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Activists Discuss Prospects for Honest Elections
The Second-Friday "Amigos Del Mundo" forum began with a brief outline of problems and expectations of continuing antidemocratic behaviors by America's right-wing in the November elections. As the discussion began, it was clear that most of us expect growing dishonesty in November. The first few speakers indicated that there is nothing we can do except study the situation and be prepared for reactions after November 2.
Studying the problems was one tactic we all seemed to agree on. As usually happens, the participants began to take heart as we looked and more and more ways that democratic Americans can fight back. We noted a rally in Austin set for August 13 in which the TrueMajority people will present petitions demanding a "paper trail" from all voting machines. We also noted that organizations in North Texas are working on training people to cut down on the crookedness at the polls.
Our computer expert pointed out that the objectionable machines that are expected to be used by 1/3 of the electorate could be checked if the manufacturers could be forced by law to open their code. Allowing them to have proprietary code in the voting machines gives them unfair and undemocratic leverage over the elections. The main manufacturer, Diebold, is already known as a big contributor to Bush campaigns, according to EXTRA magazine.
We should encourage people to vote and to pile up big margins for pro-worker candidates. Close votes will be challenged, and the judicial system in America vies with the administrative for least trustworthy.
We went over some of the ways that voting has been conducted in Texas in the past. A trade unionist said that we need to heighten awareness of this problem. "I think more people are going to be looking at this election than any we've seen!"
At that point, we turned away from the details of the problem and looked at it from our theoretical viewpoint. Why are we participating in elections? Not everybody does, and some people have reasonable-sounding excuses for not voting. Primarily, they point out that American democracy is far from perfect.
Our careful reading of American history shows that democracy is a living and growing thing. While we have not achieved a pure form of democracy that includes economic justice, the American people have come a long way from the days of the "Founding Fathers" who provided the vote only for propertied white men and gave extra voting power to slaveholders. We have seen suffrage for women, the end of white primaries, the end of poll taxes, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and other gains in recent American history. Americans have had to fight for democracy and they will fight for it again.
We, the activists at the forum, dedicate ourselves to informing, inspiring, and organizing the most progressive section of the American population -- its working class and allies of the working class. Elections are a tremendous arena in which to carry out these goals. While it is true that the "Republicrats" in both parties are capitalist, and that most candidates are capitalists, it is also true that some election results are better for the working class and its allies than others. The people of America know that, whether the stentorian orators of the phoney left know it or not.
It is true that we want a better world, but it is also true that we know that the better world is going to have to come out of this one. We have to work in elections as in other political arenas to bring that better world about.
Participants said that we need to clarify issues in these elections, because the candidates do not necessarily do it. Several people wanted to make sure that voters understand the right-wing nature of this government under Bush.Considerable concern was expressed about the possibility that the Bush government will maneuver to stay in power by fair means or foul. The next day, we learned that the Bush Administration is floating an idea to postpone the election "in the event of a terrorist attack."
Evidence that Americans have a growing concern about democracy was substantiated by a report that the Patriot Act was almost changed in the House on July 9. The Republicans, who were losing the vote, held the process open while they "twisted arms" (probably bribed) a few dissident Republicans into changing their vote. The "official" vote ended up being 210-210, so the legislation was not passed. Thus, people are questioning the anti-democratic actions of the administration and they are pressuring their elected government representatives.
We have a problem with our next meeting time. We postponed it until August 20, the third Friday. We have a number of people signed up to go to the Regional School in early August, but we are way short of the money needed for air fair.
Will the November Elections
On July 3, back on page 9 of the Dallas daily, Todd J Gillman wrote that Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and 5 other Congresspersons had issued a letter to United Nations head Kofi Annan. The letter asks for UN oversight of the November elections in the United States! It says, "We are deeply concerned that the right of U.S. citizens to vote in free and fair elections is again in jeopardy." The rest of the article dismisses the whole idea and, at the end, tries to make a joke of it.
Yahoonews had a similar article from AFB, but said that Johnson was from Florida rather than from Dallas, and said there were 9 signers on the letter. In neither article are the other signers identified, and I can't find the letter. AFB quoted EBJ:
"As lawmakers, we must assure the people of America that our nation will not experience the nightmare of the 2000 presidential election." "This is the first step in making sure that history does not repeat itself."
There are plenty of reasons for concern about a big "fudge factor" by the right-wingers in November. Many Americans, including many congresspersons, believe that the 2000 elections were crooked. The Congressional Black Caucus walked out rather than certify that election after the Supreme Court ruled that Bush was president. Remember the purging of the rolls in Florida? Remember the "butterfly ballots?" Remember that the recount was ultimately stopped? People who saw the film, "Fahrenheit 9/11" were bitterly reminded that Al Gore presided over the Senate when they certified the election. Thus, the two-party system survived a great test, but that doesn't mean that Americans were convinced that the elections were honest.
Fast-forward a year or two and you see Congress begin to pass numerous anti-democratic bills, first and foremost being the so-called Patriot Act. You see redistricting fights in several states, including Texas, that were called unfair by many. This year, we learn that Florida, where Bush's brother is governor, is again purging its rolls of voters in a manner not so different from before.
Texans suffered through one special event that merits individual consideration: students at Prairie View College were told outright that they could not vote in their county! 3,000 of them marched miles in the rain to stand up for their rights, and they eventually prevailed when the District Attorney "clarified" his earlier "error."
And another consideration may be the most important of all in evaluating the honesty of the coming elections. The Dallas daily published an editorial on July 5 when they applauded the League of Women Voters' call for a "paper trail" in the November elections. According to the media-watch magazine FAIR, 150,000 new "paper free" machines will be used to record votes in November. Whether they are honest and accurate is disputed, but everyone concedes that there is absolutely no way to check them after they finish!
What do We do About It?
First and foremost, people should know that there is a good chance of chicanery in the November elections. To pretend that everything will be fair is to disarm the electorate. Next, we need to pile on the work for big margins for worker-friendly candidates. We need to avoid close votes. Lastly, we need to build our electoral apparatus around lasting organizations such as unions and civil rights groups so that we will still be able to affect politics after the election rulings are made.
The losers in close races will challenge the 2004 elections. A growing crisis of confidence in the government is unavoidable. Working people need workers' organizations during elections and afterward. The Communist Party USA is the best of the bunch, but there are other strong and democratic organizations, though none so farsighted.
Join something and work hard in the 2004 elections, please!