"We have a presidential election
coming up. I think anyone running for that job --anyone who wants
the power to make every key economic appointment and nomination
across the federal government-- should say loud and clear that they
agree: we don’t run this country for Wall Street and
mega corporations. We run it for people."
"Corporate America is very close
to running this country. The only thing that is stopping them from
taking total control are the pesky voters. That's why there's such
a drive to control the vote. What we're seeing is the corporatization
of the last shred of democracy."
Bernie Sanders’ upset victory in the Michigan primary demonstrates
that his message of popular revolution has broad appeal across the
nation. Bernie is the real deal, a genuine progressive populist
who is running an inspiring and heroic campaign, but he needs to
up his game if he is to capture more of the black vote that he desperately
needs and truly deserves. As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist,
Bernie has done more than any candidate running for the presidency
to highlight how the root causes of economic inequality, a rigged
electoral system, and the political domination of the billionaire
ruling class is hollowing out our democracy and impacting all the
major issues with which this country is grappling—poverty,
the decline of the middle class, the impact of job loss on working
families, our crumbling infrastructure, environmental degradation
and climate change, our broken and grossly inadequate health care
system, and issues of war and peace.
Bernie understands that both whites and people of color suffer grievously
from economic inequality, but he needs to emphasize that because
of the long and bitter history of racism toward black people in
this country, blacks and white do not suffer from economic inequality
equally. A rising tide is said to lift all boats, but not necessarily
in the same way. Bernie needs to do a better job of addressing the
distinct and numerous ways in which the issue of economic inequality
falls more heavily on the backs of black people and other people
We all know that when it comes to jobs, blacks are often the last
hired and the first fired. We know that if Flint, Michigan were
a predominantly white city, no white children would be drinking
toxic water from the polluted Flint Fiver. We all know about racial
disparities in sentencing and that it is primarily unarmed black
and Latino men who are being killed by police in the streets of
our cities. We know that it is in predominantly black communities
that the schools are underfunded and rundown and the children share
the overcrowded classrooms with rodents and mold. And we know that
redlining was a deliberate policy directed against black people
that prevented them from getting a mortgage and acquiring their
own home and building wealth. This is racism pure and simple and
the examples are legion. Bernie must talk to this issue more directly
and explain how he intends to deal with it if elected president.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know that the initial wealth
of this country was built on the backs of black slaves and that
the racism of the Jim Crow era is not something from the distant
past. The painful effects of this dreadful period of our nation’s
history linger to this day and cast a dark shadow over the land.
We can see this in the dangerous rise of Donald Trump with his strong
man bullying and racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Bernie will win
the confidence and support of more Black voters if he can show he
understands and can relate to the black experience.
There is a long running debate on the political left about the relationship
between race and class. Bernie must articulate that he understands
that issues of race and class are intricately intertwined and that
because of the unique set of historical circumstances in this country,
raced is often the medium through which the struggle of class relations
are experienced, fought, and lived.
Dr Martin Luther King said that the three great evils of this country
are poverty, racism, and militarism. Bernie knows this truth deep
in his bones and I believe he has the experience, passion, and commitment
to carry forward the legacy of King’s struggle to bring the
country together and make this a more decent, just, and caring place
for us all to live.
David Glick is a psychotherapist, poet, and political activist
living in Fairfax, CA.
His writing has appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East
Affairs, the blog site
of Tikkun Magazine, and the websites of the Lysistrata Project
"We can provide healthcare
to every man, woman and child as a right. We can make certain that
every person in this country can get all of the education he or
she needs, regardless of the income. We can create millions
of decent-paying jobs. We can have the best child care system in
the world. In the last 30 years, there has been a huge redistribution
of wealth from the middle class and working families to the top
one-tenth of 1 percent. Our job is to reverse that, redistribute
wealth back into the hands of working families."
"She [Hillary] is now trying to use
a veneer of a populist image. But look, this is a person who has
hired 200 advisers to tell her how she can look populist without
angering her wealthy donors. And ultimately the question is absolutely
about her record as a warmongering secretary of state who used her
position to emphasize the drone attacks, to be a vocal proponent
of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and to use her position to promote
the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of the
interests of working people. And ultimately, you know, this candidate,
if she is backed by the Democratic Party establishment apparatus,
is going to be the Wall Street candidate."
--Kshama Sawant, Socialist Councilmember
"This is our country, and it's
time we took it back from the billionaire class.
Today, we come together to say, 'Enough is enough.'" -- Bernie Sanders
"Hillary Clinton was in favor of a
very belligerent attitude in Syria, which has led to the unleashing
of ISIS. She's the one that said, "Oh, Assad is just the worst
thing going," just like they said Saddam Hussein, just like
they said Gaddafi. So you look at Libya now, you look at Iraq, you
look at Syria, a terrible mess. And yet Hillary Clinton seems
to have no compunction that their foundation that her daughter --you
know, she says, 'I want for every child what my granddaughter has.'
Well, your granddaughter has a father who works for Goldman Sachs
and a daughter who now works for a foundation that gets an
enormous amount of money from Saudi Arabia and other people who
have actually been the backers of ISIS. What do you stand for? Where
are you going to get your $2.5 billion to be president, if not kissing
up to Wall Street, which you've been doing as senator? I mean, what
are we talking about here? This is a person who can talk a good
game, but is totally disingenuous and betraying the very people
she seems to care about...."
“If it’s a legitimate rape,
the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
-- Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri
THE LONG ROAD TO REAL DEMOCRACY
November 4, 2012
In 1975 the elite Trilateral Commission issued a report entitled,
"The Crisis of Democracy." It held that an "excess
of democracy" was disrupting the smooth functioning of government
and undermining its authority. The report asserted this crisis
was caused by previously marginalized members of society organizing
to demand that their needs and interests be addressed. Clearly
an intolerable situation in the eyes of the Commission. In the
ruling class version of democracy, the general public is to be
passive and obedient and must be excluded from meaningful political
involvement. Its role is to do nothing more than cast a vote on
election day for one of the officially approved candidates of our
two party system and then go home having fulfilled its duty.
In this elite view there is no public interest, only a fragmented
electorate comprised of so called "special interests"
such as racial and ethnic minorities, women, workers, students,
farmers, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and increasingly
the middle class. In other words--all of us except the very wealthy.
In the trenchant words of the Occupy Movement, it's the 99% versus
the 1% whose wealth and power enables it to identify the nation's
interest with its own; and to date the 1% is winning. In this
perverted arrangement where the "national interest"
is identified with the interests of the giant corporations and
huge financial institutions, corporate profit masquerading as
the national interest will always trump the common good.
The real crisis of democracy is not an excess of democracy but
the lack of real democratic participation. The choice before us
is either a genuine democracy or a government that is simply the
handmaiden of the super rich, the corporations and financial institutions--a
condition better understood as the authoritarian rule of a plutocracy.
If we ever needed further proof of this, the 2010 Supreme Court
decision, Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, should
make this abundantly clear. In a 5 to 4 decision, the Court ruled
the speech of corporations must be treated the same as that of
human beings, thereby empowering corporations and billionaires
to fund superpacs which are allowed to spend unlimited money in
support of a candidate as long as they don't coordinate that expenditure
with the candidate (a slippery condition that is unenforceable)
and as long as they disclose where the money comes from.
In the current federal election, the voice of the little guy
is further drowned out by what has come to be called "dark
money." These are so-called "social welfare" non-profits
such as Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, two Republican
organizations, as well as trade associations like the Chamber
of Commerce, organized respectively as 501 (c)4s and 501
(c)6s under the U.S. tax code. This designation allows them to
spend unlimited money in elections without disclosing their donors
so long as they don't explicitly call for the election or defeat
of a particular candidate. However, this murky distinction does
allow them to run ads which do raise issues clearly designed to
support or defeat a particular candidate.
Big money has even managed to subvert the initiative process
which was originally designed to enhance democracy by allowing
voters to propose legislation through ballot initiatives. But
here again the corrosive effect of big money usually wins the
day by using the power of that money to pass or defeat legislation
deemed to be in the interests of big business and the wealthy
elite. There can be no doubt that here in America we have the
best democracy money can buy.
The current Supreme Court is comprised of five activist conservative
justices who are decidedly pro big business and anti-labor. On
June 25 of this year, this right-wing Court, in another 5
to 4 ruling, summarily struck down a 1912 Montana law which barred
direct corporate contributions to political parties and candidates,
a law which had been enacted because of a history of electoral
interference on the part of the state's copper kings. Then on
June 21 of this year in KNOX v SEIU, the Court took a crippling
swipe at labor when it ruled that unions had to get "opt-in"
permission from non-members, who are covered under union-negotiated
contracts, before it could use their dues for political purposes.
Yet there is no requirement under the law for corporations to
get "opt-in" permission from shareholders in order to
use company resources for political purposes. No level playing
field here. Clearly the rulings of this right-wing Court are a
roadblock to any semblance of economic justice without which there
can be no real democracy.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are the instruments
of an elite ruling class which maintains control through the illusion
of choice since each party is but a separate wing of the same
party of wealth and privllege. Despite their differences, they
share a common allegiance to the capitalist system and U.S. imperialism.
They play different roles, yet function together to ensure that
whoever the voters choose, the outcome will never challenge U.S.
military hegemony and the capitalist system of putting corporate
profits above the common good.
Capital maintains its rule through a clever combination of deception,
accommodation, and when necessary, violence. The role of the Republicans
is to be the unembarrassed and unmitigated friend of Big
Business. To the working class and the poor, the Republicans are
seen as the greater of two evils. Within this good cop bad cop
arrangement, the role of the Democrats is to be the lesser
of two evils. Their job is to deliver just enough crumbs and benefits
to blue collar workers, the poor, and middle class to keep them
playing within this rigged electoral game.
