?  That’s twenty years old!” he thundered.  When a judge tells an attorney, “Why did I bother reading your brief?  You’re wasting my time,” that generally means the attorney’s case is in deep, deep, trouble, and that’s exactly what Judge Haynes said to Ms. Kleinfelter.

In referencing the ADA, she was attempting to argue that the state needed more time to comply with Judge Haynes’ earlier ruling.  She also asserted that there was little interest in minor parties so there was no need for the state to accommodate them, and that having too many party names on the ballot–i.e., more than two–would just confuse voters.  Hey, there’s still countries in the world where the government asserts that having more than one party’s name on the ballot will unduly confuse the voters…or having a ballot at all.  Is that where her argument was headed?  As it became increasingly apparent that Judge Haynes wasn’t buying any of it, Ms. Kleinfelter grew increasingly flustered, raising her voice in a most unprofessional manner and, in my opinion, giving off a vibe that she might just start crying.  This does not bode well for her professional future–as Assistant AG, she’s going to be back in Judge Haynes’ courtroom, and getting acrimonious with him is not, as they say, a good precedent.  Considering the lameness of her performance, I was astonished to learn that she has been in the AG’s office for 20 years.  Meanwhile, Election Commissioner Mark Goins sat at the defense table, cradling his head in one hand and looking miserable.

What she was advancing was, basically, the same kind of BS arguments the state’s Republicans have been putting forth in the legislature–only here, they weren’t in the majority, and the judge had the power and ability to point out that they were full of, to be polite, baloney.  We walked out of the courtroom at about 5PM feeling pretty optimistic, although Alan warned us that even though the judge had essentially ripped the state’s argument into little bitty pieces and thrown it in the wastebasket, that didn’t mean he was going to rule in our favor.  After all, he could have ruled from the bench–made a decision on the spot–and he didn’t.  It ain’t over ’till it’s over.

Last week it was over.  We won on all counts.  Judge Haynes’ decision came to 90 pages.I have not yet had time to read it all, but here’s the summary: he threw out the state’s ballot access law and gave us (and the Constitution Party) the “relief,” as it is legally termed, of having our candidates’ party affiliation listed with their names on the 2012 ballot, saying “given the state’s acceptance of 25 signatures for candidates for governor and 275 signatures for candidates for President of the United States, the Court deems (Green Party of Tennessee’s)past electoral support of almost 20,000 votes and (Constitution Party of Tennessee’s) almost 10,000 signatories to constitute a signifcant showing of support to justify their recognition as political parties and to have their parties’ names next to their candidates on the general election ballot.  “Independent” no more! YEAH!

music:  Allen Toussaint, “Yes We Can Can”

Judge Haynes found that the 2.5% requirement was “an undue and impermissible burden.…The state infringes on the rights of supporters of Independent candidates to meaningfully vote and meaningfully associate by providing a  “voting cue” to Democratic and Republican candidates which makes it virtually impossible for Independent candidates to prevail in the general election“….(he put that in bold type, not me!)…..

Judge Haynes agreed that forcing minor parties to hold primaries effectively violates our freedom of association and ability to control our party, since in Tennessee’s open primary system, anybody can vote in any party’s primary simply by asking for that party’s ballot.  If–and only if–challenged by election officials, the only “proof” of party affiliation necessary is signing an affidavit asserting one’s party membership.  That’s probably how South Carolina Republicans nominated a sex offender as the Democrat’s Senatorial candidate in 2010.

Judge Haynes ruled that forbidding “minor parties” from using the words “Independent” and “Nonpartisan” (and the words “Democrat” and “Republican,” as well) in their names was an abridgement of free speech.  (The law banning those words was passed after George Wallace’s “American Independent Party” became the only “minor party” that ever succeeded in jumping through all the hoops of Tennessee’s ballot access process.)  OK, if anybody out there has been yearning to launch a branch of the worldwide “Social Democratic Party” or a Tennessee affiliate of Texas’s Conservative Republican Party, you are now free to do so.

Haynes ruled that forcing minor party candidates to file ballot petitions 119 days before the August primary was “an “undue burden,” and that leaving the details of the petition up to the Commissioner of Elections was “Unconstitutionally vague.”  “Any deadline for filing petitions for recognition as a minor party of more than 60 days before the August primary is unenforceable.”

