RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS TO IMPOSE SHARIA LAW IN TENNESSEE!

8 11 2014

There’s a lot of wind being blown out there about the “Republican resurgence” in the recent election.  Too bad we can’t turn a few turbines with it!

In my view, it comes down to this:  the Democrats paid the price for the Grand Canyon-sized gap between their populist rhetoric and their corporatist reality.   People didn’t turn out to vote for Democrats because the Democrats haven’t delivered on their promises. The reason they beat the “we’re pro-choice” drum so hard is that, when you come right down to it, that’s one of the few real differences between the two wings of the American Corporate Party, but grabbing people by the short hairs didn’t motivate enough voters to come out and participate in the charade this time.  The average voter turnout in the U.S. was 33.9%.  More than 50% of the voters showed up in only 3 states, and the highest rate rates of participation were in Wisconsin and Maine, where a whopping 56% of the voters cast ballots.  In other words, the GOP’s “mandate” comes from less than a quarter of the electorate.  Just as in the Middle East, a small, radical, committed minority is ramming its agenda down the throats, to be polite, of the rest of us.

This was especially evident here in Tennessee, where voter turnout was only 28.5%, meaning that Governor Haslam’s “landslide” reflected the wishes of about 20% of the potential voters in the state.  The number of voters who chose Lamar Alexander and banned a state income tax was lower, down in the upper teens, and our legislature now has the permission of about 15% of the electorate to regulate abortion out of the realm of possibility in Tennessee, which I am quite sure they will do to the best of their ability, as has happened in several other states.

I want to talk more about the abortion issue, because I think the level of deceit employed around the passage of Issue One was truly appalling.  It was billed as a way to “make abortion safer,” but you couldn’t help but notice that its backers were all the churches who think abortion is as sinful as non-marital sex and that the government should enforce their views on this subject.  For these people, Christianity is more about controlling women’s bodies and behavior than it is about being honest and truthful, even though their ostensible guidebook, The Bible, has a lot of bad things to say about “people who love a lie.”

Well, lies or no lies, we can now expect that our legislature will be emboldened to subject all Tennesseans to the “Christian” version of Shari’a.  I wonder what other precepts of Dominionism they will enact,  Perhaps slavery will be reintroduced?  Will the death penalty be inflicted on those who work on Sundays? No, that’s highly unlikely–it would be bad for business! Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




FRACK WHORES, FASCISTS, AND FOOLS

24 03 2013

Mothers of Invention: Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

Mothers of Invention:  Thirteen (from “You Can’t Say That On Stage Anymore, Vol. 6–not available on the net, sorry!)

Mothers of Invention:  Jesus Thinks You’re a Jerk (from “Broadway the Hard Way,” ditto)

As I promised a couple of weeks ago, I did indeed turn out for the anti-fracking demonstration, and the accompanying hearing, at Legislative Plaza, last Friday.  The best thing I can say about it is that it was great to see old friends and new, young faces.  It’s good to feel that this movement is being passed on, even if that’s accompanied by the distinct sensation that it’s being pissed on, as well.

Nature

The hearing was definitely a pisser.  Numerous people called the fracking decision into question on all the obvious grounds–conflict of interest, failure to take into account the value of an unspoiled natural environment, and the dubiousness of the alleged benefits that fracking brings to communities.  Channel 5, bless their hearts, did a background investigation that uncovered the fact that making money, not doing studies, is UT’s primary motivation in opening their forest research center to fracking.  It won’t be much good for forestry studies after the frackers are done with it!  Some members of the State Building Commission even raised the all-important question, “what happens if we get a few years into this and discover that it’s a really bad idea?”

“Trust us,” UT’s representative said, just what BP’s people said when they started deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, just like what Exxon’s representatives said before the Exxon Valdez ran aground, just what Shell said when they attempted to moor an offshore drilling rig in the Arctic Ocean last year.

Here’s quotes from some of the emails Channel 5 uncovered: Read the rest of this entry »





CAN WE TALK?