To be fair, what may seem like crumbs in the big picture can
be a matter of survival for those struggling to get by. Nonetheless,
should the collusion of this bipartisan charade fail, both parties
hope voters will become so disillusioned that they drop out of
the electoral system without ever challenging it by building a
mass movement rooted in independent politics. This duplicity and
the rigged nature of our electoral system has caused the Democratic
Party to become the graveyard of the very social movements necessary
to reinvigorate our democracy. If the Democrats were truly committed
to social change, they would work to expand the electorate by
bringing in new voters from among the disaffected and marginalized
of our society, but having nothing of substance to offer they
make no such efforts. Hence the embarrassingly low voter turn
out in this country.
We are living in a time when there is a fundamental struggle
going on as to what kind of country we and our children are going
to inhabit. On the one hand there are those who believe there
is something we can all recognize as the common good. These are
basic things that make for a viable and sustainable economy, a healthy
environment, and a healthy population. These are things such as
clean air, clean water, public education, public parks, roads,
bridges and infrastructure, and a universal, comprehensive health
care system to name just a few of the most obvious ones. These
are the functions of government and they require taxes. Taxes
then are simply the dues one pays for living in a just and functioning
society that provides an abundance of opportunity and recognizes
there is a public good and a commons from which everyone benefits.
On the other hand, we have the ideology of the ruling elite
that denies there is such a thing as the commons or the public
interest and that treats all such matters as commodities to be
delivered by corporations whose primary goal is corporate
profit, not the welfare of its workers or those to whom it sells
its goods and services. This pernicious ideology is turning our
country into a market society in which we know the price of everything,
but have lost a sense of the value of anything be it clean air,
clean water, the arts, education, leisure, happiness, or family
This privatization movement is an explicit attempt to turn over
to corporations public resources, services and functions, which
for centuries were operated by government. Privatization is the
means by which corporations take over and run for profit what
the public sector of the economy has traditionally done for the
welfare of the population as a whole. Even prisons have become
a source of corporate profit as more and more of them are being
privatized. This privatization movement seeks to limit and defund
government and ultimately control any aspect of the public sector
that stands in the way of corporate profits. It is eviscerating
public control and accountability of crucial govern-mental functions
such as public health and safety, education, environmental protection,
and the public broadcast airways, the latter of which is vital
if we are to be informed citizens in a functioning democracy.
The mantra of these corporate privatizers is to let the market
decide everything and have less government. Of course they don't
really want less government but rather a government that works
for the interests of corporations, not the interests of the people
and the common good. The difference between the values of corporate
privatizers and the values of those of us committed to the common
good is perhaps the great divide of our time. If we lose this
battle, we are putting our democracy up for sale and endangering
the very environment that sustains us all. The ruling elite equates
democracy with nothing less than unfettered, unregulated capitalism
and equates freedom with corporate license to make ever greater
profits, regardless of the social costs to our communities, our
health, and our environment.
We will not have real democracy in this country until we take
big money out of politics and that means overturning Citizens
United and instituting federally funded elections. We must end
forever the idea that money is the equivalent of speech and
that corporations have the same rights that were given to natural
persons by the Constitution of the United States. We must also
end the revolving door which shuffles former industry lobbyists
into government positions and returns those same legislators and
government regulators into the industries over which they previously
If we are to have a real democracy, we must overturn restrictive
ballot access laws and have viable third parties that represent
the broad spectrum of issues and solutions that people care about.
We need instant run off voting and proportional representation
like so many of the Western democracies of the world. We must
have substantive presidential debates open to third party candidates,
not the charade we have now which is sponsored by the corporate
funded presidential commission entirely controlled by the Democratic
and Republican parties. The function of these sham debates is
to limit discussion to those issues which do not threaten the
capitalist structure of domination and privilege or the U.S. empire,
with its more than 900 military bases in at least 120 countries.
If we are to have a real democracy, we need a media whose job
is to create an informed electorate and that requires real
investigative reporting and challenging the lies and deceptions
of those running for public office. We must reclaim the public
airways so that they serve the public interest rather than the
financial interests of corporate America. The major media must
be required to provide free air time to all ballot qualified candidates
so we can have a robust airing of diverse political views.
If we are to have real democracy, we must eliminate the arcane
Electoral College where someone can become president by winning
a majority of the Electoral College votes even though they have
not won a majority of the popular vote. We must totally reform
our electoral system and insure that every citizen has the right
to vote and every vote is counted on voting machines that have
verifiable paper trails. To insure that end we must criminalize
the efforts of those engaged in voter suppression-- today's equivalent
of yesterday's abhorrent Jim Crow laws.
On that day we will have honored the heroic struggles of those
who faced fire hoses and police dogs and were jailed and even
murdered to secure the sacred right to vote. On that day our vote
will be meaningful and on that day America can proudly proclaim
that at long last we are indeed a democracy.
David Glick is a poet, psychotherapist and a member of the
Marin Peace and Justice Coalition, Jewish Voice for Peace, and
Health Care for All--California
Has American Democracy died an electronic death
in Ohio 2005's referenda defeats?
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
November 11, 2005
While debate still rages over Ohio's stolen presidential election
of 2004, the impossible outcomes of key 2005 referendum issues
may have put an electronic nail through American democracy.
Once again, the Buckeye state has hosted an astonishing display
of electronic manipulation that calls into question the sanctity
of America's right to vote, and to have those votes counted in
this crucial swing state.
The controversy has been vastly enhanced due to the simultaneous
installation of new electronic voting machines in nearly half
the state's 88 counties, machines the General Accountability Office
has now confirmed could be easily hacked by a very small number
Last year, the US presidency was decided here. This year, a bond
issue and four hard-fought election reform propositions are in
Issue One on Ohio's 2005 ballot was a controversial $2 billion
"Third Frontier" proposition for state programs ostensibly
meant to create jobs and promote high tech industry. Because some
of the money may seem destined for stem cell research, Issue One
was bitterly opposed by the Christian Right, which distributed
leaflets against it.
The Issue was pushed by a Taft Administration wallowing in corruption.
Governor Bob Taft recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanors stemming
from golf outings he took with Tom Noe, the infamous Toledo coin
dealer who has taken $4 million or more from the state. Taft entrusted
Noe with some $50 million in investments for the Ohio Bureau of
Workers' Compensation, from which some $12 million is now missing.
Noe has been charged with federal money laundering violations
on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Taft's public approval
ratings in Ohio are currently around 15%.
Despite public fears the bond issue could become a glorified
GOP slush fund, Issue One was supported by organized labor. A
poll run on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday,
November 6, showed Issue One passing with 53% of the vote. Official
tallies showed Issue One passing with 54% of the vote.
The polling used by the Dispatch had wrapped up the Thursday
before the Tuesday election. Its precision on Issue One was consistent
with the Dispatch's historic polling abilities, which have been
uncannily accurate for decades. This poll was based on 1872 registered
Ohio voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus 2.5 percentage
points and a 95% confidence interval. The Issue One outcome would
appear to confirm the Dispatch polling operation as the state's
But Issues 2-5 are another story.
The Dispatch's Sunday headline showed "3 issues on way to
passage." The headline referred to Issues One, Two and Three.
As mentioned, the poll was dead-on accurate for Issue One.
Issues Two-Five were meant to reform Ohio's electoral process,
which has been under intense fire since 2004. The issues were
very heavily contested. They were backed by Reform Ohio Now, a
well-funded bi-partisan statewide effort meant to bring some semblance
of reliability back to the state's vote count. Many of the state's
best-known moderate public figures from both sides of the aisle
were prominent in the effort. Their effort came largely in response
to the stolen 2004 presidential vote count that gave George W.
Bush a second term and led to U.S. history's first Congressional
challenge to the seating of a state's delegation to the Electoral
Issue Two was designed to make it easier for Ohioans to vote
early, by mail or in person. By election day, much of what it
proposed was already put into law by the state legislature. Like
Issue One, it was opposed by the Christian Right. But it had broad
support from a wide range of Ohio citizen groups. In a conversation
the day before the vote, Bill Todd, a primary official spokesperson
for the opposition to Issues Two through Five, told attorney Cliff
Arnebeck that he believed Issues Two and Three would pass.
The November 6 Dispatch poll showed Issue Two passing by a vote
of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided, an even broader margin
than that predicted for Issue One.
But on November 8, the official vote count showed Issue Two going
down to defeat by the astonishing margin of 63.5% against, with
just 36.5% in favor. To say the outcome is a virtual statistical
impossibility is to understate the case. For the official vote
count to square with the pre-vote Dispatch poll, support for the
Issue had to drop more than 22 points, with virtually all the
undecideds apparently going into the "no" column.
The numbers on Issue Three are even less likely.
Issue Three involved campaign finance reform. In a lame duck
session at the end of 2004, Ohio's Republican legislature raised
the limits for individual donations to $10,000 per candidate per
person for anyone over the age of six. Thus a family of four could
donate $40,000 to a single candidate. The law also opened the
door for direct campaign donations from corporations, something
banned by federal law since the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.
The GOP measure sparked howls of public outrage. Though again
opposed by the Christian Right, Issue Three drew an extremely
broad range of support from moderate bi-partisan citizen groups
and newspapers throughout the state. The Sunday Dispatch poll
showed it winning in a landslide, with 61% in favor and just 25%
Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down to defeat
in perhaps the most astonishing reversal in Ohio history, claiming
just 33% of the vote, with 67% opposed. For this to have happened,
Issue Three's polled support had to drop 28 points, again with
an apparent 100% opposition from the previously undecideds.
The reversals on both Issues Two and Three were statistically
staggering, to say the least.
The outcomes on Issue Four and Five were slightly less dramatic.
