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Monday, September 06, 2004

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Whose vote will count in this election? According to Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, close to 2,000,000 ballots were tossed out in the last election. According to CNN, those numbers are low. A CNN report estimates a couple million votes were lost due to faulty equipment--and another couple million or so were lost due to registration mixups. Lost votes did not impact all communities equally.

Listen in on the following exchange with NPR reporter Tavis Smiley:

Mr. GREG PALAST ("The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"): People don't realize that in America 1.9 million, almost two million, votes were never counted. You went and voted and they just chucked them out for technical reasons. I was noticing that there was a kind of racial stench to the ballots rotting in the Dumpsters, and the US Civil Rights Commission looking at some of my information, Harvard Law, determined that about half of the ballots not counted in America, one million ballots, are cast by black folk.

I first noticed this in Florida when I was investigating for BBC. I know--you know, a hundred and eighty thousand votes were never counted during the presidential election. That was determined by 537--a hundred and eighty thousand votes just chucked away. And I looked, and sure enough in the blackest county in Florida where most of the votes were lost, they were paper ballots, you made a mistake on a ballot--and by the way, a mistake meant writing in Al Gore's name.

SMILEY: Right.

Mr. PALAST: If you made a mistake on a ballot, your ballot was thrown out, couldn't be read by the machines. In the white counties, they had machine readers right in the ballot booths, and if you made a mistake, you got your ballot back and you got a new ballot. It was like a plantation system. So in other words, black ballot out; white ballot, make a mistake, you get another one. And so in Florida, I brought it to the Civil Rights Commission. They said, yes, of the 180,000 votes cast, their demographers say 54 percent were cast by black folk.

SMILEY: After all these years, tell me how it is that race--I mean, for that matter, this many years after the Voting Rights Act first went into effect, how is it that race can still play such a prominent role in electoral politics?

Mr. PALAST: Well, because it's not that the Bush family and Jeb Bush doesn't like black people. They just don't really like the color of their vote. In other words, if you knock out a black voter, you know what party is going to lose on that end.


At 10:17 PM, Blogger Winston said...

Plese quit your whining.Your case is simply unfounded.Get over it!

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Outrage said...

Some prefer a "see no evil, hear no evil" approach. Others wish to open their eyes to new ideas. For those in the latter category, I would like to recommend an excellent website, fairvote.org, home to the Center for Voting and Democracy. The Center is dedicated to finding ways to improve our democracy. One of its more attractive ideas is runoff voting, which would enable third-party candidates to run without jeopardizing the results of the general election. Instant runoff is common throughout the world (and present in some U.S. municipal elections), and I believe we should it to our federal elections...

As for the federal election results in 2000, the numbers speak for themselves. Most people in the 18-26 age range didn't make it to the polls. Many who did go to the polls, from all age groups, had their votes excluded, some on questionable grounds. The goal of any democracy should be 100 percent participation. When only a portion of the people come out to vote, and two million from that portion have their vote dismissed, you have a problem. Elections should not be ruled by a narrow base of special interests and their bribed advocates in Washington, and they should not be decided by bureaucrats or election administrators. People should have an opportunity to make their voice heard--and this voice should be what drives the future of our beautiful country.

I propose the following:
1) Ease voter registration rules--voter registration should be offered at all DMV offices. Registration should also be permitted right up until election day. The government should not be in the role of deciding who should and should not receive a vote. Any citizen should be given the utmost opportunity to be heard through the most crucial element of democracy.
2) Our electoral system should be revised to allow more input from third parties (again, see the Center for Voting and Democracy for ideas on this). People should also have the opportunity to vote for "none of the above." Democrats and Republicans should not be allowed to monopolize the political process. The two major parties each have their allied special interests, their sacred cows, their big donors. Once again, almost all races for the U.S. Houses of Representatives will be uncontested. Most members of Congress run in a district that is safely Democratic or safely Republican. This lack of competition is unhealthy for the political process.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Winston said...

Phil Brennan,
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2001
After months of huffing and puffing and spending a million bucks or so, a consortium of America's leading liberal news-slanting organizations have been forced to admit that George W. Bush really is the legitimate president of the United States. President Bush, it turns out, did indeed win the 2000 election in Florida.
That's what they were forced to admit after National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago examined all ballots that were initially rejected by voting machines. This included those that contained no discernible vote for president, known as "undervotes," and those that showed votes for more than one candidate, known as the "overvotes."