He ruled that “order of placement of political parties candidates’ names on the ballot shall be determined by a “public random drawing.”

“Defendants must revise the ‘Nomination Petition’ to delete the reference that the signatory is a member of the party.  Included in a citizen’s First Amendment right to vote is the voter’s right to privacy of political affiliation, particularly for ties to a minor political party…..The Constitution protects against the compelled disclosure of political association and belief.  Such disclosures can seriously infringe on privacy of disclosure and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment.”  (again, that’s the Judge’s bold print.)

To sum it up, we won on all counts.  We freakin’ shut them out.  Damn, that feels good!

Could the state appeal this decision?  Given the irrational nature of so-called “conservative politics” here in Tennessee, and the state’s record of stonewalling in this long-running case,  it’s quite possible, although Alan, our lawyer, opined that Judge Haynes’ decision left little grounds for appeal.

What needs to happen next is that the legislature needs to enact a ballot access bill that will pass constitutional muster, unlike the bill they passed in response to our earlier court victory–the bill Judge Haynes just ruled on.  As it happens, such a bill was actually introduced last year, and it’s a real “truth in strange places” moment–Sen. Stacey Campfield, who is notorious in some quarters for his idiosyncrasies, came up with S.B. 617, which required minor parties to gather 2,500 signatures to get their party name on the ballot, and allowed minor parties to nominate by convention rather than by primary.  S.B. 617 was passed over in favor of more restrictive–Unconstitutionally  over-restrictive–legislation.   I would like to think that the fact that the right thing was proposed by a Tennessee Republican, and not by a member of the Socialist Party of Tennessee–excuse me, I mean the Democrats–bodes well for its re-introduction and passage.  It’s too late to submit new bills for the 2012 legislative session, but that gives us plenty of time to start lobbying our state legislators for statutory as well as judicial relief in this matter.  I’ve already started the conversation with my guy, Gary Moore.  Look in the “comments” section of the blog for the letter I wrote him, and feel free to adapt it for your own situation.

Accompanying this, to avoid the “spoiler effect” that multiple parties can have on elections, I also proposed to Rep. Moore that the state institute Instant Runoff Voting in any election that has more than two candidates competing for a single office.  Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters indicate their second choice as well as their first.  If no candidate receives more than half the votes, the second choices of those who voted for the lowest-ranking candidate are factored in, and so on, until somebody ends up with a clear majority.  This is being done in several municipalities in the U.S., and at national levels in India, Ireland, and Australia, so we know it’s practical.  This is not just for the benefit of the Greens, Constitutional Party, and Libertarians (who were not in on this suit but should certainly be affected by it),  this is a way for the Democrats and Republicans to protect their own asses.  I hope they see it that way.

And then, there’s the issue of how our votes are counted–an extremely iffy question on the easily hackable, unverifiable, unrecountable computerized machines that Republican and Democrat election commissioners alike have insisted on using in Tennessee.  Just why did the Republicans ask for a two-year delay in implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, and then start working to repeal it as soon as those machines gave the Republicans their first majority in the state since Reconstruction?  (That’s the late 1860’s—a hundred and fifty years ago).  I will be presenting an in-depth review of the multiple scandals of computerized voting soon, probably next month.   Meanwhile, Bernie Ellis and friends are reviving Gathering to Save Our Democracy, the transpartisan group that almost got Tennessee to adopt verifiable voting in 2008.  In order to ensure that we are not used by hackers as a dumping spot for just enough votes to defeat Democrats, we Greens need to do everything we can to guarantee ballot integrity and accurate vote counts in Tennessee elections.

So, with this victory under our belts, we, The Green Party of Tennessee, will be gathering for our annual meeting in Knoxville on Saturday, March 24th, at Barley‘s Taproom and Pizzeria.   The buffet will open around noon; there’s no charge for the meeting, but the buffet is reasonably priced., and you don’t have to buy a buffet ticket to attend the meeting.  We will be approving candidates to run for local, Tennessee, and federal offices, so if you’d like to run for office with “Green” as your party affiliation, you will want to be there, even if you don’t like pizza.  (I like pizza, but have little use for a taproom.  I’m already about as uninhibited, uncoordinated, unintelligent, and socially inept as most of my friends can handle when I’m dead sober.)