9 02 2013

opening music:

Richard and Mimi Farina, “Sell-out Agitation Waltz

Bob Dylan, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Robbie Basho, “Dravidian Sunday

The Beatles, “Within You/Without You”

Pity Tennessee’s “progressive Democrats.”  They just can’t get no respect, nor satisfaction either.  The old guard, the “blue dogs,” just won’t stand for it.  The progressives reached their high water mark with the election of Chip Forrester as TNDP chairman in 2009, but Forrester’s tenure was undermined by two factors:  the old guard conservative Dems withheld funding, and the Democrat-dominated State Legislature had ignored activists’ concerns and agreed to go along with the Republicans’ request to defer implementation of the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act until after the 2008 election.  2008 was supposed to be the last year Tennesseans voted on easily hackable electronic voting machines; but, mirabile dictu, the Republicans scored upset victory after upset victory, and the first thing the newly Republican state legislature did was repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which had passed nearly unanimously.  Yeah, they were for it before they were against it.  While the cover story that has been floated to explain this is that Barack Obama’s candidacy cast a pall over the electability of Democrats in this state, the circumstances are highly suspicious.  As Joe Stalin is said to have said, “It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes that counts.”  But that’s not what I’m here to talk about tonight.

In spite of a concerted effort by the state’s urban Democrats, the good-old-boy network prevailed, and the urbanists’ candidate, Dave Garrison, who was thought to be a shoe-in, was defeated by Roy Herron, an anti-abortion, anti-union, A+ NRA-rated member of the “West Tennessee Mafia.”  Tennessee’s liberals and progressives have been relegated to the back of the bus again.  The blue dogs may not be electable, but they still know how to hog the manger.

I would like to offer the state’s progressive Democrats a creative solution to their dilemma: Let the blue dogs have their party.  Go Green.  Read the rest of this entry »





THE 2012 ELECTION: FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS

7 04 2012

First the good news:   In Tennessee in 2012, Green Party candidates will be noted as such on the ballot, not lumped anonymously with the “Independents.”   I’ve been doing my best to shout this from the rooftops, but my cohort Howard Switzer has been singing it–we kicked the state of Tennessee’s butt in our court case, as I discussed last month.  Since then, the State has appealed, and also asked for Judge Haynes’ court orders to be set aside pending the appeal, a motion that was denied.

Consequently, we are looking for candidates all over the state.  Maybe you’d like to run for office?  If you agree with the Green Party’s “ten key values“–grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics and economic justice, feminism and gender equity, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus and sustainability (and what’s not to love about any of that?),  if that sounds like more your cup of political tea than an “all of the above,” i.e., “drill, baby, drill, and dig, baby dig” energy policy, ignoring the growing danger signs from our environment, the quiet suppression of civil liberties and persecution of whistleblowers and dissenters, and the unquestioned continued maintenance of a war machine and a corporatocracy that have been deemed not merely “too big to fail” but “too big to challenge,” and just enough lip service to women’s rights and the general progressive agenda to keep people drinking Democrat (TM) Kool-aid, then you have a place in the Green Party.

The further good news is that, in a third of all Tennessee House and Senate races, there is likely to be only one other candidate, so you might not even have to worry about that old bogeyman, “Greens taking votes from Democrats, resulting in the election of Republicans.” Actually, the results are frequently so lopsided  that such an accusation would be pretty baseless most cases, anyway.  Which brings me to the bad news.

When I start by quoting Josef Stalin, you know it’s gonna be bad news, and it really, really was Josef Stalin, the ruthless ruler of Russia, who said (in Russian, of course)

You know, comrades,… I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.