The (illegal) overvotes that could have provided the winning margin for Al Gore, the Post informs us, were on ballots where voters allegedly sought to be "extra clear" by filling in the oval next to a candidate and then also filling in the oval for "write-in" by writing the same candidate's name again. Automatically this legally nullified their votes.

NORC was hired by a consortium that included the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and four Florida newspapers: the Orlando Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and the St. Petersburg Times. Of all these, only the Journal is known as a conservative voice.

One imagines that the hoped-for result would show Gore the real winner in Florida and, therefore, the victor in the presidential election, and that he had been shamefully deprived of his victory by the Bush forces, including Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the U.S. Supreme Court.

One further imagines the consternation around the editorial offices of the consortium's members when the study revealed gasp that "George W. Bush would have won even if the United States Supreme Court had allowed the statewide manual recount of the votes that the Florida Supreme Court had ordered to go forward," as the New York Times conceded Monday.

According to the study:

If Florida's 67 counties had gone ahead with the hand recount of disputed ballots the Florida Supreme Court ordered Dec. 8, using the standards that election officials said they would have used, Bush would have won by 493 votes. Such a recount began the next day, but was stopped that afternoon when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a recount using a variety of standards threatened "irreparable harm" to Bush.

Bush would have won even if the U.S. Supreme Court had not stepped in.

There was no reason to count the clearly invalid votes of elderly Democrats in Palm Beach County who claimed after the election that, despite having been given sample ballots before the election, they were so confused by the Democrat-designed "butterfly ballot" that they might have voted for more than one candidate.

Where Gore had the greatest opportunity to pick up votes was not in those undervote ballots his forces focused on, but in the approximately 114,000 (illegal) overvote ballots, particularly 25,000 overvote ballots read by optical scanning machines. Overvote ballots were those having votes for more than one presidential candidate a no-no in any state for any election.
Reporting such results must have been painful around the Washington Post. It had to lead its story about the NORC study by proclaiming, "In all likelihood, George W. Bush still would have won Florida and the presidency last year if either of two limited recounts one requested by Al Gore, the other ordered by the Florida Supreme Court had been completed, according to a study commissioned by The Washington Post and other news organizations."
But wait that's not the whole story, the Post informed its readers. "An examination of uncounted ballots throughout Florida found enough where voter intent was clear to give Gore the narrowest of margins," the Post added.

It did not tell us what methods were employed to allow the bean counters to determine "voter intent" of those unable to follow simple instructions.

According to the Times, an examination of a broader group of rejected ballots than those covered in the court decisions, 175,010 in all, suggested that "Mr. Gore might have won if the courts had ordered a full statewide recount of all the rejected ballots."

But, the Times added, to get to that result "assumes that county canvassing boards would have reached the same conclusions about the disputed ballots that the consortium's independent observers did. The findings indicate that Mr. Gore might have eked out a victory if he had pursued in court a course like the one he publicly advocated when he called on the state to 'count all the votes.'"

Again, eking out that elusive victory would have required that the votes be counted in the rather peculiar way the Gore forces demanded they be counted.

The Times and the Post admitted that the results show that even if Gore had been able to force recounts of undervotes in four Democrat-ruled counties Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia he still would have lost, although by 225 votes rather than 537.

For Gore to have won by the narrowest of margins, invalid votes would have to have been counted.

The bottom line, here, is conclusive: Bush won. Gore lost. Get over it.

As Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer put it: "The voters settled this election last fall, and the nation moved on a long time ago. The White House isn't focused on this; the voters aren't focused on it." The results, Fleischer added, were "superfluous."

Finally, one has to wonder if this patriotic consortium which, in the words of the Post, wanted "to provide a historical record for one of the most remarkable presidential elections in U.S. history" would have spent a million bucks and about 10 months combing over the election results if it had been Gore who had won by 537 votes and it was the Bush forces who were complaining the presidency had been stolen from them..

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Winston said...

I propose the following:
1) Tighten voter registration rules--voter registration should not be offered at any DMV offices. Registration should be halted 6 weeks prior to any election to see if the applicant is in fact elgible to vote.That person should be a citizen of the United States.They must need to read and write in English because that will be the only language they can vote in.It is ridiculous this Tower of Babel system we presently have. The government should be in the role of deciding who should and should not receive a vote. Any citizen who has never been employed or owned property should not vote.Anyone who has served in our Armed Forces should have an automatic right to vote.Other's should be required to take a simple literacy test to see if they have the intelligence to know what they are voting for.If they cannot operate the voting machine properly they should stay home.Chad may be a good name for a kid but an election should not hang on it.

At 2:38 AM, Blogger Outrage said...

If only verbosity were equated with wisdom...

