Warning: This book will make you uncomfortable. Mark Crispin Miller pulls no punches. He's happy to spread the blame around – politicians, the Religious Right, corporate interests, election officials, the corporate media, voting machine vendors, fanatics for whom victory is all that matters – all (and more) come in for legitimate criticism. The biggest villains of the piece are those in the GOP who seek nothing less than a permanent power grab and have a grand plan in place to pull it off. Miller described the plan in his previous book:
And right now, as we dawdle, Bush’s party and the movement that it serves are busily advancing measures to consolidate their “victory” by making fair elections more unlikely…The point of all such stealthy actions is to rein in, control and thus in essence terminate American democracy – a plan that we believers in American democracy can foil, but only if we acknowledge that that plan is in the works, and that it made great progress in 2004. (Fooled Again, The Real Case for Electoral Reform, p. xvii)Miller has been diagnosing our electoral ills longer than almost anyone. Over the last few years, he has been continually fine-tuning his message – with Fooled Again, then its expanded and updated version, and now Loser Take All. Miller is meticulous; his analysis is clear, taking the time to connect the dots in a way that is hard to refute by weaving together the chapters of investigative journalists, election experts, and activists. Two highlights from a stellar group: David Moore’s “Because Jeb said so: What really happened on Election Night in Florida” starts the collection off with a bang. And in “Election 2004: The Urban Legend,” Michael Collins persuasively dismantles the traditional GOP explanation for all their gains. The book bristles with statistics, graphs, and charts, but is not too technical for the average, concerned citizen.
The clock is ticking. Our heel-dragging – borne of naïveté, misplaced idealism, or denial – makes us enablers in our own doom. As Jonathan Simon and Bruce O’Dell explain in “Landslide Denied,” the truth endangers the way we see ourselves, both as individuals and as a nation. Ironically, in our never-ending war on terror, we have less to fear from outsiders than we do from the enemies within. Like a flesh-eating disease that consumes its host, the anti-democratic forces are a poison quietly and stealthily diffusing throughout the body politic.
Nancy Tobi has written extensively about HAVA (the Help America Vote Act of 2002) and the profoundly negative effect it has had on the way our elections are run. The EAC, the misnamed Election Assistance Commission, was created by HAVA to be a national clearinghouse for election information. It has failed miserably at that task. In addition, its stated goal is to create an entirely opaque system without any remnant of paper to get in the way, as Tobi puts it, “Where one computer will check (verify) another. In the EAC paperless verifiable voting scheme, the voter is so incidental as to completely disappear...”
The destabilizing effect on America’s mechanism of democracy has been substantial…corporate voting company employees have become part of the election process, assisting poll workers in the use of voting equipment, administering “fixes” when the equipment malfunctions, and keeping vote data and election results in “black box” secret vaults, far away from public scrutiny. A Republican House attorney involved in the drafting of HAVA once remarked to me that “They are trying to complexify our elections to the point where citizens have no idea what is going on.” (p. 218)According to a Zogby poll taken in mid-August 2006, 92% of Americans believe that the public should have the right to observe vote counting and obtain information about the election process. We are heading in what the public recognizes as exactly the wrong direction.
Steven Rosenfeld writes about how updated Jim Crow pervades our elections. Rosenfeld points to a stratagem that allows a minority party to overcome serious demographic disadvantage and hold onto power by pre-emptively keeping voters from the polls. Voter intimidation and vote suppression have been enhanced by both HAVA and the wonders of modern technology. The state of Florida succeeded in wresting the presidency away from Al Gore in 2000 by developing a database of supposed felons that intentionally disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal, largely African-American voters. That technique has been expanded and used to great effect in every election since then. HAVA required that all voter registration databases be computerized. This election will be the first time that the system will be in place nationwide. And this is just one of the many disenfranchisement wild cards that can affect the outcome in November.
In the meantime, party loyalists, whose fierce allegiance seems to be the sole criterion for their hiring, have infiltrated every corner of our government and public life. It goes far beyond Katrina’s Michael “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie!” Brown. The firings of not-political-enough Republican US attorneys who refused to fabricate voter fraud and/or other cases against Democrats right before elections, and the gutting of careerists at the Department of Justice are just two examples. Don’t think I’m crying “wolf.” Here’s what Joseph Rich, former chief of the voting section in the Justice Department's civil rights division (1999 -2005), has to say on the subject. In “Bush’s long history of tilting Justice”, Rich writes,
[The DOJ’s voting section] has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.So, the critical question arises: cui bono (who benefits) from all this?
Looking toward the 2008 election, it appears the purges – as well as the new voter ID laws, restrictions on registration drives, and stricter rules for counting provisional ballots – could be a new and legal way to accomplish a longstanding GOP electoral tactic: thinning the ranks of likely Democratic voters.” (Rosenfeld, p. 238)The stench of fascism is in the air. The combination of intimidation, the stifling of dissent, the politicization of everything, and the clamping down on whistleblowers rather than their targets, all work together to send a message as clearly as any broken window, or graffitied wall. Give up, you can’t win, we’re too strong, we will crush you. All they want from us is our acquiescence. Just remaining silent is enough.
Here’s a taste,
In two states [Alabama and Mississippi] where US attorneys are already under fire for serious allegations of political prosecutions, seven people associated with three federal cases have experienced 10 suspicious incidents including break-ins and arson.
These crimes raise serious questions about possible use of deliberate intimidation tactics not only because of who the victims are and the already wide criticism of the prosecutions to begin with, but also because of the suspicious nature of each incident individually as well as the pattern collectively.
The picture is grim. We can’t shoot the messenger; and even if we could, it wouldn’t make the message go away. Hopefully, Miller’s book will cause people to sit up and take notice. I hate it when people are lambasted for speaking out about our country. Discussion, debate, and dissent are the lifeblood of true democracy. That is a point too often glossed over or forgotten of late.
I’m a mom, so I tend to think in terms of parenting. If you have the misfortune to have a wayward child, do you just throw up your hands and let him go, remaining silent? Or do you take the far harder path and fight for your child, using every tool at your disposal, to bring him back into the fold of acceptable behavior? Love can’t stop as soon as your child outgrows the adorable stage. It must stay constant and unconditional, even while he battles his personal demons. Love of country is much the same, only the object of our caring and despair is our very nation, and the direction that it is heading. Much of our national mess stems from the corruption of the political process and our beloved elections. If we can’t – or don’t – point out the pitfalls and problems, how can we ever begin to bring about change?
Miller and company are nothing less than a group of democracy-loving whistleblowers, frantically trying to get your attention. They’ve taken the time and care to show you exactly how our country has gone off track. Their activism is, in fact, the highest form of patriotism. Raising public awareness is the first step towards change. And recognizing that we need to restore and assure fair, secure, and transparent elections is the first step towards making us proud of our country again.
10-Minute Take Away
If you have only 10 minutes to spare, read Miller’s final chapter, “A 12-step program to save U.S. democracy.” Only three pages long, it’s pretty spare but contains all the essentials: what we must do in order to take back our elections and our country. One thing is absolutely clear – we can’t correct the problem if we continue to ignore it. Will you read Miller’s excellent and timely book, take the information, and run with it? Our future depends on it.
A special thanks to Sally Castleman and Ariella Brunwasser for helpful editing.