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Our Vote is our Voice: Notes from the Frontlines on Election Day, 2006

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I thought that I was "done" writing about the election for now. In the last week, I have cranked out an unprecedented six pieces (not counting this one). I wrote two at the same time Saturday night and was up past four in the morning. I'm too old for all-nighters. I don't even drink coffee. Clearly, I gave at the office. And yet, this one last piece, until after the election anyway, will simply not stay inside. Ignore it if you'd like; I can't. I recently wrote about how what we read and watch affects the way we view the world. My experience last night is validation of that argument. I was minding my own business yesterday, sitting at the computer, reading and posting Greg Palast's latest piece, presciently called "How They Stole the Mid-term Election". It explores the various Republican ruses that have already wiped out 4.5 million probable Democratic voters before a single vote has been cast. I say 'voters' rather than votes because by erasing a person's vote, you have taken away his voice. If he has no voice, you have marginalized him, rendering him powerless and mute. You have denied his constitutional right and subverted democracy, all in one fell swoop. This effective strategy has been accomplished in three ways. The first is the rejection of large numbers of properly registered voters. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Ohio 2004's Katherine Harris, may have set a record by removing 500,000 plus legal voters from Ohio's voting rolls, or 10% of the total electorate, since 2000. Think about that one for a second. One out of every ten legally registered voters - gone, poof! I don't know about you, but I find that very scary. The second strategy is the new voter ID requirements. The final one is the malfunctioning electronic voting machines. Palast estimates one million lost votes in this last category. That is actually a very low figure. According to Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? by Freeman and Bleifuss, the total number of electronically switched votes in that election was more likely nine million nationwide. If you are alive and awake, you may have noticed the sudden burgeoning interest of the corporate media, including HBO's "Hacking Democracy" and various articles, editorials and news snippets here and there. Salon' s Farhad Marjoo, who disparaged RFK Jr. a few months ago for his Rolling Stone article about the 2004 election, did a very sympathetic review of "Hacking Democracy" and the whole electronic voting machine debacle. Images of multiple Rip Van Winkles dance around in my head. Where the heck have they been all this time? The story was out there, crying to be reported. What does their newfound fascination for the subject mean, at this late date? Has the tide turned? Too late for this election, for sure. I see a desert landscape. Sleek predators circle a herd, stealthily picking off the most vulnerable, one at a time. They don't have to attack every animal in order to weaken the herd as a whole. And because of the large numbers of migrating animals, losing a few here and there can go by unnoticed until much later. The damage has been done, nearly invisibly. My dear friend's son was mugged night before last. He suffered a concussion and the loss of $20 (all he had). His mother's a mess; she feels violated. This happened yards from his home. The combination of hearing about this late yesterday and reading the Palast piece gave me a humongous nightmare last night. Let me tell you about it. I've been up since 4 a.m., so if this lacks coherence, I've got a good excuse. I dreamt that I went to my polling place where I have voted faithfully for the last twenty plus years and was told that I wasn't registered. I felt like I'd been sucker-punched; my heart started hammering and I awoke with a jolt. I've been working for election integrity for a long time. Maybe it's not that long, it's just fells like it because it's been so intense: so many hours spent getting the word out, posting others' articles and writing my own. I've been talking (some would say endlessly) about voter disenfranchisement, haunted by the footage of Ohio 2004, the long lines, the predominantly black faces. But last night, it was me! White, suburban, middle-aged, middle-class, carpooling me. It suddenly brought it right home for me in a brand, new way. I pulled out all the stops: I tried deep breathing techniques, counting to infinity, relaxing my body, one part at a time. No go. I snuggled down in my well-worn and welcoming flannel sheets and thought about burrowing there indefinitely. I could stay there for a little while at least: my son is old enough to get himself off to school without aid from me, I already said that I was taking the day off of work. So, how long could I stay huddled in my cocoon? An extra hour or two or all day? Ultimately, I'd have to get up and face the mess out there still waiting for me. Things are not good. I can tell because my body is telling me so. I'm grinding my teeth more, eating more but enjoying it less, sleeping more fitfully, sighing more (my son keeps reminding me to breathe). My digestive tract is fekokt (juicy Yiddish word that sounds like "the clocked" and means "all screwed up"). I haven't resorted to nail-biting yet, but I do often feel the need to scream and tug on my hair. I haven't had my Julia Child fix for two days. I'm feeling it. She handled every challenge with such verve. I'm feeling pretty verve-free right now. I need to put the CDs back in the car and find some inner peace. Fast. While I urge everyone to go to the polls and vote for any number of reasons, the real work will begin after this election is over, whatever it's 'official' results. Much more is demanded of all of us. This national disaster that is our election system needs a massive overhaul. Each and every one of us can and should play a part in spreading the word and demanding change. It's our collective headache and it has ramifications far beyond our borders. As Norla Antinoro eloquently writes in "Voices Raised, Voices Heard"
No matter who wins today, there will still be important issues to pursue. Voting integrity is at risk in many ways across the land. Voters are being disenfranchised by purges, black box machines, identification laws, all of which must be challenged and investigated. We have a lot of work to do, because 2008 is just around the corner and that is another election that will be vitally important not just to the voters of the United States, but to the entire world. It is imperative that we break the hold the Bush Cartel has on America and change the direction their madness has taken us. We need to bring our troops home and keep them there. We need to address the security issues of this modern world as a responsible member of the international community, not as the biggest bully. And what we do matters to the entire world.
BREAKING NEWS: I just got a call from Bob Wilson, of Illinois Ballot Integrity Project. You may have heard about how he and two colleagues hacked into the Cook County online voter registration database several weeks ago. Lo and behold, there for anyone to see (or snatch) was the personal data of millions of Chicago voters. An identity thief's dream. Bob's an election judge in Evanston and he called to vent his frustration at what's going on in blue, blue Cook County. While people have the right to request paper ballots, not enough of the special pens with archival ink have been supplied. This makes people who want to vote on paper bunch up in long lines. Many will either give up on insisting on paper ballots or will give up altogether. He's heard this from five precincts so far across suburban Chicago. He sent out a poll worker from another township to get black pens for the voters to use. That will help whichever precincts she reaches, but what about the rest of us? Another problem is the provisional voter affidavit (Form 501). This is for people who come and discover that their name does not appear on the voting rolls. It's getting more and more common these days. Not only was his precinct missing the forms, but they weren't even listed on the checklist altogether. What that means is that no one was aware of the problem until the first person needing one showed up. Bob dutifully called the "repair center" number given for reporting shortages. He was able to get through, on the nineteenth try. Too soon to declare victory. Once he got through, he was put on hold for another ten minutes. Now, he has to wait for the center to send out the supplies, supposing that they even have them. If they weren't on the checklist, maybe they don't even exist. What will all those needing provisional ballots do? Stand in line for five hours? Go to work and come back later? Is anyone besides for me and Bob noticing that something is terribly wrong here? It's only 8:30 in the morning. What will this day bring? Is anyone out there listening? I haven't gone to vote yet. I'm apprehensive, to tell the truth. What if my nightmare comes true? P.S. Don't forget to post your election day experience at OpEdNews.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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