But, I digress.  Please do come to Knoxville on March 24th–and let us know you’re coming–we don’t want to unexpectedly mob Barley’s,  not to be confused with a surprise appearance by Bob Marley–which, short of a miracle, will not take place.  Nothin’s gonna bring him back….but I digress again.   Don’t want to start any wild rumors.   It’s 2012, and it’s up to us to be the rock stars, the people we have been waiting for.  UT Knoxville is known to football fans as “Big Orange. ”  We’re “Big Green, and we just beat State–and this is only the beginning.

music:  Pointer SIsters “Yes We Can Can”





IN 2012, WHO WILL YOUR VOTING MACHINE VOTE FOR?

8 01 2012

As I said, getting the state of Tennessee to recognize the Green Party’s right to appear on the ballot as a party is only half the battle.  The other half involves how the votes will be cast and counted.

First, a little history.  The Cheney-Gore-Nader presidential contest in 2000 was widely perceived as having been tainted with electoral fraud that resulted in Cheney’s appointment to the Presidency by a Supreme Court largely handpicked by Ronald Reagan and his running mate’s father.  The electoral fraud most commonly suspected was not the old-fashioned, retail, the-cemeteries-arise-and-vote kind.  It was wholesale, two different ways.  The first was widespread purging of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida.  The key word here is “alleged.”  If you happened to have the same name as a felon, you were barred from voting, but, depending on the county you lived in and whether the list had your current address,  you might not find this out until you showed up to vote, leaving no time for an appeal.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast estimates that about 8,000 were wrongfully denied the right to vote in Florida.  Most of those on this Florida list were African-Americans, who went 9-1 for Big Al, who lost Florida (according to the Supreme Court, anyway) by just 537 votes.  The capper on this is that the “purge list,” with all its inaccuracies, was generated for the Republican-run state of Florida by a private data mining firm with close ties to the Republican Party.  So quit bashing Ralph Nader, all you Democrats–the Repubs stole this one with their own people.  If you just have to blame a fellow progressive for this screwup (which Gore compounded by refusing to contest it), blame John Hagelin, the Natural Law Party candidate, whose 2, 281 votes in Florida total more than Cheney’s alleged margin of victory.  Hagelin’s into Transcendental Meditation.  He can handle your scorn.

But I digress.  Besides wrongly disqualifying voters, there are two other easy ways to tilt the vote.  One is simply to put fewer voting machines in districts where you want fewer people to vote, because long lines will discourage some people.  This has been done with great success, most notably by Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio.  But the most sure-fire way to win an election you might lose on the up-and-up is to hack the voting machines.   This has been made much, much easier by America’s love affair with computers, because you can hack a computerized, touch-screen voting machine and leave no trace whatsoever.  This is not some crackpot theory.  Argonne National Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy, did a little research and found that, for less than $30, they could build a remote control device that could hack into a computerized voting machine and change the results it recorded, and not leave any trace of the hack. Yes, I repeat myself, but this is very important.  Interestingly enough, these vulnerable machines are made by private corporations with close ties to the Republican Party.

All this has been well known, among those who are not totally absorbed in reality TV, anyway, for over a decade, now.  Here in Tennessee, in 2006, a group of citizens formalized their concern for the integrity of our elections by forming a group called Gathering To Save Our Democracy, to lobby for verifiable, recountable balloting in the state.  While a DRE, as computerized voting machines are referred to, can produce a printed tape showing the votes cast on it as it recorded them, there is no way to tell whether the vote recorded by the machine was the vote intended by the voter.  This is not a theoretical problem.  To give just one example, in 2004 DRE’s in New Mexico recorded a vote for Cheney when a voter pressed the “straight Republican ticket” button, but failed to record a vote for Kerry when a voter pushed the ‘straight Democratic ticket” button.  This happened almost exclusively in Latino and other low-income districts that were likely to vote Democrat.  Kerry lost the state by about 6,000 votes.  There were a reported 21,000 ballots in New Mexico on which there was no recorded Presidential vote.  Do the math!  The situation in Ohio was similar, but Kerry decided not to dispute the election, to the great disappointment of millions.

