Real Election Reform Supports Real Elections
The only election reform voting rights advocates should lobby for is that which will protect real elections by ensuring what Bev Harris of BlackBoxVoting calls "the essential public processes":
- Who can vote (the public "voters list")
- Who did vote (the public polling place roster)
- Whether the votes cast were the same ones that were counted (public chain of custody)
- Whether the counting was accurate (public counting)
To this end, election reform efforts must have a laser-sharp focus. The legislation itself must be clearly written and very simple, just like the U.S. Constitution!
The Right Kind of Election Reform
By Nancy Tobi
What Do We Need from Election Reform?
In May 2006 when I was invited to speak at the "Cleaning up our Statehouses" Conference sponsored by the Progressive State Network, I spoke about the role that community and local involvement play in building our political structures. I began by telling about Democracy for New Hampshire, a statewide grassroots organization that I helped to found in the early days of 2004.
The sentiments I held then still hold true for me now and I include some of the words I spoke at that conference in this piece.
Organizations like Election Defense Alliance and Democracy for New Hampshire are true grassroots organizations. We are 100% volunteer-powered sustained by small donor funding. As a people-powered organization, we are intensely and directly connected to community needs and values.
In New Hampshire, we know a lot about the importance of community and community-based political engagement. We have the largest citizen legislature in the nation, our elected representatives are eminently accessible, in many of our towns we debate community and political decisions in open town meetings, and in 45% of our polling places we count our ballots by hand with community members and volunteers pitching in to keep the count honest.
Looking at electoral reform, we face three challenges directly related to this question of community-based politics:
1. How do we prevent a lot of hard work at the state and local levels from being swept away by federal mandates?
2. How do we bring more on-the-ground stakeholders into the process to reach solutions that really work?
3. What is the intersection between clean and honest elections and citizen participation in the process?
America finds itself today in an electoral crisis. Faith and trust in our voting systems have eroded to the point where the question of campaign funding almost becomes irrelevant. Indisputable testing and evidence have proven that the privatized computer-based systems controlling more than 90-95% of the nation's electoral outcomes are easily hack-able. Given this situation, it may not even matter how much money one does or doesn't spend on a campaign, if the outcome can be systematically altered.
This state of affairs, combined with the role played by money in our political system, is possibly the greatest threat ever posed to our democratic processes and therefore to the existence of the AmericanRepublic itself.
How did we reach this point, and what does it have to do with this notion of community?
Over the past thirty five years a series of national election reform legislation has progressively shifted power from community, we-the-people-based politics, to more centralized and questionable influences.
"I genuinely believe it is the national interest, in the interest of everybody in Great Britain, first to use this opportunity to usher in a new politics after the discredited politics of the past." Speaking to rally for proportional representation: Nick Clegg, May 8
Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have long argued that they have the answer to representing the true will of the public in elections - proportional voting. The "winner-take-all" voting system which awards just one representative per district was to be replaced by one that elected one member per district in a more equitable fashion and additional members of parliament on a regional basis in proportion to votes cast. The Liberal Democrats and Clegg argue that this approach voting lets each major faction gain some representation.
Ordinary politician that he is, Clegg abandoned the proportional approach for a Tory offer which is not proportional at all. The Liberal Democrats are floating the idea that this is some sort of breakthrough despite the fact that the Tory version of alternative voting produces results similar to those the Liberal Democrats seek to remedy.
Clegg's cave-in on proportional voting is not just about some future reform. Through his alliance with Conservatives, he embraced a governing partner that is at odds with his purported views and those of his party. He has chosen to ignore the majority will of the voters.
The Liberal Democrats are supposedly a clean energy party. They advocated an elimination of income tax for the lowest paid workers. Educational equality and equal rights for minorities were key themes of their campaign. Protecting "front line" government services for citizens was stressed. Clegg even promised to break up the "big banks." These positions are much more consistent with the Labour Party than they are with Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives. Yet Clegg joined the Conservatives to form a governing coalition.
The following chart shows the proportional choice of the voters. Combining the Liberal Democrats and Labour, an ideologically contiguous alliance, 52% of voters prefer moderate to liberal policies while just 36% chose the Conservative approach.
What excuse does Clegg have for this alliance?
The excuse that all politicians have for their frequent betrayal of rank and file party members and voters: Clegg chose the most convenient path to power, in this case David Cameron's Conservatives.
So now we have someone who had a "different way of doing things," who offered "change for real, change for good," then turns into nothing more than a capitulating lackey when offered a seat at the main table. What will happen to "front line" social services in Great Britain as the Conservative program advances? How well will the majority of people fare in a coalition lead by the servants of the financial elite? If Clegg is willing to roll over on the cherished position of election reform, what else will he sacrifice?
Clegg is just another politician who holds forth promises for the general well being of the majority while effortlessly conspiring in the background to serve the interests of power and the great concentrations of capital.
This should have been abundantly clear when he made what some said was a grandiose proposal on April 25. He said that if Labour finished third in the popular vote, he would seek a coalition with the Conservatives. Clegg and the Liberal Democrats finished third but that didn't stop him from abandoning a progressive alliance representing 52% of the voters. He made the deal anyway and his party endorsed it.
Clegg is not alone
Clegg is not a special figure for ridicule or approbation; he's all too typical of the political leadership in the industrialized world that fiddles while Rome burns. He and the others promise progress and greater opportunity to the people, some times even a fair deal or "level playing field," but deliver ever increasing rewards to their very few wealthy patrons while the many struggle and suffer.
Their arrival was anticipated in 1925 by T.S. Elliot in The Hallow Men:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
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