Issue Four meant to end gerrymandering by establishing a non-partisan
commission to set Congressional and legislative districts. The
Dispatch poll showed it with 31% support, 45% opposition, and
25% undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat was 30% in
favor to 70% against, placing virtually all undecideds in the
Issue Five meant to take administration of Ohio's elections away
from the Secretary of State, giving control to a nine-member non-partisan
commission. Issue Five was prompted by Secretary of State J. Kenneth
Blackwell's administration of the 2004 presidential vote, particularly
in light of his role as co-chair of Ohio's Bush-Cheney campaign.
The Dispatch poll showed a virtual toss-up, at 41% yes, 43% no
and 16% undecided. The official result gave Issue Five just 30%
of the vote, with allegedly 70% opposed.
But the Sunday Dispatch also carried another headline: "44
counties will break in new voting machines." Forty-one of
those counties "will be using new electronic touch screens
from Diebold Election System," the Dispatch added.
Diebold's controversial CEO Walden O'Dell, a major GOP donor,
made national headlines in 2003 with a fundraising letter pledging
to deliver Ohio's 2004 electoral votes to Bush.
Every vote in Ohio 2004 was cast or counted on an electronic
device. About 15%---some 800,000 votes---were cast on electronic
touchscreen machines with no paper trail. The number was about
seven times higher than Bush's official 118,775-vote margin of
victory. Nearly all the rest of the votes were cast on punch cards
or scantron ballots counted by opti-scan devices---some of them
made by Diebold---then tallied at central computer stations in
each of Ohio's 88 counties.
According to a recent General Accountability Office report, all
such technologies are easily hacked. Vote skimming and tipping
are readily available to those who would manipulate the vote.
Vote switching could be especially easy for those with access
to networks by which many of the computers are linked. Such machines
and networks, said the GAO, had widespread problems with "security
and reliability." Among them were "weak security controls,
system design flaws, inadequate security testing, incorrect system
configuration, poor security management and vague or incomplete
voting system standards, among other issues."
With the 2005 expansion of paperless touch-screen machines into
41 more Ohio counties, this year's election was more vulnerable
than ever to centralized manipulation. The outcomes on Issues
2-5 would indicate just that.
The new touchscreen machines were brought in by Blackwell, who
had vowed to take the state to an entirely e-based voting regime.
As in 2004, there were instances of chaos. In inner city, heavily
Democratic precincts in Montgomery County, the Dayton Daily News
reported: "Vote count goes on all night: Errors, unfamiliarity
with computerized voting at heart of problem." Among other
things, 186 memory cards from the e-voting machines went missing,
prompting election workers in some cases to search for them with
flashlights before all were allegedly found.
In Tom Noe's Lucas County, Election Director Jill Kelly explained
that her staff could not complete the vote count for 13.5 hours
because poll workers "were not adequately trained to run
the new machines."
But none of the on-the-ground glitches can begin to explain the
impossible numbers surrounding the alleged defeat of Issues Two
through Five. The Dispatch polling has long been a source of public
pride for the powerful, conservative newspaper, which endorsed
Bush in 2004.
The Dispatch was somehow dead accurate on Issue One, and then
staggeringly wrong on Issues Two through Five. Sadly, this impossible
inconsistency between Ohio's most prestigious polling operation
and these final official referendum vote counts have drawn virtually
no public scrutiny.
Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the massive
irregularities and open manipulations that poisoned Ohio 2004.
The only major difference would appear to be the new installation
of touchscreen machines in those additional 41 counties.
And thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats
of Issues Two through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch
polling---dead accurate for Issue One---was wildly wrong beyond
all possible statistical margin of error for Issues 2-5, or the
electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct
their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote
If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and we
can forget forever about the state that has been essential to
the election of every Republican presidential candidate since
And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget about the
future of American democracy.
Updated November 13, 2005
-- Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE
GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION AND IS RIGGING 2008, available
and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, available
from The New Press in spring, 2006.
As the country lurches toward the bitterly contested presidential
election of 2004, the sorry state of our electoral system is glaringly
apparent. Credible reports of systematic voter suppression and
fraud by Republican operatives in Ohio, Florida, Nevada and other
swing states are rampant. Of the 115 million votes expected to
be cast on election day, 36 million will be punched into direct
recording electronic voting machines (DREs) that provide no paper
trail and no possibility of a verifiable recount.
Some 98 million citizens will consign their votes to computers
that can easily be programmed to falsify the outcome and these
votes will be tabulated by four private corporations, among which
is Diebold Election Systems headed by Walten O'Dell who was quoted
as saying he intends to "deliver" the necessary votes
needed to secure the re-election of George W. Bush. While President
Bush barnstorms the country boasting of his questionable efforts
to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, we might well ask
ourselves if we have a democracy here at home.
I would contend that the greatest threat to democracy in this
country is the mistaken belief that we already have it. Because
of the bitter and tragic history of Blacks and women being denied
the right to vote and the heroic struggles waged to secure that
right, we have understandably come to confuse the presence of
elections with the presence of democracy. But democracy in America
is in reality a sham, soporific showcase democracy.
Every four years citizens, if they are not too busy or disillusioned,
go to the polls to cast votes in an anemic exercise of illusory
democracy. In reality those votes only ratify the real decisions
already made by the power structure of this country whose goal
is to secure the corporate agenda.
We will not have real democracy in this country until we take
big money out of politics and have federally funded elections.
Until we overturn restrictive ballot access laws and have viable
third parties that represent the broad spectrum of issues and
solutions that people care about. Until we have instant run off
voting and proportional representation like so many of the Western
democracies of the world.
We will not have real democracy in this country until we have
substantive presidential debates open to third party candidates
rather than what passes for debates put on by a corporate funded
presidential commission whose function is to limit debate to those
issues which do not threaten the capitalist structure of privilege,
domination and empire.
We will not have real democracy in this country until we have
a media whose job is to create an informed electorate and that
requires non-partisan, truth-telling investigative reporting.
We must reclaim the public airways so that they serve the public
good rather than the financial interests of corporate America.
The major media should be required to provide free air time to
all ballot qualified candidates so we can have a robust airing
of diverse political views.
We will not have real democracy in this country until we eliminate
the arcane Electoral College whereby someone can become president
by winning a majority of the Electoral College votes even though
they have not won a majority of the popular vote. The anti-democratic
nature of the Electoral College grossly distorts the reality of
the popular vote. In 1984 President Reagan won 58.8 percent of
the popular vote but 97.5 percent of the Electoral College. Moreover
the Electoral College under represents large states and over represents
small states because of the number of electors in relation to
the state's population. Thus a vote cast for president in Dick
Cheney's Wyoming with a tiny population is worth four times that
of one cast in densely populated California.
There are few things more hypocritical than President Bush preaching
the virtues of democracy to the world when we have so many structural
impediments to democracy here at home and when he and his Republican
operatives are doing everything possible to undermine the fragile
democracy we do have.
We need to totally reform our electoral system and insure that
every vote counts, that every vote counts equally, and that every
vote is counted on voting machines that have verifiable paper
trails. On that day we will have honored the heroic struggles
of those who faced fire hoses and police dogs and were jailed
and even murdered to secure the sacred right to vote. On that
day we can proudly proclaim that at long last America is a democracy.
Those who came before us
Video: Iron Jawed Angels
The women were innocent and defenseless. And by the end of the
night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs
and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women
wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic."
They beat Lucy Burn, chained her hands to the cell bars above
her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping
for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her
head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate,
Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
beating, choking, lamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the
Thus unfolded the "Night of Terror" on Nov. 15, 1917,
when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered
his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there
because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for
the right to vote.
For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their
food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms. When
one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they
tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured
liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this
for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.
So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why,
exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote
doesn't matter? It's raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new
movie "Iron Jawed Angels" (releases on DVD 9/7/04).
It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that
I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say.
I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
All these years later, voter registration is still my passion.
But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me,
more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation
than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw
the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about
it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. "One thought
kept coming back to me as I watched that movie," she said.
"What would those women think of the way I use--or don't
use--my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not
just younger women, but those of us who did seek to
learn." The right to vote, she said, had become valuable
to her "all over again."
HBO will run the movie periodically before releasing it on video
and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers
would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on
Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this
isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in
the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy
is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to
persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she
could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to
watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave.
That didn't make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men:
Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."
Please pass this on to all the women you know. We need to get
out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by
these very courageous women.
Arrived by email without credit.
Flaw in Florida touchscreens could hamper manual
Saturday, June 12, 2004
(06-12) 16:06 PDT TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --
Touchscreen voting machines in 11 counties have a software flaw
that could make manual recounts impossible in November's presidential
election, state officials said.
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state called the problems
"minor technical hiccups" that can be resolved, but
critics allege voting officials wrongly certified a voting system
they knew had a bug.
The electronic voting machines are a response to Florida's 2000
presidential election fiasco, where thousands of punchcard ballots
were improperly marked. But the new machines have brought concerns
that errors could go unchecked without paper records of the electronic
The machines, made by Election Systems & Software of Omaha,
Neb., fail to provide a consistent electronic "event log"
of voting activity when asked to reproduce what happened during
the election, state officials said.
Officials with the company and the state Division of Elections
said they believe they can fix the problem by linking the voting
equipment with laptop computers. Florida's two largest counties
-- Miami-Dade and Broward -- are among those affected by the flaws.
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., has asked state Attorney General
Charlie Crist to investigate whether the head of the state elections
division lied under oath when he denied knowing of the computer
problem before reading about it in the media. A spokeswoman for
Crist said he was reviewing the request.
The elections chief, Ed Kast, abruptly resigned Monday, saying
he wanted a change of pace.
During a May 17 deposition for a lawsuit Wexler filed seeking
to require a paper trail for state voting machines, Kast said
he had recently heard of the problem only days earlier. But in
a letter to Crist, Wexler said the Miami-Dade Election Reform
Coalition, a citizens' group, notified Kast and Secretary of State
Glenda Hood of the glitch in March.