So, here in Tennessee, a group of citizens lobbied the state legislature to switch the state to some form of verifiable balloting, in which there would be a permanent record of the voter’s original intent.  Optical scan machines, the kind used to grade standard tests, were one option; hand counting was another .  Due to these citizen activists’ efforts, the state passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act in 2008, by a wide, bipartisan margin, with just one little compromise.  The Republican asked that implementation of the bill be delayed until the 2010 election, due to the “difficulty and expense” of switching over.  This was baloney, but the Democrats bought it, over the protests of the activists, who knew that the Republicans were, to be impolitic, lying.  Other states had made the switch in the amount of time remaining before the election, Federal money was available to pay for the transition, and it was, in fact, cheaper, faster, and simpler than using the DRE’s,   Cheaper- optical scan equipment requires only one computer per precinct, to count the ballots, which have been filled out by hand.  Old-fashioned hand-counted ballots don’t take any computer at all.  Faster–much less instruction necessary, and many more private spaces for filling out a ballot can be set up, compared to the number of computerized voting machines that can be provided at each precinct.  Simpler–as I said, little or no instruction is needed in filling out a ballot with a number two pencil.

If this is true, why did both Democrat and Republican Secretaries of State resist the change?  A two word answer:  Lobbying money.  The company invites state and county election commissioners to fancy dinners, where they are exposed to entertaining lectures on the superiority of the computerized product.  A bond is created.  Money may change hands.  While these are not elective offices, the commissioners have friends in politics whose fortunes they would like to help advance, after all.  Just another example of how decisions in this country are made not according to what makes sense, but according to what makes money for the powerful.

Once the bill was passed, with its delay in place, the 2008 election was a big surprise for Democrats, who lost heavily all over the state.  Was this a rigged election, or simply a sharp, racially-motivated right turn on the part of Tennessee voters?  It’s hard to tell–impossible, in fact, because hacking DREs leaves no traces.  The art in throwing an election is in not making it too obvious.  You don’t rig it so your guy wins 99-1; you rig it so he wins 50.1-49.9.  But first you purge the voter rolls of anyone who has something like the same name as a purported felon–if the person turns out to have merely committed a misdemeanor, or isn’t even the right person, hey, it’s their problem to prove their innocence. This is America, after all!  Then you shorten early voting  hours, which makes it a little harder for working people to vote, and then you pass a law requiring that all voters show a photo ID, which gets rid of some older, low-income voters, as well as some college students, (since you’ll accept a gun license but not a college ID as valid).  All these groups are more likely to vote for  Democrats.  Then you only have to tweak the election results a little, here and there, to throw the election.  I live in a majority black, and, obviously, heavily Democratic district.  I am reasonably certain that anybody throwing an election wouldn’t mess with our precinct, because a Republican triumph here would be hard to believe.  On the other hand, they might shave just a few votes here, and more elsewhere, where the outcome might be more up for grabs.

Back to our time line.  The newly Republican state legislature attempted to repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, but failed by one vote–that of Republican Tim Burchett, of Knoxville, who distinguished himself by being an outspoken advocate of open, honest elections.  For his principled stand, Burchett was kicked upstairs in 2010, elected to the post of Mayor of Knoxville,  With him out of the way, the legislature repealed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, lying through their teeth as they claimed that this was done solely because the state didn’t have the money to make the switch.  The Federal money, which was all that was required, was still sitting there, unspent.  State government firmly in hand, the Repubs have drawn up a redistricting plan that is just about guaranteed to preserve their hold on power, short of large sections of the voting public waking up to the rude, uncomfortable truth.

The situation here in Tennessee is one that, if Obama and Eric Holder had even one cojone between them, the DOJ would be all over.  But they don’t, and so I’m not looking for the guys in the white hats to come riding over the horizon any time soon.

My little rant may have raised a couple of questions for you.  You might wonder why a Green like me is being so solicitous of the welfare of our state’s Democrats. And you might wonder what, exactly, this has to do with our lawsuit, the one about recognizing Green Party candidates’ Constitutional right to have our party affiliation listed on the ballot.