I am not interested in redoing the 2000 election. It is a bit late for that, don't you think? For anyone who is interested in studying the Supreme Court decision, there is plenty to read at the Supreme Court website.

What I am interested in is ensuring that all adult citizens 18 years of age or older are granted the right to vote as guaranteed by the Constitution. As a factual matter, the numbers of disallowed ballots in the 2000 election (not to mention people who were turned away from the polls simply because they shared a last name with a convict) strongly suggests that this right was not adequately enforced four years ago. On this issue, Winston and I will have to agree to disagree.

We will also have to agree to disagree on whether voting should be universal or whether it should be reserved for those the government "deems" worthy of voting. My faithful correspondent apparently feels that the constitutional principles of "all men are created equal," "equal protection under law," etc. are less sacred than installing a series of tests as to who does and does not deserve a vote, with the presumed result being that only voters who agree with Winston's principles have the "intelligence" to participate at the ballot box.

Let us bring a little social contract theory into this discussion. When people enter society, they give up certain freedoms in exchange for certain rights. The most important right is the right to participate in the democratic process, for without this right all other rights are virtually meaningless.

If our voting rules were as exclusionary as Winston advocates(by property does he mean landed property? or does one only have to have six figures in their bank account?), we would have a very large native population in the U.S. effectively excluded from the social contract. From a philosophical standpoint, there would be little reason why these devalued people should then have to pay taxes or obey U.S. law.

There was a time in history when the U.S. had poll taxes and literacy tests and denied suffrage to women, blacks, Native Americans, Asians, and people without property. This legacy is one that fills any reasonable person with shame.

Currently, the U.S. rate of electoral participation is well behind many of the world's democracies. This, too, should fill the observer with shame. The question is not how can we deny the vote to as many people as possible. The question is how can we fulfill the dream of universal participation.

At 9:55 PM, Blogger Winston said...

--The political doctrine of my childhood was summed up in two statements: Anyone can become president and every American should vote. I don't think I've believed the first statement since my voice changed but I've more recently come to doubt the second just as much. Maybe the reasons we vote have become less idealistic.I can remember my Dad paying a poll tax to vote.It was two dollars at the time.That was quite a bit of money in those days.Nonetheless he paid it without any regret.He was fiercely independent,informed, and danced to no other's tune.

A recent news story shows the cynicism of modern political campaigns. The story was comparing the sources of campaign funding for presidential candidates Bush and Kerry. No surprises really; some favor one man, some the other and a few send significant amounts to both campaigns. Listening to some of the contributors talk, I was saddened to hear a strictly bottom-line mathematical reasoning. If one candidate is likely to be beneficial to a person's personal business or broad field of endeavor, that candidate is the only candidate he will consider.

A law professor was quoted as speculating that some trial lawyers will pawn their Lear jets to see that John Kerry is elected so that the limits on business liability and lawyer's fees supported by the Bush administration might be overturned. Is it really that simple Is it only about money in my pocket?

With this and so many other examples in mind, I'd like to suggest that not all Americans should vote. Governing our nation is a high privilege. Those who make critical decisions for America (its voters, I mean) should come up to some minimal standards before leaving the house on Election Day.

For example:
-- Voters should know the English language and only vote in that language.
--Voters should be literate and be required to show it.
--Voters and or their spouses should own property or be employed or have been employed when they vote.
-- Voters should be able to see beyond self-interest.

Let's be honest. We have low unemployment, low inflation and a standard of living beyond the imaginations of most people. This election is not about whether we will starve. There are some important things at stake, but seeing them requires that we care about the nation rather than just our own bottom line. Voters who can be controlled with promises of personal prosperity are unfit to govern their nation.

-- Voters should be able to tell the difference between worldviews.

Regardless of where you come down on the issues, this presidential election presents the most distinct choice we've faced since 1980 at least. Those who say It doesn't matter since they're all the same or It's all just politics, are being lazy. The candidates don't claim to see things the same way and they are objectively coming from different perspectives.

It's hard to understand the high regard our nation gives to undecided voters. Are they undecided about their own convictions or are they uninformed regarding the convictions of the candidates? Columnist Jonah Goldberg tells of a young woman who listened to the 2000 Gore/Bush debates as an undecided voter. Afterward, she expressed disappointment that Mr. Gore was not as liberal as she'd hoped, so she was going to vote for George Bush. I doubt she's the only scary voter out there. Those who don't make up their minds until they enter the voting booth should be better informed.

-- Voters should not spend their franchise on empty gestures.