Hood blamed Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Constance Kaplan
for the delay, telling Kaplan in a May 13 letter she should have
notified state officials when she learned of the problem in June
Nonetheless, state and county election officials insist the problem
can be resolved in the five months before the November election.
"These are minor technical hiccups that happen," said
Hood spokeswoman Nicole DeLara. "No votes are lost, or could
Wexler and coalition members said they want to know how the state
can be sure that glitches will not prevent elections officials
from even detecting computer malfunctions.
"How do you know that any votes were lost if your audit
is wrong?" asked Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, chairwoman of the
State officials say there is no need for recounts, or an audit
trail, with the touchscreen system because it was designed to
prevent people from voting in the same race more than once --
an overvote -- and provide multiple alerts to voters to warn them
when they are skipping a race -- an undervote.
They emphasize that the "glitch" in the touchscreen
machines occurs when the audit is done after the election, not
when the tally sheet is printed in each precinct when polls close.
Progressives face a crucial dilemma in the upcoming 2004 presidential
election. All agree that it is imperative to send George W. Bush
to his ranch in Crawford, Texas where he can strut around in his
boots and pretend he's a real cowboy. Yet while many in the progressive
left have major disagreements with each of the Democratic candidates
likely to be chosen as the standard-bearer of the party, most
to embrace an "anybody but Bush" strategy now that it
is clear that Joe
Lieberman has dropped out of the race.
On the other hand we also know that there is all too much similarity
between the Democrats and the Republicans and that Dubya could
gotten away with the worst of his excesses had it not been for
complicity and support of the vast majority of the Democratic
Both the Democratic and Republican parties are the instruments
of the elite
ruling class. The ruling class maintains its control through the
of choice since the Democrats and Republicans are but two wings
of the same
party. Despite their differences, they share a common allegiance
capitalist system. They play different roles, yet function together
ensure that whomever the voters choose, the outcome will never
the foundation of the capitalist system with its priority of profits
the common good.
Capital maintains its rule through a clever combination of deception,
accommodation, coercion and, when necessary, violence. The role
Republicans is to be the unembarrassed and unmitigated friend
business. To the working class and the poor the Republicans are
seen as the
greater of two evils. Within this good cop/bad cop routine, the
role of the
Democrats is to be the lesser of two evils. Their job is to deliver
enough crumbs to blue collar workers, the poor and the middle
class to keep
them playing within this rigged electoral game.
To be fair it must be said that what may seem like crumbs in
picture can be a matter of survival for those struggling to get
Nonetheless, should this bipartisan collusion fail, the hope of
political parties is that voters will become so disillusioned
will drop out of the electoral system altogether without ever
it by building a mass movement rooted in independent politics.
A certain faction of the Green Party wants to run a candidate
upcoming presidential election, possibly supporting Ralph Nader
considering running as an independent. Progressives must weigh
the consequences of this strategy because the stakes are frightfully
Although I am a Green and worked locally on Nader's 2000 campaign
presidency, I am opposed to his running in 2004 for fear he could
enough critical votes to play a decisive role in giving Bush four
years in office.
There are two questions progressives must consider. First, is
Green candidate for president an effective and responsible strategy
turning the Bush administration out of office. Second, is running
candidate for president an effective and responsible strategy
the Green party. I believe this strategy fails both tests.
Many Greens believe-running a candidate is a matter of principled
commitment to democracy because voters should have the right to
a candidate who truly represents their convictions and vision.
It is hard to
disagree with this principle in the abstract. However, elections
occur in the abstract, they occur in particular historical circumstances.
Allowing the Bush administration four more years in office will
push this country further down the path toward fascism.
This insistence on running a Green candidate on principle in
particular historical circumstances will lead to far greater short-term
harm than any potential long-term benefit could ever justify.
likely to suffer the brunt of the wrath of another four years
of Bush are
the people who will be living under the bombs he will be dropping
the world as he pursues his immoral, illegal and insane policy
preemptive war. Of course people all around the world, especially
catching hell, recognize Bush's war on terrorism for what it truly
American terrorism waged to establish military and economic domination
over the entire planet.
Moreover if the Greens run a candidate, whether it's Nader or
and that candidate wins enough votes to swing the election to
Greens, rightfully or not, will be held responsible and will incur
anger of voters who would otherwise be Green supporters under
circumstances. Clearly this would be disastrous for building the
the long haul.
If Nader runs it is inconceivable under the current circumstances
could pull as many votes as he did last time. That poses a particular
danger since it might seem as if the issues he runs on are not
of any real
concern to voters. In addition if the spoiler role is attached
to him as it
surely will, these factors will hurt the many causes he has steadfastly
championed and the many public interest groups he has spawned
decades of remarkable service to this country.
We progressives have much to learn from how the right has gained
power in this country. The Christian right has enormous influence
Republican Party precisely because it was strategic in its thinking.
Decades ago it began to run candidates in non-partisan local races,
building the movement from the ground up until it could successfully
compete in races higher up the political chain. Through patient
it was soon able to influence legislative races on the state and
Similarly the neo-conservatives who have so much influence on
administration also began to think strategically decades ago.
Mellon, Scaife and other right-wing foundations understood the
of building an intellectual infrastructure to promote their ideas.
began funding conservative think tanks-which have been defining
refining their ideas and policies while also developing an effective
language with which to communicate them to the general public.
If we Greens and progressives are to be successful, we must be
learn from the strategies employed by the Christian right and
We simply cannot tolerate a reckless strategy that could hand
over to a second Bush administration. The rest of the world is
the dangers of this president. Poll results in European countries
that the vast majority of people believe that George W. Bush is
greatest threat to world peace, surpassing even Saddam Hussein.
The Europeans have read the Bush score card and we here at home
not delude ourselves into thinking this is just another Republican
administration no different from any of its predecessors. This
administration is terrifying in its authoritarian and secretive
disdain of international' law, and its reckless militaristic approach
Of course anyone familiar with U.S. history knows that violence,
and imperialism are nothing new to this country. However, quantitative
changes when big enough at some at some point turn into qualitative
changes. There is something entirely different about this administration
and we would be foolish not to recognize it and act accordingly.
Bush pushed through Congress vast tax breaks for the rich at
a time when
44 million Americans have no health insurance, our schools
and our physical infrastructure is decaying. His prescription
is a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry and of minimal benefit
seniors. His $403 billion military budget which does not even
soaring costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with
breaks for the rich, have caused a $521 billion budget deficit
He is without a doubt the worst environmental president we have
He pulled the U.S. out of the 1997 Kyoto treaty aimed at addressing
world wide environmental crisis caused by global warming. In fact,
even deleted the subject of global warming from the Environmental
Protection Agency's annual report on air pollution trends.
The Bush administration successfully defeated Congressional efforts
raise automobile fuel efficiency standards and aligned itself
with the oil
industry in promoting oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National
Vice-President Cheney's energy task force met in secret with
lobbyists and crafted an energy policy entirely to their liking.
day he refuses to reveal who he met with claiming executive privilege.
Bush/Cheney energy policy calls for more oil, gas, and coal production
well as subsidies and tax breaks for the oil, coal and nuclear
industries. Yet it provides virtually no support for energy conservation
developing renewable energy resources.
Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
1972 anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty while simultaneously committing
to the development of a discredited "star wars" missile
defense shield. This
policy will fill the coffers of the defense industry while threatening
and Russia and promoting an arms race that will destabilize the
He has pushed for more media consolidation, reduced money for
health care, cut the budget and staff of various federal agencies
with overseeing and promoting workplace safety, pushed legislation
will cut the overtime pay for an estimated eight million workers,
policies that blur the boundaries between church and state, appointed
racist ,and extreme right-wing judges to the federal bench, opposed
expanding hate crime laws to cover crimes based on sexual orientation,
refused to allocate sufficient monies to fight the AIDS pandemic.
He also seeks to outlaw abortions, ban gay marriages through
constitutional amendment, privatize social security, and spend
of money in an insane plan to militarize outer space, money desperately
needed here on earth for health care, schools, environmental restoration
and job creation.
He has waged a war against Afghanistan, killing more innocent
than were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, invaded and
Iraq based on lies that we were in imminent danger because of
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and shown complete support
Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine. His arrogant and belligerent
Middle East policy aimed at controlling access to the region's
reserves, together with his reckless remarks about Islam, have
Arab and Muslim feelings against the U.S. and will undoubtedly
ranks of terrorist organizations eager to vent their rage on our
Ironically this great defender of America's security has refused
allocate the needed money for real homeland defense. Fire departments
across the country are understaffed and everyday huge container
ships, a most likely target for a terrorist bomb, come into America's
Opinions swirl around the tragedy of 9/11. Some believe Bush
disregarded warnings about an imminent terrorist attack and impeded
to investigate terrorist suspects in order to exploit the chaos
for his own political agenda. Whether true or not, there is no
that Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft were quick to exploit
by ramming through Congress the draconian USA Patriot Act which
gutted our Bill of Rights, put a chill on legitimate political
eliminated the balance of powers enshrined in the Constitution
arrogating virtually unrestrained power to the executive branch
Under the Bush administration, America is fast becoming a police
we had better recognize it before it is too late. In post 9/11
thousands of Muslims and Arabs, both citizens and immigrants,
rounded up by the government without being charged of any crime,
secret detention and denied access to legal representation. Among
constitutional rights under attack by the Bush administration
of speech, assembly, association and privacy; equality before
the law and
the presumption of innocence; access to legal representation and
process in judicial proceedings, including a speedy and public
protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.
