Is anyone surprised that accusations of voter disenfranchisement and irregularities abound after the most passionately contested presidential campaign in memory? Is anybody stunned that the mainstream media appear largely unconcerned?
To many people's thinking, too few citizens were discouraged from voting to matter. Those people would suggest that not nearly enough votes for John Kerry were missed or siphoned away to overturn President Bush's win. To which I'd respond:
Excuse me -- I thought this was America.
Informed that I was writing about voter disenfranchisement, a Democratic friend admitted, "I'm trying not to care about that." I understand. Less than two weeks after a bruising election in a nation in which it's unfashionable to overtly care about anything, it's annoying of me even to notice.
But citizens who insist, election after election, that each vote is sacred and then shrug at hundreds of credible reports that honest-to-God votes were suppressed and discouraged aren't just being hypocritical.
They're telling the millions who never vote because "it doesn't matter anyway" that they're the smart ones.
Come on. If Republicans had lost the election, this column would be unnecessary because Karl Rove and company would be contesting every vote. I keep hearing from those who wonder whether Democrats are "too nice," and from others who wonder whether efforts by the mainstream media to be "fair and balanced" sometimes render them "neutered and less effective."
Perhaps. But the much-publicized voting-machine error that gave Bush 4,258 votes in an Ohio precinct where only 638 people cast ballots preceded a flood of disturbing reports, ranging from the Florida voting machine that counted backward to the North Carolina computer that eliminated votes. In Ohio's Warren County, election officials citing "homeland security" concerns locked the doors to the county building where votes were being counted, refusing to allow members of the media and bipartisan observers to watch.
Bush won the county overwhelmingly.
Much of the media dismisses anxiety over such irregularities as grousing by poor-loser Democrats, rabid conspiracy theorists and pouters frustrated by Kerry's lightning-quick concession. Some of it surely is.
But more people's concerns are elementary-school basic -- which isn't coincidental since that's where many of us learned about democracy. We feel that Americans mustn't concede the noble intentions upon which our nation was founded to the cynical or the indifferent. We believe in our nation's sacred assurance that every citizen's voice be heard through his or her vote.
The point isn't just which candidate won or lost. It's that we all lose when we ignore that thousands of Americans might have been discouraged or prevented from voting, or not had their votes count.
If it were us, we'd be screaming bloody murder.
Yesterday, Lafayette Square was the scene of a lively rally at which dozens of upbeat, mostly older-than-25 protesters organized by ReDefeatBush.com heard democracy-praising singers, rappers and speakers. Protester Susan Ribe, 33, a Wheaton tax researcher, said that though she's "open-minded" to the possibility that election results might be correct, she believes that reports of irregularities suggest "there's the need for a serious investigation."
Election Protection, the nonpartisan coalition of civil rights organizations that sent 25,000 poll monitors across the nation to ensure that registered voters could cast their ballots, received hundreds of reports of Election Day abuses.
Some were from voters who said they repeatedly pressed the "Kerry" button on their electronic voting screens, only to have "Bush" keep lighting up. Others said that though they pushed "Kerry," they were asked to confirm their "Bush" vote. There were calls about a Broward County, Fla., roadblock that denied voters access to precincts in predominantly black districts, and reports from hundreds who said they'd registered weeks before Florida's October deadline yet weren't on the rolls.
Why aren't more Americans exercised about this issue? Maybe the problem is who's being disenfranchised -- usually poor and minority voters. In a recent poll of black and white adults by Harvard University professor Michael Dawson, 37 percent of white respondents said that widely publicized reports of attempts to prevent blacks from voting in the 2000 election were a Democratic "fabrication." More disturbingly, nearly one-quarter of whites surveyed said that if such attempts were made, they either were "not a problem" (9 percent) or "not so big a problem" (13 percent).
Electronic, paper-trail-free voting is a danger to democracy that the United States can, and I believe will, address. But not giving a damn about fellow citizens' votes?
Election Protection volunteer Bernestine Singley, a Texas-based writer-lawyer I know, was torn between elation and outrage on Nov. 2 as she monitored polls in three Florida precincts. Inspiring to Singley were hundreds of volunteers, most of them white, who'd traveled hundreds of miles to ensure the inclusion of minority voters. She felt stirred by scores of young, black voters whose attitude, she says, was, "I don't care how long I have to stand in line before I do what I came here to do."
Singley's outrage was sparked by clearly hostile white poll workers, and the police officer who stood -- illegally -- by a polling place door, hand on his revolver.
Did I mention the guy who shoved her?
After watching Singley assist voters for hours, a scowling, white-haired 70-something poll worker patronizingly suggested that she was not a poll monitor. When she replied that he knew exactly what she was doing, he rammed his chest into hers, shoving her backward.
Pushing right back, Singley told the man, "You better get off me." He did. Minutes later, Singley says the man told another poll worker within her hearing: "I don't know why she thinks I know who she is. They all look alike to me."
Excuse me -- is this 2004 or 1954?
Ironically, if all Americans did look alike -- if "black" and "white" and "poor" and "well-to-do" didn't exist -- outrages such as those would happen much less often.
When they did, many more Americans would fight to ensure they never happened again.