I’ll answer that one first.  I am concerned that, since our elections are apparently being jiggered by the GOP, they will welcome the Green Party’s official ballot slot as a great place to dump votes they have taken away from Democrats and at the same time create strife between Greens and Democrats who perceive that we are taking “their” votes.  Even if the elections were squeaky-clean, of course, some Democrats would be squawking about this, but, if they really care about electoral choice, there are ways, such as instant runoff voting, to have elections in which voters can express their second choice in the event that their first choice doesn’t make it into the top two.

So, first question second.  Why do I, a Green,  care so much about the Democrats getting screwed over?  I could get all Martin Niemoller on you and say “First they came for the Democrats,” but it’s not really that dramatic.  While the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act is a milestone in our empire’s attempt to legitimize its war crimes, I think our government’s power will fade out long before they get around to disappearing the likes of you and me.  It’s much cheaper  and easier to just ignore us.

No, I defend Democrats, especially “rank-and-file” Democrats, because, as individuals, I like them.  Hey, I used to be one myself.  I not only like them, I am like them. They mostly mean well, unlike Republicans, who tend to be sociopaths.

Disclaimer:  what follows is strictly a metaphor.  Nobody on the Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategies Facebook list needs to feel the least bit uneasy about my intentions there, OK?

To me, Democrats are kind of like certain fascinating and delightful women I have known, who always seemed to end up giving it to some jerk who didn’t appreciate them and made their lives miserable, rather than to me, who would have respected and appreciated them. Jerks like, back in the old days, Richard Daley, or, more recently, the likes of Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Joe Biden, and Max Baucus. Were those women a bit dysfunctional for the kind of love lives they manifested?   Yes, but that didn’t subtract from their lovable humanity.  Am I a bit dysfunctional, hungering for the attention of those whom I do not psycho-emotionally trigger?  Probably. But people, whether they are abused women or rank and file Democrats, sometimes grow and evolve, get to the place where they see through the games and conditioning they have always accepted, DTMFA (Dump the Mother Fucker Already) and move on.  Is that my prediction for 2012?  Do I think the ranks of the Green Party will swell with masses of disaffected Democrats?  I’m not getting my hopes up, but, in the words of Shakespeare,  “‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.”

music:  Drive-By-Truckers, “Wife Beater





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





TENNESSEE FOLLIES

10 07 2009

Our “Truth In Strange Places Award” this month goes to the framers of the Tennessee Constitution, who included in that august document the following words:

“That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

That comes from Article 1, Section 2 of the “Tennessee Declaration of Rights,” and can be found on page 54 of the Tennessee Blue Book.  And why has it become relevant?

Karl Marx said that everything that happens in history happens twice; the first time as tragedy, and the second time as farce.  That’s certainly proved true for my friend Bernie Ellis.

The first time the law came to his home, it was a tragedy:  Bernie was arrested for growing medical marijuana, did time, nearly lost his farm, and lost his main source of income, which was consulting for state governments on….drug, alcohol, and treatment issues, including the implementation of medical marijuana programs.

The second time he encountered the power of the state, the worm turned, and the joke was on the state.  The story has been well told in many places, but let me recap it for you:

Bernie started an outfit called “Gathering To Save Our Democracy,” which is a bipartisan group (yes, it includes some registered Republicans) working to restore verifiable election results in Tennessee.   The group thought they had won a big victory last year when the legislature passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which mandated a return to paper ballots instead of the state’s currently near-universal reliance on touch-screen voting machines, which are notorious for “malfunctions” that flip votes from one candidate to another, usually to the Repuglycan one, and leave no record of the voter’s original intent.  And, by the way, the head of the company that makes these magical devices is on public record as saying he wants to help elect Republicans.

So, we were supposed to dump the touch-screen machines. However, when the legislature reconvened this year with a Republican majority, many Republicans, who had voted for the bill originally, had a change of heart, and, at the behest of the new Republican Secretary of State, Tre Hargett, tried to pass a bill delaying implementation until 2012, on the grounds that the switch could not be made in the amount of time remaining before the 2010 election.  Fortunately, this bill failed by one vote–Tim Burchett, a Republican from Knoxville, had the courage to oppose it, along with the Senate’s Democratic minority.