And that is definitely the question here in Tennessee.  As I have occasionally mentioned, I have been reading “Vendors Prohibited,” a 60 page report from 2007 in which lawyer Andrea Novick made a fairly conclusive case that none of the companies that produce touch-screen voting machines, known as DREs, are ethical enough to legally do business with the state of New York.  Unfortunately, the facts of the matter were not sufficient to persuade the New York legislature, which went ahead and mandated DRE use in the state anyway.  Here in Tennessee, the situation is similar.  There was a wonderful upwelling of bipartisan spirit in 2008 as the legislature passed “The Tennessee Voter Confidence Act,” including just one little concession to the Republicans:  that the TVCA not take effect until after the 2010 election, “because of the time and expense involved,” a line that the state’s voting integrity activists handily refuted, but that was swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the state’s Democrats–who found that, to their great surprise, the 2008 election turned Tennessee from a genteelly blue-dog blue state into a frothing-at-the-mouth red state, where some of the most important business of the state’s first Republican legislature since Reconstruction, besides making sure that anybody could carry a gun wherever they wanted as long as they had a non-college issued photo ID and didn’t say “gay,” was to–gosh!–repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, as a “costcutting measure.”  Never mind that the switch to a verifiable voting system would have been entirely paid for with available Federal funds.  Never mind that counties grossly overestimated the cost of the switch–famously claiming (see Bernie Ellis’s comments at this link) it would cost $70,000 to store a filing cabinet full of ballots for a few years, or that hand-counting votes would cost $5 per ballot.  Never mind that computers are notoriously short-lived machines, and between their frailty and the ongoing upgrading of computer technology, the machines will likely need to be replaced often and at great expense, as opposed to hand-counted paper ballots, which cost pennies and employ a technology–printing–that doesn’t even depend on electricity, let alone our complex industrial network, to function.  As a result of this switcheroo,  all but two counties in Tennessee use touch-screen voting machines which do not produce a verifiable, recountable paper trail, and the two counties that use optical scan machines employ Diebold products which have been found to be as corruptible as their more digital counterparts.   Let’s look at the record.

The Diebold Accuvote is a machine that reads paper ballots and tabulates the results, a simple job that could easily be done by human beings.  Here’s what Ms. Novick had to say about the Diebold Accuvote:

In December 2005, Ion Sancho, elections supervisor in Leon County, Florida, concerned about the security of the Diebold optical scanners, arranged for Harri Hursti, a computer programmer from Finland, to independently examine a Diebold Accuvote Optical Scanner. Hursti hacked the machine in the simplest way (considered a level one hack capable of being executed by an eighth grader) and exposed just how vulnerable the Diebold Scanner was – it was possible to subvert the memory card without detection.

Diebold’s response to this?  Again, Ms. Novick:

Subsequently, when Ian Sancho was required to acquire machines for the disabled community, Diebold refused to sell to Supervisor Sancho’s county unless he promised not to have outsiders reveal the Diebold machine’s flaws through any more independent testing. Sequoia backed out of discussions with Mr. Sancho and ES&S didn’t respond.
Diebold, as it has done consistently in refusing to accept responsibility for its system’s serious security failures, attempted to minimize the damaging exposure as merely a “theoretical security vulnerability”. In Diebold’s letter trying to spin the damage it was alleged without support “the probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low”. A spokesperson for Diebold went on to lay blame anywhere but with Diebold: “For there to be a problem here, you’re basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software…I don’t believe these evil elections people exist.”

To contradict Diebold’s rose-colored view of election officials, we have only to look to Florida in 2000, where Katherine Harris was allowed to oversee the state’s electoral process in spite of her clear conflict of interest as Cheney’s campaign chair for the state, or Ohio in 2004, where Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was, in the words of investigative reporter Jon Rappaport,

A man who campaigned resolutely for Bush and THEN oversaw the state election which handed Bush a second term. A man who is a player in the Republican party, who knows the score, who can give favors and then ask for favors back, as he pushes his own career upward.

“Is this a conflict of interest that could have led Blackwell to improperly set the conditions for a Bush triumph? Is the Pope Catholic?”

And, of course, we also have to consider the lineage of the Diebold Company itself:  according to Ms. Novick, the company’s top employees have a rap sheet that includes everything from securities fraud to money laundering to cocaine trafficking.  Former CEO Wally O’Dell, who famously promised to deliver Ohio to Cheney in the 2004 election, has since left the company, under suspicion of insider trading.  This story was, for some reason, not widely reported in the media.  Just the kind of company you’d want to have counting your votes, right?   Well, the good news is, Diebold Optiscan machines are only used in two counties in Tennessee–Hamilton County (the city of Chattanooga) where the Republicans have the Democrats whupped so badly the Dems don’t even bother running candidates  (Hey, Chattanooga Greens, are you listening?), and Memphis, where Republicans have mysteriously scored upset victories.

