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“