He could oppose it because it wasn’t really a partisan issue.  Simply stated, the reasons for not switching voting machines by 2010 were a pack of lies.    Hey, the precedent had been set.  It was amply proved by the Gathering to Save Our Democracy crew that there was time and enough money to implement the bill before the 2008 elections, but the state election commission, possibly under the influence of touch-screen machine manufacturers, did not want to move that fast, and legislators deferred to them.  Now they have declared that the much longer interval before the next election is still not enough time, and there aren’t voting machines available that meet the standards, it would cost too much ….well, you can see where they’re going with this.  If  the deadline had been extended to 2012, the election commission doubtless would have dragged its feet and then appealed to the legislature to extend the deadline again.

Meanwhile, optical-scan  machines are in use in 40 states,  providing a verifiable source for recounts, and Al Franken owes his Senate seat to their existence.  Maybe that’s what’s bothering the Repuglycans?  And how did Bernie’s history of interviews with law enforcement officers return as farce?

I’m getting to that.

It’s characteristic for sociopaths to allege threats from others in order to justify their own actions, and that seems to be what happened next. State Election Co-ordinator Marc Goins, a former Republican legislator who is working closely with Tre Hargett to stonewall the mandated changes, accosted election activist Mary Mancini while she was eating lunch at the Capitol, and, according to Mancini, this is what he said:

“I’m a friend of paper ballots … But when you push your friends too far, sometimes they bite back.”

And, he added, “I’m this close to biting back.”

Hannibal Lecter lives!

And, next thing you know, the State Police are back at Bernie’s door, checking out an allegation that he had made “terrorist threats” in emails he sent to the Secretary of State’s office.  Well, Bernie had not sent any emails to Tre Hargett, but the “terrorist threats”?  That may have come from Bernie’s written references to “The Battle of Athens” he had sent to his friends and supporters–but not the Secretary of State.

OK, you’re asking–what was “the Battle of Athens?”

This refers to the successful effort of a group of WWII vets to end a long string of stolen elections in Athens, Tennessee, in 1946.  It was pretty dramatic.  There was a local political machine that was shaking people down, fixing elections, jailing election monitors who complained about their tactics, and, in one particularly egergious case, shooting a black citizen in the back after turning him away from the polls on racial grounds.  The veterans, who found all this more like what they had been fighting to overthrow than what they had been fighting to protect, took up arms, took hostages, raided the local National Guard Armory, and ultimately threw dynamite at the county jail, where the political boss and his cronies had sequestered themselves with the ballot boxes.  The vets succeeded in unseating the corrupt machine and none of them were prosecuted for their efforts.  I’m surprised John Sayles hasn’t made a movie about it. Couldn’t be censorship, now, could it?  Would such a movie give people “dangerous ideas”?  Naw….

The vets beat the system in part because they were resisting that “arbitrary power and oppression” mentioned in the state’s constitution.  Maybe Tre Hargett’s muzzled conscience has something to do with why he feels threatened by the story of “The Battle of Athens.”  It’s certainly not a reference that would be feared by an honest politician, if I may be so bold as to posit such a thing…but I digress…the troopers are talking to Bernie again.

Bernie was friendly but blunt with them.  In his words:

I also asked the two TBI agents to deliver a message from me to whoever had caused them to have to drive to my farm today. Before they left, the lead agent repeated my message verbatim to make sure he had it right:

*”Mr. Ellis would like whoever issued the complaint against him to grow a pair of balls, ‘man up’ (the agent’s words) and call him at any time to discuss any concerns they may have with him or with anything Mr. Ellis has ever said.” *

The agent looked to me like he is going to be happy to deliver that message personally.

Since then, Democrats in the state, smelling blood, have picked up on the issue and are calling for Hargett’s resignation.  To their great discredit, most media in the state have cast this as a partisan fight and lent credence to Hargett’s arguments against implementing the law, all of which were thoroughly refuted when the bill was first passed in 2008.  Ah, ain’t media amnesia wonderful!?