Here in Davidson County, as well as in fourteen other Tennessee Counties, we use the ES&S Ivotronic touchscreen voting machine.  Again, the company’s lineage makes it highly suspect–it was originally founded by Christian Reconstructionists, whose avowed purpose is to take over the U.S. government and make this a “Christian” nation.  Subsequently,  the company was sold to two companies, the Omaha Herald newspaper and the McCarthy Group.   The Herald’s owners have an 11-state, two-country rap sheet, largely involving bid-rigging and fraud. The  good news is, The McCarthy Group either manages its bad PR very well or else hasn’t done anything any more out of line than any other private equity firm–except for one eyebrow-raising possibility–Chuck Hegel went from being CEO of the firm to running for U.S. Senate, and the people of Nebraska voted in that election on ES&S voting machines.  Hegel became the first Republican Senator from Nebraska in 25 years, although Nebraska’s so-called Democratic Senator Ben Nelson is considered a DINO (Democrat In Name Only) even among Milquetoast Democrats.  Speaking of Democrats, Hegel won even in black and Native American precincts that had never gone Republican.  Six years later, he beat Democrat challenger Harvey Mitulka by an astonishing 86-14 margin, again prevailing in traditional Democrat strongholds. Coincidence?  Or cheating?  No way to tell.  Nebraska’s legislature, which is officially non-partisan, had passed a bill forbidding state election employees from examining or recounting ballots.  Ain’t democracy wonderful?

And ES&S voting machines have continued to be involved in bizarre election results, the most notable recent one being South Carolina’s selection of unemployed sex offender Alvin Greene as the Democrat Party’s U.S. Senate nominee.  And what has ES&S’s response to the complaints that have reasonably been raised?

In its reply to California officials who had complained to the company about faults in the voting machines ES&S provided, the company said

ES&S will hold not only the examiners responsible, but the SOS as well, for any prohibited disclosure or use of ES&S’ trade secrets and related confidential proprietary information….if any need for changes is found, Los Angeles County will have to pay for those changes.

What wonderful customer service, eh?  And of course, it’s a snap to hack these machines, make them do what you want, and leave no trace of your trespass.

I’ve been talking for a while.  Let’s take a music break, and then get back to the other two voting machines used in the state–the Hart Intercivic and the Microvote.

music:  Steve Earle, “Conspiracy Theory

OK, VotersUnite.org has 12 pages of screwups involving Hart eSlate voting machines, and their list only covers the years from 2004 to 2006, but it’s got some real gems.  Let’s start with this one, which may help explain why Democrat election officials here in Tennessee were moved to adopt these Trojan horses to begin with:

(election commissioner) Tracy Baker asked Arapahoe County to give a Texas company a no-bid $3.5 million voting-machine contract…. Arapahoe County commissioners twice said no to the Hart voting system, first in the summer of 2002, then again last November, after deciding to put the contract out to bid.
… Between April 2001 and August 2002, Hart spent $3,759.95 on Baker and his staff, company records indicate. That included a $495 golf outing and $30 worth of cigars for Baker’s birthday.

It could have been more. The company turned Baker down when he asked Hart to pay for staff hotel rooms on a trip to Texas in 2002.  “You call any county clerk in this state,” Baker said. “You call any county commissioner. Vendors take you to dinner.”  Lisa Doran, a public information specialist in the Secretary of State’s Office, said Baker has a point.  Donetta Davidson, Colorado’s secretary of state, accepted dinner from vendors when she was the Arapahoe County clerk, Doran said.

which leads to situations like this one:

Travis County. Texas. A “default” selection is a selection automatically pre-set by the software. It remains selected unless the user specifically chooses to change it. To provide a default selection on a DRE voting machine is to give a voter a ballot with a candidate already marked.  Yet, election officials in Austin set up the eSlate DREs with Bush/Cheney as the default choice for president/vice-president. Voters who voted a straight party Democratic ticket watched their presidential votes changed to Bush on the review screen. Officials said voters caused this by pressing the “Enter” button on the second screen of the eSlate machine.

Gail Fisher, manager of the county’s Elections Division, theorizes that after selecting their straight party vote, some voters are going to the next page on the electronic ballot and pressing “enter,” perhaps thinking they are pressing “cast ballot” or “next page.” Since the Bush/Cheney ticket is the first thing on the page, it is highlighted when the page comes up – and thus, pressing “enter” at that moment causes the Kerry/Edwards vote to be changed to Bush/Cheney.

