Front cover of vol. 6, #4 of the activist journal 'Justice Rising'
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Yesterday was an interesting day to recommend this issue of an annual journal published by Ronny Dugger's Alliance for Democracy (AfD). Within 23 colorfully bound pages, "The People's Vote Must Count" is modestly described by editor/writer/activist Jim Tarbell as a "study guide" on how adopting hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) as our default voting system fits into the larger grid of needed electoral reform.
The grid expands the more I study it. Problems are no longer limited to intimidation, bribery, and stuffed ballot boxes, as they were nearly 250 years ago in this country.
But, as I wrote above, yesterday was an interesting day to review this comprehensive account of the five Ws and how our electoral system is so corrupt and what we can do to fix it, because in yesterday's issue of The Nation, an author dismissed voting as close to useless if we can do no better than to elect Donald Trump as president. We must pursue other avenues of activism than simply checking off some candidates once every four years. Does he ask why our system is running on empty? No. The avenues of activism he proposes as far more effective than voting include the exciting protests and confrontations with legislators we are witnessing against Trump's treachery today. But first we have to vote and the system must effectively reflect We the People's will, We the 99 Percent. That's a given. Ask Tom Paine, for one.
Seventeen brief, concise, and incisive articles by 15 distinguished authors dissect the system's complexities and clarify them for concerned activists and all those wondering why Election Day, which used to be a simple "going to the ballot box and pushing a lever" process (to quote Noam Chomsky), has evolved into such a mess for certain minorities who together happen to comprise the vast majority of our country's population.
Defeating the corporatocracy that is more and more trespassing on human rights here is the mission of the AfD. "The issue is not the issues," writes Dugger; "the issue is the system." Leading off the journal is not a barrage of complaints but an exhortation: here's what we must do: 1) reclaim elections; 2) restore our voting rights; and 3) protect our ballots--a tough priorities folder that can't happen without a democratic revolution. Bernie Sanders has agreed, addressing the system at large.
Our machinery is no good, writes Tarbell. Why waste billions of dollars on it when we can use recyclable paper and create work opportunities for large numbers of people? HCPB works if done correctly. He anticipates the center section, which describes AfD's new "People's Vote Must Count" campaign (pages 10-11), which enumerates how to assemble the revolution step by step, from publicizing the exigencies and getting people together who support HCPB, to outreach to larger numbers, to effective and compelling publications, to introducing legislation, to a tableau vivant of HCPB in action at one precinct of each jurisdiction in the country. In this regard, "It's time for the US to Join the Rest of the [voting] World" (Western Europe, for example; articles thumbnailed below supply more details). AfD's webpage explaining the processes is at www.peoplesvotemustcount.org. The "Principles of Electoral Reform," quoted from the National Election Reform Coalition, describes an ideal HCPB system, fulfilling the goals of transparency, accuracy, security, and privacy, among other desiderata that you must read about.
Progress already accomplished toward these goals is detailed by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, executive directors of the National Election Defense Coalition. A new 71-member congressional caucus focused on voting rights was formed last year. Legislation has already been written and submitted, the VOTE Act (HR 5131) and the Election Integrity Act of 2016, both introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Both call for vast improvements in our electoral systems to be accomplished through federal funding. Funding distributed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA, 2002), more than $3 billion, has been spent on low-quality systems now being kept functional by means of purchased spare parts. Reports by the nonpartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) and Brennan Center for Justice both anticipated this attrition and warned that prompt intervention is essential. The lifespan of the worst of these systems is at best 10 years, the direct recording electronic (DRE) or touchscreen machinery. Purchased between 2001 and 2007, it must be replaced, as our math indicates. The article "Failed Election Administration" (page 19) describes the 2013 report published by the commission. Fine that it's nonpartisan, but does that explain why there is no mention of discrimination or corruption, two towering symptoms of election dysfunction? Instead, to combat the "long lines" thus engendered, the science of queology, the science of queuing, is consulted. Remember President Obama's repeated exhortation that "we have to do something about that"? Try queology. I don't mean to oversimplify. The report is magisterial. Election law expert and academic Rick Hasen simply writes that it's not enough.
Author and activist Jonathan Simon, executive director of the Election Defense Alliance, describes another brand of corruption that interferes with accurate vote counting--the opposition to and thwarting of an effective means of auditing the vote counts produced by machinery, exit polls, which are used, again, successfully overseas (in Ukraine, for example, where the United States intervened in a presidential election on the basis of incongruity between the vote count and exit polls collected). Exit polls are being eliminated gradually in this country or else tweaked to conform to machine results. Simon and his colleagues manage to capture the raw data when it appears briefly on television (I believe that CNN provides it), before the corruption process begins. Such vote counts trend right of exit poll data, Simon discovered, and called this event a "red shift." Were we to use HCPB instead of relying on "shadowy corporation(s)," exit polls would be far more consistent with the vote counts.