This is a critical moment in American history. The signs of incipient
fascism are evident for those willing to see. The Bush administration
shares many of the characteristics of previous fascist regimes.
are: a belligerent nationalism and militarized foreign policy;
with national security and the suppression of civil liberties;
secrecy in government; a disdain for international law and human
the use of scapegoats to unify the country; the suppression of
and the protection of corporations from regulation; control of
media; corrupt elections; suppression of academic freedom; a disdain
science and intellectual and artistic pursuits; a black-and-white
the world; and the cynical use of religion to bolster authoritarian
Our country is standing on the brink of fascism. This is no time
the dice on the outcome of the next election. For once we on the
overcome our differences and unify to turn this administration
office. If we do not, we might loose the political space needed
our struggle to transform this country into a true democracy.
David Glick is a psychotherapist, poet and long-time peace
and justice activist and board member of the Social Justice Center
Fears of more US electoral chaos after flaws
are discovered in ballot computers
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
The Independent, 14 October 2003
Next year's US presidential election may be compromised by new
voting machines that computer scientists believe are unreliable,
poorly programmed and prone to tampering.
An investigation published in today's Independent reveals tens
of thousands of touch screen voting machinesmay be less reliable
than the old punchcards, which famously stalled the presidential
election in Florida in 2000, leaving the whole election open to
The machines are said to offer no independent verification of
individual voting choices, making recounts impossible, and the
software isshielded from public scrutiny by trade secrecy agreements.
The shortcomings have appeared in two academic studies and have
prompted calls for urgent oversight legislation. They have also
cast doubt on the accuracy of last November's mid-term election
results, especially in Georgia, the first state to switch to touch
David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University,
said: "These machines do not allow the voters to check that
their votes are accurately and permanently recorded. No one can
prove that the machines are trustworthy."
The three leading voting machine manufacturers are substantial
Republican campaign donors, and one of their chief executives,
Walden O'Dell ofDiebold, in Ohio, wrote a letter to Republican
supporters saying he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver
its electoral votes to the President next year". That raised
serious concerns of bias. "The rush towards computerisation
is very dubious," Rebecca Mercuri, a research fellow at Harvard
University, said. "It takes away the checks and balances
of a democratic society."
In Georgia, citizens were alarmed at apparent anomalies in the
election results for governor and one of the state's two Senate
seats. Both offices were won by Republicans in last-minute voting
swings away from Democrats.
Causes for alarm included a serious malfunction in the votingsoftware,
discovered after the machines were packaged for shipment, which
had to be repaired with a programming "patch", and the
fact that the patch showed up on an open-access internet page.
Hundreds of security flaws were identified in subsequent follow-up
studies. There were also several election day glitches, including
the loss of 67 voting memory cards in the Democrat stronghold
of central Atlanta.
A quiet revolution is taking place in US politics. By the
time it's over, the integrity of elections will be in the unchallenged,
unscrutinised control of a few large - and pro-Republican - corporations.Andrew Gumbel wonders if democracy in America can survive.
By Andrew Gumbel
The Independent 14 October 2003
Something very odd happened in the mid-term elections in Georgia
last November. On the eve of the vote, opinion polls showed Roy
Barnes, the incumbent Democratic governor, leading by between
nine and 11 points. In a somewhat closer, keenly watched Senate
race, polls indicated that Max Cleland, the popular Democrat up
for re-election, was ahead by two to five points against his Republican
challenger, Saxby Chambliss.
Those figures were more or less what political experts would
have expected in state with a long tradition of electing Democrats
to statewide office. But then the results came in, and all of
Georgia appeared to have been turned upside down. Barnes lost
the governorship to the Republican, Sonny Perdue, 46 per cent
to 51 per cent, a swing of as much as 16 percentage points from
the last opinion polls. Cleland lost to Chambliss 46 per cent
to 53, a last-minute swing of 9 to 12 points. Red-faced opinion
pollsters suddenly had a lot of explaining to do and launched
internal investigations. Political analysts credited the upset
- part of a pattern of Republican successes around the country
- to a huge campaigning push by President Bush in the final days
of the race. They also said that Roy Barnes had lost because of
a surge of "angry white men" punishing him for eradicating
all but a vestige of the old confederate symbol from the state
But something about these explanations did not make sense, and
they have made even less sense over time. When the Georgia secretary
of state's office published its demographic breakdown of the election
earlier this year, it turned out there was no surge of angry white
men; in fact, the only subgroup showing even a modest increase
in turnout was black women.
There were also big, puzzling swings in partisan loyalties in
different parts of the state. In 58 counties, the vote was broadly
in line with the primary election. In 27 counties in Republican-dominated
north Georgia, however, Max Cleland unaccountably scored 14 percentage
points higher than he had in the primaries. And in 74 counties
in the Democrat south, Saxby Chambliss garnered a whopping 22
points more for the Republicans than the party as a whole had
won less than three months earlier.
Now, weird things like this do occasionally occur in elections,
and the figures, on their own, are not proof of anything except
statistical anomalies worthy of further study. But in Georgia
there was an extra reason to be suspicious. Last November, the
state became the first in the country to conduct an election entirely
with touchscreen voting machines, after lavishing $54m (£33m)
on a new system that promised to deliver the securest, most up-to-date,
most voter-friendly election in the history of the republic. The
machines, however, turned out to be anything but reliable. With
academic studies showing the Georgia touchscreens to be poorly
programmed, full of security holes and prone to tampering, and
with thousands of similar machines from different companies being
introduced at high speed across the country, computer voting may,
in fact, be US democracy's own 21st-century nightmare.
In many Georgia counties last November, the machines froze up,
causing long delays as technicians tried to reboot them. In heavily
Democratic Fulton County, in downtown Atlanta, 67 memory cards
from the voting machines went missing, delaying certification
of the results there for 10 days. In neighbouring DeKalb County,
10 memory cards were unaccounted for; they were later recovered
from terminals that had supposedly broken down and been taken
out of service.
It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards
were tabulated, or if they were counted at all. And we will probably
never know, for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was
not conducted by state elections officials, but by the private
company that sold Georgia the voting machines in the first place,
under a strict trade-secrecy contract that made it not only difficult
but actually illegal - on pain of stiff criminal penalties - for
the state to touch the equipment or examine the proprietary software
to ensure the machines worked properly. There was not even a paper
trail to follow up. The machines were fitted with thermal printing
devices that could theoretically provide a written record of voters'
choices, but these were not activated. Consequently, recounts
were impossible. Had Diebold Inc, the manufacturer, been asked
to review the votes, all it could have done was programme the
computers to spit out the same data as before, flawed or not.
Astonishingly, these are the terms under which America's top
three computer voting machine manufacturers - Diebold, Sequoia
and Election Systems and Software (ES&S) - have sold their
products to election officials around the country. Far from questioning
the need for rigid trade secrecy and the absence of a paper record,
secretaries of state and their technical advisers - anxious to
banish memories of the hanging chad fiasco and other associated
disasters in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida - have,
for the most part, welcomed the touchscreen voting machines as
a technological miracle solution.
Georgia was not the only state last November to see big last-minute
swings in voting patterns. There were others in Colorado, Minnesota,
Illinois and New Hampshire - all in races that had been flagged
as key partisan battlegrounds, and all won by the Republican Party.
Again, this was widely attributed to the campaigning efforts of
President Bush and the demoralisation of a Democratic Party too
timid to speak out against the looming war in Iraq.
Strangely, however, the pollsters made no comparable howlers
in lower-key races whose outcome was not seriously contested.
Another anomaly, perhaps. What, then, is one to make of the fact
that the owners of the three major computer voting machines are
all prominent Republican Party donors? Or of a recent political
fund-raising letter written to Ohio Republicans by Walden O'Dell,
Diebold's chief executive, in which he said he was "committed
to helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president
next year" - even as his company was bidding for the contract
on the state's new voting machinery?
Alarmed and suspicious, a group of Georgia citizens began to
look into last November's election to see whether there was any
chance the results might have been deliberately or accidentally
manipulated. Their research proved unexpectedly, and disturbingly,
First, they wanted to know if the software had undergone adequate
checking. Under state and federal law, all voting machinery and
component parts must be certified before use in an election. So
an Atlanta graphic designer called Denis Wright wrote to the secretary
of state's office for a copy of the certification letter. Clifford
Tatum, assistant director of legal affairs for the election division,
wrote back: "We have determined that no records exist in
the Secretary of State's office regarding a certification letter
from the lab certifying the version of software used on Election
Day." Mr Tatum said it was possible the relevant documents
were with Gary Powell, an official at the Georgia Technology Authority,
so campaigners wrote to him as well. Mr Powell responded he was
"not sure what you mean by the words 'please provide written
certification documents' ".
"If the machines were not certified, then right there the
election was illegal," Mr Wright says. The secretary of state's
office has yet to demonstrate anything to the contrary. The investigating
citizens then considered the nature of the software itself. Shortly
after the election, a Diebold technician called Rob Behler came
forward and reported that, when the machines were about to be
shipped to Georgia polling stations in the summer of 2002, they
performed so erratically that their software had to be amended
with a last-minute "patch". Instead of being transmitted
via disk - a potentially time-consuming process, especially since
its author was in Canada, not Georgia - the patch was posted,
along with the entire election software package, on an open-access
FTP, or file transfer protocol site, on the internet. That, according
to computer experts, was a violation of the most basic of security
precautions, opening all sorts of possibilities for the introduction
of rogue or malicious code. At the same time, however, it gave
campaigners a golden opportunity to circumvent Diebold's own secrecy
demands and see exactly how the system worked. Roxanne Jekot,
a computer programmer with 20 years' experience, and an occasional
teacher at Lanier Technical College northeast of Atlanta, did
a line-by-line review and found "enough to stand your hair
"There were security holes all over it," she says,
"from the most basic display of the ballot on the screen
all the way through the operating system." Although the programme
was designed to be run on the Windows 2000 NT operating system,
which has numerous safeguards to keep out intruders, Ms Jekot
found it worked just fine on the much less secure Windows 98;
the 2000 NT security features were, as she put it, "nullified".