So it’s the voters’ fault, right?  And of course, Hart’s machines are eminently hackable.  Oh, by the way, the notorious right-wing radio chain, Clear Channel, is a major investor in Hart.

The Microvote Infinity is used in the balance of Tennessee’s counties, and the first thing you need to know about it is that it is not designed to make a paper record of the votes it records.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada. That inspires a lot of confidence in the product, doesn’t it?  Or at least indicates that the Microvote’s manufacturers have a lot of confidence in their product.  Well, here’s some excerpts from a couple of  remarkably candid interviews with the actual manufacturer and the company President.  First, the manufacturer’s rep, Bill Carson, told an  interviewer

Unfortunately the ITA (independent testing authority) has a limited scope in what they can test and check on the system. It is based on time and economics. For an independent test authority to absolutely, thoroughly test under all possible conditions that the device will operate properly they would have to spend, in my estimation, 10 times the amount of time and money as it took to develop it in the first place…. And the technology changes so rapidly, by the time they get done testing it, it’s obsolete.

(Picks up electrical cord.) UL says that this will not shock you and it will not catch fire. They don’t tell you that it actually works. That’s beyond the scope of UL testing. Absolutely nothing will you see in the FEC requirements that this (puts hand on DRE voting machine) has to work. It has to have these functions. But it doesn’t have to work.

And Microvote President James M. Ries went even further, saying

The states basically look at the federal qualification testing as being kind of the ultimate testing ground. As a vendor working with these independent testing authorities, they do a good job of following the test plans afforded to them by the vendors. They don’t really go outside of those test
plans…. Well, because of identity or lack of identity with records, there’s really no way that I could prove to a voter, post tally, that their vote exactly counted the way that they voted it.

I guess it’s just a leap of faith and understanding that what we’re doing is what we’re presenting to the county. So there is a bit of uncertainty there. There has to be faith in their local election boards. It’s one of those areas of a leap of faith. That you really do have to have a faith in your local jurisdiction, that they are conducting equitable elections in the best faith of the voters. The larger the jurisdiction, the more scrutiny should exist.

Faith-based voting, folks!  Gotta love it! In spite of this apparent candor, however, in 2008 the state of Indiana fined Microvote $360,000 for 198 violations of Indiana election law.  Deputy Secretary of State Matt Tusing told reporters, …” MicroVote’s apathetic attitude towards proper certification is disconcerting, especially considering that their profits come from taxpayer dollars.” Matt Tusing is a Republican, so it must have been really bad.

So these are the companies the state of Tennessee has entrusted with recording and counting our votes.  Bit of a rogues’ gallery, isn’t it?  Why is our government trusting these companies to count votes accurately and impartially when there is so much evidence against them?  This is not “conspiracy theory,” folks, even though one Democratic candidate in the state with whom I attempted to raise the question dismissed it as such.  This is potential  high crimes and misdemeanors.  Where are the Department of Justice and the Voting Rights Act when you need them?

For a precedent, we can look to Germany, where the country’s Supreme Court declared computerized, privatized voting unConstitutional, citing “fundamental decisions of constitutional law in favour of democracy [which] … prescribes that all essential steps of an election are subject to the possibility of public scrutiny.”   Meanwhile, our Supreme Court is busy sticking up for corporations’ rights to buy elections and make profits, and the right of the police to strip search anybody they damn well please.  Here’s hoping some of the Supremes (the court, not the singers!) get strip-searched!

So, the good news is, the courts have recognized the Green Party of Tennessee’s right to have our name on the ballot.  The bad news is, the elections we are participating in may be easily and untraceably rigged.  If Greens consistently win just enough votes to deny victories to Democrats, it will be a sure sign something is wrong.  Even if nothing so obvious occurs, the fix may be in anyway, aided and abetted by Republican-led efforts to limit the franchise to the wealthier, whiter portion of the electorate.  I had intended to address the rest of the range of Republican efforts to limit the electorate and manipulate the results of elections, but I’m going to have to leave that part of the discussion for next month, because I feel strongly moved to speak to the Treyvon Martin case, the more recent police murder of Kenneth Chamberlain, and the centuries-long chain of racially motivated killings, of which these two are just a couple of the most recent examples.  On that cheerful note, let’s take a music break.

Richard and Mimi Farina–“The Bold Marauder





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








%d bloggers like this: