A Ballot Box Lockout – The Life And Death of American Democracy in The 21st Century

by George Kennedy on August 10, 2012


A Ballot Box Lockout – The Life And Death of American Democracy in The 21st Century


In the classic World War II film “Patton”, there is a brief scene in which Patton expresses horror at the image of an enemy bullet coming directly at the bridge of his nose. That image was powerful yet threatening to one of America’s warrior heroes. Patton and others of that “greatest generation” defeated the anti-democracy forces of Nazism and Fascism and the image that mattered to them was that of victory. Six decades later, we are again engaged in a protracted struggle to preserve and protect democracy. The enemy in this struggle is domestic – not foreign: Republican conservatives.

A real and threatening image to the American right is that of a 2012 election outcome determined by the broadest number of voters. Conservatives fear that they cannot win in November with the Republican base alone. This is ironic considering that a defining feature of this country is the right to exercise your franchise. That single feature presents a clear and present danger to conservatives intent on making the United States a national laboratory of conservative fiscal and social policy; transforming America into effectively a one-party state. Craig Unger in his Vanity Fair article reminds us that a one-party state is a long cherished goal of Karl Rove – a major player in the conservatives’ effort to disenfranchise millions of American voters and build a permanent Republican majority.

This election in 2012 is about the future ability of American voters to express their preferences at the ballot box. Democracy, therefore, is at a crossroads.
The linchpin to success of myriad voter suppression laws in some of the 16 states controlled by Republican majorities is the U.S. Supreme Court. Some laws seek to curb voter registration drives and other laws impose new requirements to produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls. States making the news recently are Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. The laws enacted to impact the vote raise differing technical issues and have been challenged in states where Republican legislatures have moved to the right of center. In several states where new voter suppression laws have been temporarily set aside by the U.S. Department of Justice or federal courts, appeals will most certainly land on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservatives are optimistic they will prevail with the Roberts’ Court.

For the first time since the Great Depression, conservatives would be poised to aggressively and lethally redraft this country’s legal architecture; to roll back the clock to the dark days of sheriff “Bull Connor of Montgomery, Alabama. This time, the excluded would include not just people of color but, also, youth and the elderly, voters who are demographically more likely to vote democratic.

Voter fraud is not and has never been an issue. In fact, as has been widely reported, there is no credible evidence of any widespread voter fraud. Voter fraud is a ruse used by conservatives and the GOP to achieve another of their cherished goals: a new corporate-controlled political order under majority Republican rule.

Voter fraud is not the problem. “The problem is that democracy is in a crisis in this country and the way we solve it is by connecting people to elections, not pushing people away from elections” notes Stephanie Singer, the chair of Philadelphia’s (PA.) election commission. In Philadelphia alone, new voter suppression laws could potentially disenfranchise over 350,000 voters – or about 1 in 3. The Republican Majority Leader of Pennsylvania’s Legislature was captured on video saying that their voter suppression bill would “allow Governor Romney to win Pennsylvania.” This is 2012, not the 1960s and there is something profoundly profane about denying people the right to vote.

A 5 to 4 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court compels conservatives to move quickly if they are to weaken or abolish Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This section requires solidly conservative states like Texas and South Carolina with legacies of discrimination against the electoral rights of minorities to obtain “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or the courts before implementing new laws.

Section 5 is a dagger in the heart of the conservatives’ goal of fashioning a new corporate-controlled political order. A concurrent challenge for conservatives tied intricately to voter suppression laws is to fend off anticipated challenges to the abominable Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of the Roberts’ Court. If you recall, this decision ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting spending for political purposes by corporations and unions and effectively granted corporations and unions the same free-speech rights enjoyed by individual citizens.

Conservatives assault upon American values and the foundation of our democracy may have aroused a sleeping giant: millions of American citizens prepared to defend rights already won. Let’s hope so!

The human stake in strengthening our democracy must not be sacrificed upon the altar of greed, corporate control, and the political, economic, and social denigration of millions of Americans.

Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to our future when he said, “a voteless people is a powerless people.”

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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