Also embedded in the software were the comments of the programmers
working on it. One described what he and his colleagues had just
done as "a gross hack". Elsewhere was the remark: "This
doesn't really work." "Not a confidence builder, would
you say?" Ms Jekot says. "They were operating in panic
mode, cobbling together something that would work for the moment,
knowing that at some point they would have to go back to figure
out how to make it work more permanently." She found some
of the code downright suspect - for example, an overtly meaningless
instruction to divide the number of write-in votes by 1. "From
a logical standpoint there is absolutely no reason to do that,"
she says. "It raises an immediate red flag."
Mostly, though, she was struck by the shoddiness of much of the
programming. "I really expected to have some difficulty reviewing
the source code because it would be at a higher level than I am
accustomed to," she says. "In fact, a lot of this stuff
looked like the homework my first-year students might have turned
in." Diebold had no specific comment on Ms Jekot's interpretations,
offering only a blanket caution about the complexity of election
systems "often not well understood by individuals with little
But Ms Jekot was not the only one to examine the Diebold software
and find it lacking. In July, a group of researchers from the
Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University in
Baltimore discovered what they called "stunning flaws".
These included putting the password in the source code, a basic
security no-no; manipulating the voter smart-card function so
one person could cast more than one vote; and other loopholes
that could theoretically allow voters' ballot choices to be altered
without their knowledge, either on the spot or by remote access.
Diebold issued a detailed response, saying that the Johns Hopkins
report was riddled with false assumptions, inadequate information
and "a multitude of false conclusions". Substantially
similar findings, however, were made in a follow-up study on behalf
of the state of Maryland, in which a group of computer security
experts catalogued 328 software flaws, 26 of them critical, putting
the whole system "at high risk of compromise". "If
these vulnerabilities are exploited, significant impact could
occur on the accuracy, integrity, and availability of election
results," their report says.
Ever since the Johns Hopkins study, Diebold has sought to explain
away the open FTP file as an old, incomplete version of its election
package. The claim cannot be independently verified, because of
the trade-secrecy agreement, and not everyone is buying it. "It
is documented throughout the code who changed what and when. We
have the history of this programme from 1996 to 2002," Ms
Jekot says. "I have no doubt this is the software used in
the elections." Diebold now says it has upgraded its encryption
and password features - but only on its Maryland machines.
A key security question concerned compatibility with Microsoft
Windows, and Ms Jekot says just three programmers, all of them
senior Diebold executives, were involved in this aspect of the
system. One of these, Diebold's vice-president of research and
development, Talbot Iredale, wrote an e-mail in April 2002 - later
obtained by the campaigners - making it clear that he wanted to
shield the operating system from Wylie Labs, an independent testing
agency involved in the early certification process.
The reason that emerges from the e-mail is that he wanted to
make the software compatible with WinCE 3.0, an operating system
used for handhelds and PDAs; in other words, a system that could
be manipulated from a remote location. "We do not want Wyle
[sic] reviewing and certifying the operating systems," the
e-mail reads. "Therefore can we keep to a minimum the references
to the WinCE 3.0 operating system."
In an earlier intercepted e-mail, this one from Ken Clark in
Diebold's research and development department, the company explained
upfront to another independent testing lab that the supposedly
secure software system could be accessed without a password, and
its contents easily changed using the Microsoft Access programme.
Mr Clark says he had considered putting in a password requirement
to stop dealers and customers doing "stupid things",
but that the easy access had often "got people out of a bind".
Astonishingly, the representative from the independent testing
lab did not see anything wrong with this and granted certification
to the part of the software programme she was inspecting - a pattern
of lackadaisical oversight that was replicated all the way to
the top of the political chain of command in Georgia, and in many
other parts of the country.
Diebold has not contested the authenticity of the e-mails, now
openly accessible on the internet. However, Diebold did caution
that, as the e-mails were taken from a Diebold Election systems
website in March 2003 by an illegal hack, the nature of the information
stolen could have been revised or manipulated.
There are two reasons why the United States is rushing to overhaul
its voting systems. The first is the Florida débâcle
in the Bush-Gore election; no state wants to be the centre of
that kind of attention again. And the second is the Help America
Vote Act (HAVA), signed by President Bush last October, which
promises an unprecedented $3.9bn (£2.3bn) to the states
to replace their old punchcard-and-lever machines. However, enthusiasm
for the new technology seems to be motivated as much by a bureaucratic
love of spending as by a love of democratic accountability. According
to Rebecca Mercuri, a research fellow at Harvard's John F Kennedy
School of Government and a specialist in voting systems, the shockingly
high error rate of punchcard machines (3-5 per cent in Florida
in 2000) has been known to people in the elections business for
years. It was only after it became public knowledge in the last
presidential election that anybody felt moved to do anything about
The problem is, computer touchscreen machines and other so-called
DRE (direct recording electronic) systems are significantly less
reliable than punchcards, irrespective of their vulnerability
to interference. In a series of research papers for the Voting
Technology Project, a joint venture of the prestigious Massachussetts
and California Institutes of Technology, DREs were found to be
among the worst performing systems. No method, the MIT/CalTech
study conceded, worked more reliably than hand-counting paper
ballots - an option that US electoral officials seem to consider
hopelessly antiquated, or at least impractical in elections combining
multiple local, state and national races for offices from President
down to dogcatcher.
The clear disadvantages and dangers associated with DREs have
not deterred state and county authorities from throwing themselves
headlong into touchscreen technology. More than 40,000 machines
made by Diebold alone are already in use in 37 states, and most
are touchscreens. County after county is poised to spend hundreds
of millions of dollars more on computer voting before next spring's
presidential primaries. "They say this is the direction they
have to go in to have fair elections, but the rush to go towards
computerisation is very dubious," Dr Mercuri says. "One
has to wonder why this is going on, because the way it is set
up it takes away the checks and balances we have in a democratic
society. That's the whole point of paper trails and recounts."
Anyone who has struggled with an interactive display in a museum
knows how dodgy touchscreens can be. If they don't freeze, they
easily become misaligned, which means they can record the wrong
data. In Dallas, during early voting before last November's election,
people found that no matter how often they tried to press a Democrat
button, the Republican candidate's name would light up. After
a court hearing, Diebold agreed to take down 18 machines with
apparent misalignment problems. "And those were the ones
where you could visually spot a problem," Dr Mercuri says.
"What about what you don't see? Just because your vote shows
up on the screen for the Democrats, how do you know it is registering
inside the machine for the Democrats?"
Other problems have shown up periodically: machines that register
zero votes, or machines that indicate voters coming to the polling
station but not voting, even when a single race with just two
candidates was on the ballot. Dr Mercuri was part of a lawsuit
in Palm Beach County in which she and other plaintiffs tried to
have a suspect Sequoia machine examined, only to run up against
the brick wall of the trade-secret agreement. "It makes it
really hard to show their product has been tampered with,"
she says, "if it's a felony to inspect it."
As for the possibilities of foul play, Dr Mercuri says they are
virtually limitless. "There are literally hundreds of ways
to do this," she says. "There are hundreds of ways to
embed a rogue series of commands into the code and nobody would
ever know because the nature of programming is so complex. The
numbers would all tally perfectly." Tampering with an election
could be something as simple as a "denial-of-service"
attack, in which the machines simply stop working for an extended
period, deterring voters faced with the prospect of long lines.
Or it could be done with invasive computer codes known in the
trade by such nicknames as "Trojan horses" or "Easter
eggs". Detecting one of these, Dr Mercuri says, would be
almost impossible unless the investigator knew in advance it was
there and how to trigger it. Computer researcher Theresa Hommel,
who is alarmed by touchscreen systems, has constructed a simulated
voting machine in which the same candidate always wins, no matter
what data you put in. She calls her model the Fraud-o-matic, and
it is available online at www.wheresthepaper.org.
It is not just touchscreens which are at risk from error or malicious
intrusion. Any computer system used to tabulate votes is vulnerable.
An optical scan of ballots in Scurry County, Texas, last November
erroneously declared a landslide victory for the Republican candidate
for county commissioner; a subsequent hand recount showed that
the Democrat had in fact won. In Comal County, Texas, a computerised
optical scan found that three different candidates had won their
races with exactly 18,181 votes. There was no recount or investigation,
even though the coincidence, with those recurring 1s and 8s, looked
highly suspicious. In heavily Democrat Broward County, Florida
- which had switched to touchscreens in the wake of the hanging
chad furore - more than 100,000 votes were found to have gone
"missing" on election day. The votes were reinstated,
but the glitch was not adequately explained. One local official
blamed it on a "minor software thing".
Most suspect of all was the governor's race in Alabama, where
the incumbent Democrat, Don Siegelman, was initially declared
the winner. Sometime after midnight, when polling station observers
and most staff had gone home, the probate judge responsible for
elections in rural Baldwin County suddenly "discovered"
that Mr Siegelman had been awarded 7,000 votes too many. In a
tight election, the change was enough to hand victory to his Republican
challenger, Bob Riley. County officials talked vaguely of a computer
tabulation error, or a lightning strike messing up the machines,
but the real reason was never ascertained because the state's
Republican attorney general refused to authorise a recount or
any independent ballot inspection.
According to an analysis by James Gundlach, a sociology professor
at Auburn University in Alabama, the result in Baldwin County
was full of wild deviations from the statistical norms established
both by this and preceding elections. And he adds: "There
is simply no way that electronic vote counting can produce two
sets of results without someone using computer programmes in ways
that were not intended. In other words, the fact that two sets
of results were reported is sufficient evidence in and of itself
that the vote tabulation process was compromised."
Although talk of voting fraud quickly subsided, Alabama has now
amended its election laws to make recounts mandatory in close
races. The possibility of flaws in the electoral process is not
something that gets discussed much in the United States. The attitude
seems to be: we are the greatest democracy in the world, so the
system must be fair. That has certainly been the prevailing view
in Georgia, where even leading Democrats - their prestige on the
line for introducing touchscreen voting in the first place - have
fought tooth-and-nail to defend the integrity of the system. In
a phone interview, the head of the Georgia Technology Authority
who brought Diebold machines to the state, Larry Singer, blamed
the growing chorus of criticism on "fear of technology",
despite the fact that many prominent critics are themselves computer
scientists. He says: "Are these machines flawless? No. Would
you have more confidence if they were completely flawless? Yes.
Is there such a thing as a flawless system? No." Mr Singer,
who left the GTA straight after the election and took a 50 per
cent pay cut to work for Sun Microsystems, insists that voters
are more likely to have their credit card information stolen by
a busboy in a restaurant than to have their vote compromised by
Voting machines are sold in the United States in much the same
way as other government contracts: through intensive lobbying,
wining and dining. At a recent national conference of clerks,
election officials and treasurers in Denver, attendees were treated
to black-tie dinners and other perks, including free expensive
briefcases stamped with Sequoia's company logo alongside the association's
own symbol. Nobody in power seems to find this worrying, any more
than they worried when Sequoia's southern regional sales manager,
Phil Foster, was indicted in Louisiana a couple of years ago for
"conspiracy to commit money laundering and malfeasance".
The charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony against
Louisiana's state commissioner of elections. Similarly, last year,
the Arkansas secretary of state, Bill McCuen, pleaded guilty to
taking bribes and kickbacks involving a precursor company to ES&S;
the voting machine company executive who testified against him
in exchange for immunity is now an ES&S vice-president.
If much of the worry about vote-tampering is directed at the
Republicans, it is largely because the big three touchscreen companies
are all big Republican donors, pouring hundreds of thousands of
dollars into party coffers in the past few years. The ownership
issue is, of course, compounded by the lack of transparency. Or,
as Dr Mercuri puts it: "If the machines were independently
verifiable, who would give a crap who owns them?" As it is,
fears that US democracy is being hijacked by corporate interests
are being fuelled by links between the big three and broader business
interests, as well as extremist organisations. Two of the early
backers of American Information Systems, a company later merged
into ES&S, are also prominent supporters of the Chalcedon
Foundation, an organisation that espouses theocratic governance
according to a literal reading of the Bible and advocates capital
punishment for blasphemy and homosexuality.
The chief executive of American Information Systems in the early
Nineties was Chuck Hagel, who went on to run for elective office
and became the first Republican in 24 years to be elected to the
Senate from Nebraska, cheered on by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper
which also happens to be a big investor in ES&S. In yet another
clamorous conflict of interest, 80 per cent of Mr Hagel's winning
votes - both in 1996 and again in 2002 - were counted, under the
usual terms of confidentiality, by his own company.
In theory, the federal government should be monitoring the transition
to computer technology and rooting out abuses. Under the Help
America Vote Act, the Bush administration is supposed to establish
a sizeable oversight committee, headed by two Democrats and two
Republicans, as well as a technical panel to determine standards
for new voting machinery. The four commission heads were supposed
to have been in place by last February, but so far just one
has been appointed. The technical panel also remains unconstituted,
even though the new machines it is supposed to vet are already
being sold in large quantities - a state of affairs Dr Mercuri
denounces as "an abomination".
One of the conditions states have to fulfil to receive federal
funding for the new voting machines, meanwhile, is a consolidation
of voter rolls at state rather than county level. This provision
sends a chill down the spine of anyone who has studied how Florida
consolidated its own voter rolls just before the 2000 election,
purging the names of tens of thousands of eligible voters, most
of them African Americans and most of them Democrats, through
misuse of an erroneous list of convicted felons commissioned by
Katherine Harris, the secretary of state doubling as George Bush's
Florida campaign manager. Despite a volley of lawsuits, the incorrect
list was still in operation in last November's mid-terms, raising
all sorts of questions about what other states might now do with
their own voter rolls. It is not that the Act's consolidation
provision is in itself evidence of a conspiracy to throw elections,
but it does leave open that possibility.
Meanwhile, the administration has been pushing new voting technology
of its own to help overseas citizens and military personnel, both
natural Republican Party constituencies, to vote more easily over
the internet. Internet voting is notoriously insecure and open
to abuse by just about anyone with rudimentary hacking skills;
just last January, an experiment in internet voting in Toronto
was scuppered by a Slammer worm attack. Undeterred, the administration
has gone ahead with its so-called SERVE project for overseas voting,
via a private consortium made up of major defence contractors
and a Saudi investment group. The contract for overseeing internet
voting in the 2004 presidential election was recently awarded
to Accenture, formerly part of the Arthur Andersen group (whose
accountancy branch, a major campaign contributor to President
Bush, imploded as a result of the Enron bankruptcy scandal).
Not everyone in the United States has fallen under the spell
of the big computer voting companies, and there are signs of growing
wariness. Oregon decided even before HAVA to conduct all its voting
by mail. Wisconsin has decided it wants nothing to do with touchscreen
machines without a verifiable paper trail, and New York is considering
a similar injunction, at least for its state assembly races. In
California, a Stanford computer science professor called David
Dill is screaming from the rooftops on the need for a paper trail
in his state, so far without result. And a New Jersey Congressman
called Rush Holt has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives,
the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, asking for
much the same thing. Not everyone is heeding the warnings, though.
In Ohio, publication of the letter from Diebold's chief executive
promising to deliver the state to President Bush in 2004 has not
deterred the secretary of state - a Republican - from putting
Diebold on a list of preferred voting-machine vendors. Similarly,
in Maryland, officials have not taken the recent state-sponsored
study identifying hundreds of flaws in the Diebold software as
any reason to change their plans to use Diebold machines in March's
The question is whether the country will come to its senses before
elections start getting distorted or tampered with on such a scale
that the system becomes unmanageable. The sheer volume of money
offered under HAVA is unlikely to be forthcoming again in a hurry,
so if things aren't done right now it is doubtful the system can
be fixed again for a long time. "This is frightening, really
frightening," says Dr Mercuri, and a growing number of reasonable
people are starting to agree with her. One such is John Zogby,
arguably the most reliable pollster in the United States, who
has freely admitted he "blew" last November's elections
and does not exclude the possibility that foul play was one of
the factors knocking his calculations off course. "We're
ploughing into a brave new world here," he says, "where
there are so many variables aside from out-and-out corruption
that can change elections, especially in situations where the
races are close. We have machines that break down, or are tampered
with, or are simply misunderstood. It's a cause for great concern."
Roxanne Jekot, who has put much of her professional and personal
life on hold to work on the issue full time, puts it even more
strongly. "Corporate America is very close to running this
country. The only thing that is stopping them from taking total
control are the pesky voters. That's why there's such a drive
to control the vote. What we're seeing is the corporatisation
of the last shred of democracy.
"I feel that unless we stop it here and stop it now,"
she says, "my kids won't grow up to have a right to vote
I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil in Texas;
went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.
I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal
that took land using taxpayer money.
With my father's help and name, I was elected Governor of Texas.
Accomplishments as Governor
I changed pollution laws in favor of the power and oil companies
and made Texas the most polluted state in the Union.
I replaced Los Angeles with Houston as the most smog-ridden city
I cut taxes and bankrupted Texas government to the tune of billions
I set the record for the most executions by any Governor in American
I became U.S. President after losing the popular vote by over
500,000 votes with the help of major Enron money and my father's
appointments to the
Accomplishments as President
I attacked and overtook two countries.
I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S.
I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S.
I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed
in any 12-month period.
I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history
of the U.S.
My record for environmental issues is the least of my concerns.
I am the first president in U.S. history to enter office with
a criminal record.
I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one
After taking-off the entire month of August, I then presided
over the worst security failure in U.S. history.
I am supporting development of a "Tactical Bunker Buster"
nuke, a WMD.
I am getting our troops killed, under the lie of Sadam's procurement
of Yellow Cake Nuke WMD components, then blaming the lie on our
I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S.
In my first year in office over 2-million Americans lost their
jobs and that trend continues every month.
I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month
I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any
president in U.S. history.
I set the record for least amount of press conferences than any
president since the advent of television.
I signed more laws and executive orders effectively amending
or ignoring the
Constitution than any president in history.
I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and
refused to intervene when corruption involving the oil industry
I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history and
refused to use national reserves as past presidents have done.
I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support
a cut in duty benefits for active duty troops and their families
-- in war time.
I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously
protest me in public venues (15 million people) shattering the
record for protest against any person in the history of mankind.
I've dissolved more international treaties than any president
in U.S. history.
I've made my presidency the most secretive and unaccountable
of any in U.S. history.
I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any
administration in U.S. history.
My "poorest millionaire," Condoleeza Rice, has a Chevron
oil tanker named after her.
I am the first president in U.S. history to have almost all 50
states of the Union simultaneously suffer massive financial crisis.
I presided over the biggest corporate stock market fraud of any
market in any country in history.
I am the first president in U.S. history to order a pre-emptive
attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation, and
I did so against the will of the United Nations and the world
I created the largest government department bureaucracy in the
history of the United States.
I set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending
increases, more than any president in history.
I am the first president in U.S. history to have the United Nations
remove the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.
I am the first president in U.S. history to have the United Nations
remove the U.S. from the Elections Monitoring Board.
I removed more checks and balances, and have the least amount
of congressional oversight than any presidential administration
in U.S. history.
I rendered the entire United Nations viewpoints irrelevant.
I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law.
I refused to allow inspectors access to U.S. "prisoners
of war" (detainees) and thereby have refused to abide by
the Geneva Convention.
I am the first president in history to refuse United Nations
election inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election).
I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving
the most corporate campaign donations.
My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best
friends, (Kenneth Lay, former CEO of Enron Corporation) presided
over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S. history. My
political party used the Enron private jets and corporate attorneys
to assure my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election
I have spent more money on polls and focus groups than any president
in U.S. history.