"War on the Dispossessed," excerpted from their book The Strip & Flip Selection of 2016, is the title of authors/academics/activists Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman's contribution, which pinpoints the new Jim Crow system of our era, the voter ID requirement and corrupt registration procedures. Such disgraces relegate the United States to the rank of forty-fifth among long-standing democracies of the world, with an integrity rating of 69.3 percent, according to a 2015 study--"one notch ahead of the narco-drug state Colombia." The authors describe further corruption that kept Bernie Sanders from winning the presidential primaries, which "should have caused a major scandal in the United States." They decry the abusive machinery that purports to count our votes, the DREs in particular, whose totals cannot be audited, especially when exit polls are ignored. To sum up, write the authors in agreement with Tarbell, "The only cure is a bottom-up revolution in human consciousness and action."
Another outrageous symptom of the disease that is our electoral system is gerrymandering, or illegal redistricting that is politically or racially motivated. Tarbell narrates its origins and culmination in the computer program invented for that sole purpose, the corporate-financed REDMAP. Once the GOP swept elected positions at the state and federal levels in 2010, REDMAP created red-dominated districts that were predicted to last for a decade, Karl Rove's sweet dream. Then in 2012, reiterating a result achieved several times at the presidential level by the Electoral College, Democrats swept the popular vote by 1.7 million but the GOP won a 33-seat majority in Congress. The solution, of course, is to take redistricting out of the partisan hands of state legislatures and into the purview of independent, nonpartisan commissions, which several states have accomplished effectively, mostly western ones, including Arizona, California, Washington State, and Iowa.
The article "Suppressing the 99%" (page 6) points to its illegitimate justification, the possibility of the virtually nonexistent voter fraud in the form of stealing the vote of another person by impersonating them at the polls. Caging and purging are also defined and discussed, two other forms of vote theft that hugely subtract the votes of minorities from totals. Who's at fault, the author wonders, directing her gaze at the cynical author published yesterday in The Nation--the people or the system? Still other forms of skullduggery follow with the obvious conclusion that We the People are suffering from a bad case of corporatocracy this issue of Justice Rising promises we can overcome.
Other forms of "voter apartheid," a great coinage, are covered by Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, who discusses discriminatory legislation created by the notorious ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was formed in the early seventies at about the time that the infamous Powell Manifesto began to swing things away from the reformist revolution of the sixties back to corporate control and ultimately now. ALEC writes legislation that becomes boilerplates nationwide that lead to "red shifts" in every sphere of our society--in our context voter ID and shortening early voting periods, for example. The people are fighting back in droves for a "sixties" renaissance, now that our plight has descended to such abysmal levels. We need a Sanders Manifesto that will work, and AfD is leading the way.
A dedication to Ronnie Dugger follows, written by Nancy Price, co-chair of AfD National Council: "Over his 60-plus year career, Ronnie Dugger has produced 'journalism of conscience,' as a writer, editor, publisher, biographer and mentor." Founder of AfD in 1996, he is also an icon of the EI movement for his nonstop dedication embodied in a landmark, prophetic article "Counting Votes," which he wrote for the New Yorker in 1988, "on the rise of computerized voting, and increasing disenfranchisement, especially of African-Americans that concerned only some election officials and lawyers, . . . a path-breaking, before-its-time article."
Dr. Reverend Rodney Sadler, a widely published professor, pastor, and community leader, writes about deliberate racism in voting and the people's courageous activism in fighting back. He looks back to the 2013 SCOTUS gutting of section five of the Voting Rights Act and its effects on Election 2016, warns against the attrition of the voting machines we use, and discusses the failure of so many bills written by Congress to combat all of this discrimination.
Activist, actress, and author Mimi Kennedy, chair of the Progressive Democrats of America, contributes anecdotal details concerning her home state, California. She reviews the accomplishments of heroic secretaries of state like Kevin Shelley and Debra Bowen, who decertified most of the voting systems in her state, replacing them with optical scanners that performed better, a step in the right direction, paper. The Golden State should lead the nation with its exemplary system refined even more since then, with its publicly observed chain of custody, especially at the stage of ballot counting. A rosy report indeed to encourage the rest of us onward.