Well, speaking of media amnesia, here’s something a lot of people don’t realize:  this isn’t the only illegal stonewalling going on at the Secretary of State’s office.  We in the Tennessee Green Party instituted a lawsuit to overturn the state’s unconstitutionally difficult requirements for granting a ballot line to political parties other than the Demopublicans.  We are sure we can prevail in this case, because the courts have already overturned Ohio’s similar strictures.  That was last year.  After the state demanded a voluminous amount of “discovery” from us in an almost impossibly brief time period, our lawsuit has vanished without a trace in the labyrinthine murk of the Secretary of State’s Office.    “Justice delayed is justice denied,” is a principle that dates back to the Magna Carta, and we Greens are about ready to haul King Hargett before a court and allege obstruction of justice. The fact that he is also clearly blocking implementation of voting reform is just gonna make it easier for us.  Thanks, Tre, you’ve brought the rope and you’re tying your own noose (figuratively, speaking, of course–I don’t believe hanging ever improved anybody’s character!).  Oh, oh, am I threatening our revered Secretary of State?  Guess I’m a terrorist, too.  Come and get me!

music:  Leonard Cohen, “Democracy





VOTING AS IF IT MATTERED

14 05 2006

I became a Democrat for a day and voted in the recent primary election, and I’m happy to say that Amanda McClendon succeeded in her bid to become a judge, at least in part because I voted for her, although she would have won without me. Her victory was described by the Nashville City Paper as “a landslide,” a term they did not use for any other race on the ballot—but then, most races were uncontested. You can’t have a landslide without an opponent.

I created a bit of a stir in my polling place. I asked for a paper ballot. “I don’t think anybody’s messing with the results of this election,” I told the surprised clerk. “It’s the principle of the thing.” I was the only person of the hundred or so who had voted in my precinct to make such a request, and it took them a couple of phone calls and a bit of paper shuffling to get it together, but I was provided with a number two pencil and a paper ballot and got to indicate my choices in good, old fashioned, unmistakable pencil lead. Actually, they tried to set me up with a ball-point pen but I pointed out that the instructions on the ballot called for a number two pencil. They weren’t gonna throw my ballot out on technicalities, no sir.

Let me tell you a couple of stories about why I insisted on a paper ballot.

The first comes from right here in Tennessee, where many counties in the state have contracted with the Electronic Systems and Software Company (hereafter referred to as ESS) to buy electronic voting machines. ESS gave the counties a deadline of April 14 (Good Friday) for placing orders. Then, on the morning of April 12, ESS faxed Wayne Pruett, the Tennessee co-ordinator for the so-called “Helping America Vote Act,” and informed him that any county that wanted to buy ESS voting machines would have to agree to accept “used” equipment. Got that? 48 hour notice about a major change in a multi-million dollar contract involving multiple county election boards? Right before Easter?

That should be enough to make a state co-ordinator stand up and roar, right?

Wrong. In an interview with Debra Narrigan of Gathering To Save Our Democracy, a Tennessee group dedicated to honest elections, Pruett admitted that, although this bait and switch “hit us broadside” and was “totally unacceptable to the state,” he would not prevent counties from contracting with ESS, although it is technically within his power to do so. Furthermore, he neglected to inform the Davidson County electoral commission before their meeting that day, because he didn’t want to appear to be doing anything that might influence their decision. He did tell them about the change after their meeting. How thoughtful! How helpful!

Story two takes place in far-away Utah, that notorious hotbed of left-wing authority questioners, where a 23-year veteran County Clerk, Matt Funk, became suspicious about the quality of the Diebold voting machines mandated by the state of Utah and decided to have an independent assessment done. Not only did the independent assessment show numerous problems with the machines, the Diebold Company had a cow about having outsiders play around with their proprietary software—oh yes, and the little matter of BlackBoxVoting. org being involved. Funk resigned in protest and the county went ahead and accepted the Diebold machines anyway. The county paid technicians over $1200 a day to work the bugs out.

Of course, that’s just the latest Diebold story. There’s a lot of them out there, none of them good. But it doesn’t take a $1200-a-day technician to set me up with a piece of paper and a number two pencil, and you can’t hack into a paper ballot and change it. I’d like to see more creative, compassionate, and essential uses of my tax dollars than having them spent on five-figure voting machines and four-figure technicians. I don’t think we need to be in such a hurry to count the votes that we have to have a computer do it for us. Hey, there’s few enough jobs left in this country, we might as well hire each other to count votes, right?

Although the Helping America Vote Republican Act does not mandate that machines provide a paper record of the vote, maybe even because it doesn’t, I think it’s time to take matters in our own hands and start a movement. They have to give you a paper ballot if you ask for one. Friends, next time you vote, do it the old-fashioned , time-tested way–on paper.

music: Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”








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