Third-party candidacies sound more noble than they are. No one truly expects Ralph Nader or any other third-party candidate to become president though these candidates may better represent their constituents on a few issues. That doesn't make them qualified to lead and it doesn't make this gesture a worthy investment of support.
-- Voters should be free of regionalism and other types of group-think.

A clever old song refers to Grandpa, who voted for Eisenhower cause Lincoln won the war. I am the son of a county that voted Republican for a hundred years because of that same war in a state that voted Democrat for the same period and reason. You might argue that block voting empowers a minority but it also makes individual convictions useless. If such solidarity was ever a good idea, it is now a stupid reason for voting the way we do. Vocations, unions, ethnic groups and age groups that vote in lockstep are not behaving as free people. Citizens whose consciences are ruled by others should not govern a free nation.Should they vote?

-- Voters should value their vote, but not sell it.

Some misunderstand our decision-making process by saying, It doesn't matter. Others misconstrue the value of their vote by inviting politicians to bid for it. If you want my vote, you'll need to.... This thinking may explain the ascendance of the undecided voter. They are hoping candidates will respond to their whims. A man should already know and show what he is by the time he becomes a national candidate. Our job is to discern that reality and compare it with truth and right. Candidates who come up with new convictions based on polls of undecided swing voters are the untrustworthy pandering to the uninformed.

I am less troubled by someone who thoroughly disagrees with every conviction I have and votes that way than I am by someone who agrees with me and votes contrary to the convictions we share. A stand-up disagreement is better than an irrational, impetuous misuse of our citizenship...If only verbosity were equated with wisdom.

At 11:41 PM, Blogger Outrage said...

I appreciate your willingness to engage in healthy debate. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with your philosophy. I take great exception to your contention that poor people are the only people who vote out of self-interest. Do you mean to tell me readers of the Wall Street Journal don't vote Republican because they want to line their own pockets? What about all the tax breaks? The vast amounts of pork shoved into vast omnibus bills in the middle of the night? A pretty strong argument can be made that almost all voters take their personal prosperity into account when choosing how to vote. If these voters were eliminated, there would be no one left. This was not the intention of the framers when they designed the constitution. The framers were wise people and they understood that there's a certain amount of special interest involved in all political decisions. The key, they realized, is to balance these special interests. Our government has a balance of power, between the directly elected president, the representative Congress, and the appointed judges on the Supreme Court. But the most important way of balancing competing interests is through elections. I recommend taking another look at the Federalist Papers. The idea behind the Constitution is not that there would be no special interests. Rather, the idea behind American democracy is to blend so many different special interest that no single interest is able to seize predominance. A balance must be found between them.

Voting is not a privilege. As outline by the Constitution, it is a right, and there is an important distinction. Winston, your criticism of interest groups only seems to extend to those interest groups you disagree with. I don't know what your personal views are, but I guarantee that your views too correspond with one interest group or another. That doesn't make them bad.

In my mind, every time someone steps into the ballot box, it is as an individual. No one else has to know how you vote. It is a private choice, the ultimate independent choice. Voters are influenced, yes, but ultimately they have the freedom to make their own choice. Do they choose wisely? Not always. But the idea behind democracy is that, on balance, having more people decide is better than having less. Ancient governments were ruled by kings or noblemen. In modern times, most of the world has realized the fallacy behind the notion that some are fit to rule and some aren't.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Winston said...

I think that it would be a safe bet to say that somewhere around 35 to 40% of the voters who manage to find their way to the polling place on November 2nd are going to be voting with one thought in mind: Which one of the people on this ballot will take the most money away from people I don't particularly like and then either give that money to or spend that money on me. If you want to talk about suppressing the vote these are the people I would like to see locked in their homes on Election Day.

I am now and have been for years a firm advocate of developing a system to limit the people who can vote in this country. We need to find a way to restrict the number of people who can vote. If we don't weed out the chaff soon it may well be too late.

Don't give me that democracy nonsense. In spite of what you hear from your government school teacher, your leftist college professor, or that smiling talking head on television, we are not a democracy. Never were. Weren't supposed to be. You won't find the word democracy in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States or in any constitution of any of the 50 States. There's a reason for that. Our founding fathers hated the idea of democracy. They knew that a government of majority rule would dissolve into a tyranny of plunder and chaos.

In anticipation of yet another knee-jerk response to my proposal that we limit voting, let me remind you that there is absolutely no constitutional guarantee of your right to vote in any federal election. Do some reading. It isn't there. A latte to the person who can find anything in our Constitution that sounds remotely like each citizen shall have the right to vote in a federal election. Happy hunting.

Suggestions? OK, here you go. Chose the one you like the best and let's start a movement.

1. Welfare recipients. Those who depend on government forced income redistribution should stay at home on election day and enjoy the fruits of plunder. With all the opportunity that America offers, if you haven't managed to obtain some level of self-sufficiency by the time you're a young adult then you should leave important decisions, like who's going to lead this country, to more qualified citizens.

2. Voters without a clue. Less than one-fourth of Americans can name the two Senators from their home state. The majority of Americans can't tell you who the Secretary of State or the Vice President is. As voters enter a polling place they should be given a simple short quiz. Name your congressman, your two Senators and the Vice President. Those who successfully answer ALL the questions get sent to a voting machine that actually works. Those who can't pass this simple citizenship test get shuttled off to a voting machine with no innards. They can punch buttons to their heart's content, but all they're getting is some rather lame exercise. They voted, they're happy. We know their votes don't count. We're ecstatic!

I have more ideas, but not enough space. For those of you who do believe strongly that everyone should be able to vote, I have an alternate proposal. President Calvin Coolidge once said that The business of America is business. Let's put that concept to work at the voting booth. Let's treat America like a business and make every American a shareholder. Shareholders get to vote their shares at the shareholder's meeting every two years.

Did I say shares? Plural Yup. Just as with any business corporation, not everyone has the same number of shares. Just how do you acquire shares in America, Inc.? Well, you have one share issued to you just by virtue of your being a citizen. You buy additional shares by paying income taxes.

Sounds intriguing, doesn"t it?

We can work on the numbers when we get closer to implementing the plan, but for now let's just say that you get one additional share in America, Inc. for each $25,000 in income taxes you pay during the tax year preceding the election. If you paid $24,999.00 or less in income taxes in 2003, you get one vote in the 2004. Taxpayers forking over between $25,000 and $49,999 get two votes, and so on. A taxpayer who pays $200,000 in income taxes will be casting eight votes on election day. To keep Hillary from controlling an election the next time she gets a huge bonus to write a book we'll go ahead and make eight the maximum number of votes any individual can cast.

Don't you just love it? The people who actually fuel our economy with their hard work and attention to decisions will get a greater voice in the direction our country takes! What a plan!

At 10:08 PM, Blogger Outrage said...

As the recent woes at Enron show, a corporate model of governance is not always a good idea. I think what the founding fathers hated most was tyranny and lack of acounntability; the means they devised of thwarting these ills were elections and a division of power. When you say the founding fathers didn't believe in democracy, you are playing a game of semantics. The founders didn't want a direct democracy and there is some truth in your contention they found this idea to be unruly. But they certainly wanted a representative democracy.

Your ideas on whether or not there is a right to vote in this country would surprise the Supreme Court, chief arbiters of the supreme law of the land as devised by the Constitution. At a minimum, there are a large number of criteria that cannot be used to exclude people from voting: these include race, sex, and a poll tax.

Law aside, on a philosophical level the legitimacy for our government collapses without full election rights. In your rush to further elaborate your plan, you neglected to respond to many of the points I raised earlier. Please refer to them again.

It is good that you find yourself to be so free of a vested interest in the U.S. government. I can only presume that you don't drive government roads, didn't attend a U.S. college, aren't protected by police services or the armed forces, that you don't pay taxes, and that you will not receive Social Security or Medicare. Otherwise, you are not objective by your criteria, making you unqualified to vote. You seem to have neglected my point earlier that there are many ways people have an economic interest in the government. Again, please refer to my previous entries.

You seem quick to place judgment on the voting decisions of others but I would have to ask you this: what makes you think you are such a highly-qualified voter? Would you like your right to vote denied? Or do you, like George Bush, believe dicatorship would be a good idea as long as you were the dictator?

Finally, to address your idea of "shares" in the U.S. government. Personally, I find this idea detestable. People are not worth more because they have more money. And I happen to know a large number of people working very hard for minimum wage. I would argue that it is the hands of labor that built this country. As things stand, corporations and monied interests already wield a vastly disproportionate influence on our government. If anything, our government needs an adjustment in favor of hearing more voices from the working class.

The political leader who ignores the needs of the many in favor of the profit for the few does so at their own peril.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Winston said...

I've enjoyed this discourse with you.Your liberalism and love of John Kerry come shining through.Your blather sounds much like his.You are good with words just like him.His whole life has been filled with words-against America.His love of the UN and his detest of our military are well known and documented...Both of you have much in common...come November 2,2004,you will have one more thing in common,defined by a little noun,LOSERS!


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