I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade
Center attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most
resented country in the world, possibly the largest failure of
diplomacy in World history.
I am actively working on a policy of "disengagement"
creating the most hostile of Israel-Palestine relations in at
least 30 years.
I am the first president in history to have a majority of Europeans
(71%) view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace
I am the first U.S. president in history to have the people of
South Korea more threatened by the U.S. than by their immediate
neighbor, North Korea.
I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be
awarded government contracts.
I set an all-time record for the number of administration appointees
who violated U.S. law by not selling their huge personal investments
in corporations bidding for U.S. contracts.
I failed to fulfill my pledge to capture Osama Bin Laden, dead
I failed to capture the anthrax killer who tried to murder the
leaders of our country at the U.S. Capitol Building. Even after
18 months I have no leads and no credible suspects.
In the past 18 months following the World Trade Center attack
I have successfully prevented any public investigation into the
biggest security failure in the history of the United States.
I removed more freedoms and civil liberties for Americans than
any president in U.S. history.
In a little over two years, I created the most divided country
in decades, possibly the most divided since the Civil War.
I entered my office with the strongest economy in U.S. history
and have turned every single economic category downward -- all
in less than two years.
Records and References:
I have at least one conviction for drunk driving in Maine. My
Texas driving record has been erased and is not available.
I was AWOL from the National Guard.
I refuse to take a drug test or even answer any questions about
All records of my tenure as Governor of Texas are now in my father's
library, sealed, and unavailable or public view.
All records of SEC investigations into insider trading or bankrupt
companies are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.
All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President,
attended regarding public energy policy are sealed in secrecy
and unavailable for public review.
~ Please consider my experience when voting
in 2004. ~
Letter from State Senator Rodney Ellis -
Democracy under attack in Texas
August 18, 2003
I am writing to you from a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
where I and 10 of my colleagues in the Texas Senate have been
forced to reside for the past 20 days. If we return to our homes,
families, friends, and constituents, the Governor of Texas will
have us arrested.
I know, it sounds more like a banana republic than the dignified
democracy on which we have long prided ourselves. We are effectively
exiled from the state due to our unalterable opposition to a Republican
effort -- pushed by Tom Delay and Karl Rove, and led by Texas
Governor Rick Perry -- that would rewrite the map of Texas Congressional
districts in order to elect at least 5 more Republicans to Congress.
You may not have heard much about the current breakdown in Texas
politics. The Republican power play in California has obscured
the Republican power play in Texas that has forced my colleagues
and me to leave the state.
Recognizing that public pressure is the only thing that can break
the current stalemate, our friends at MoveOn have offered to support
our efforts by sharing this email with you. In it, you will find:
Background information on how the situation in Texas developed;
Analysis of what's at stake for Democrats and the democratic process;
How you can help by contacting Texas politicians, signing our
petition, contributing funds, and forwarding this email!
The Republican redistricting effort shatters the tradition of
performing redistricting only once a decade immediately after
the Census -- making redistricting a perpetual partisan process.
It elevates partisan politics above minority voting rights, in
contravention of the federal Voting Rights Act. It intends to
decimate the Democratic party in Texas, and lock in a Republican
majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. And Republican
efforts to force a vote on this issue by changing the rules of
legislative procedure threaten to undermine the rule of law in
We do not take lightly our decision to leave the state. It was
the only means left to us under the rules of procedure in Texas
to block this injustice. We are fighting for our principles and
beliefs, and we can win this fight with your support.
Texas State Senator (Houston)
During the 2001 session of the Texas Legislature, the legislature
was unable to pass a Congressional redistricting plan as it is
required to do following the decennial Census. A three judge federal
panel was forced to draw the plan. Neither Governor Rick Perry
or then Attorney General John Cornyn, both Republicans, objected
to the plan, which was reviewed and approved by the U.S. Supreme
The 2002 Congressional elections, the first held under the new
redistricting plan, resulted in a Congressional delegation from
Texas consisting of 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans. However,
five of the 17 Democrats prevailed only because they were able
to win the support of Republican and independent voters. All statewide
Republican candidates carried these five districts. Most experts
agree that the current plan has 20 strong or leaning Republican
districts and 12 Democratic districts.
Meanwhile, the 2001 redistricting of Texas legislative seats
(which was enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislative Redistricting
Board, after the legislature again gridlocked in its efforts)
resulted in wide Republican majorities in both the Texas House
and Texas Senate. Now Tom Delay has made it his priority to force
the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact a new redistricting
plan to increase the number of Republican-leaning Congressional
districts. Republicans believe they can manipulate the districts
to elect as many as 22 Republicans out of the 32 member Texas
Congressional delegation. They achieve this by packing minority
voters into as few districts as possible and breaking apart rural
districts so that the impact of independent voters will be reduced
and suburban Republican voters will dominate.
During the regular session of the Texas Legislature, Democratic
members of the Texas House of Representatives exercised an unprecedented
parliamentary move to prevent the House from passing Tom Delay's
redistricting plan. While Democrats are in the minority of the
House of Representatives, the state constitution requires that
at least 2/3 of the House be present for the House to pass a bill.
Because it was clear that the Republicans would entertain no debate
and brook no compromise in their effort to rewrite the rules by
which members of Congress are elected, the Democrats were forced
to break the quorum to prevent the bill from passing. Because
the Republican Speaker of the House and Governor called on state
law enforcement officials to physically compel the Democrats to
return, the lawmakers removed themselves to a Holiday Inn in Ardmore,
Oklahoma -- outside the reach of state troops(1). In there effort
to apprehend the Democrats, Tom Delay officially sought the help
of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation
and the Department of Justice.
The House Democrats (nicknamed the "Killer D's", based
on an earlier episode in Texas history in which a group of Democratic
state senators called the "Killer Bees" broke the quorum
in the Senate over a similarly political stalemate) succeeded
in stopping Delay's redistricting plan during the regular session,
returning to Texas after the legislative deadline had expired
for the House to pass legislation. However, because the Texas
Legislature meets in regular session only every two years, the
state constitution gives the Governor the power to call a 30-day
special legislative session at any time between regular sessions.
Despite statewide protests from Texas citizens who oppose Tom
Delay's redistricting plan, the Governor has called two special
sessions(2) already this summer to attempt to force the legislature
to enact a new plan.
The first called session expired in a deadlock, as 12 of 31 Texas
Senators(3) opposed the plan. Under Senate rules and tradition,
a 2/3 vote is required to consider any bill on the floor of the
Senate, giving 11 Senators the power to block a vote(4). The Republican
Governor and Lieutenant Governor then determined they would do
away with the 2/3 rule, and called another special session, forcing
11 Democratic Senators to break the quorum and leave the state.(5)
These Senators have spent the past 22 days in Albuquerque, New
The Governor has indicated he will continue calling special sessions
until the Republican redistricting plan is enacted, despite the
fact that the Republican-controlled Texas Supreme Court recently
rejected the Governor's writ of mandamus filing to compel the
Senators to return to the Senate. Meanwhile, eleven Democratic
state senators are exiled from their state, unable to be with
their families, friends, and constituents, for fear of being arrested
as part of a partisan power play by Republicans. In the most recent
indignity, Republican Senators voted to fine the absent Democrats
up to $5,000 per day, and to revoke parking and other privileges
for their staffs as long as the Senators are away.
What's at stake
At stake, on the surface, is whether Tom Delay will succeed in
exploiting Republican control of the Texas Legislature to add
to the Republican majority in the United States Congress. But
deeper issues are also at stake.
If the Republicans succeed in redrawing the Texas Congressional
lines to guarantee the election of five to seven more Republicans,
it will ensure that Republicans hold the majority in the U.S.
House of Representatives for the entire decade and will likely
result in Tom Delay becoming Speaker of the House.(6)
The Republican advantage would be gained by removing many African
American and Hispanic voters from their current Congressional
districts and "packing" them into a few districts that
already have Democratic majorities. The voting power of these
minority voters would be dramatically diluted by the Republican
plan, in contravention of the federal Voting Rights Act. If the
Republicans succeed, over 1.4 million African American and Hispanic
voters will be harmed. It would be the largest disenfranchisement
of minority voters since the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Redistricting exists for the purpose of reapportioning voters
among political districts to account for population shifts. The
purpose of this reapportionment is to ensure a roughly equal number
of voters in each district, to preserve the principle of "one
man, one vote."(7) For this reason, redistricting has always
been conducted immediately following the U.S. Census' decennial
population reports. Tom Delay now proposes a new redistricting
plan two years after the Census report simply because Republicans
gained control over the Texas Legislature in 2002 and now have
the power to enact a much more Republican-friendly plan than the
one drawn by the federal courts two years ago. This is an unprecedented
approach to redistricting, one that subordinates its original
purpose of ensuring the principle of "one man, one vote"
to the purpose of perpetual partisan politics. Redistricting,
in this model, would never be a settled matter, and districts
would constantly be in flux depending on the balance of political
power in the Legislature.
The Texas Legislature has traditionally been defined by a spirit
of bipartisanship and cooperation. This issue has polarized the
legislature in a way that threatens to destroy that tradition.
The Republicans have effectively exiled their Democratic counterparts
in a power play that makes our state look more like a banana republic
than a dignified democracy. The arbitrary decision to discard
the 2/3 rule in the Senate sets a precedent that undermines that
body's tradition of consensus and cooperation. The deployment
of state law enforcement officials to apprehend boycotting legislators
erodes the separation of powers between the executive and legislative
branches of government, and diminishes legislators' ability to
represent their constituents as they see fit. The unilateral Republican
effort to penalize Democratic Senators and their staffs
What is needed
The Democratic Senators currently in Albuquerque have two critical
needs. The first is to generate increased public awareness of
the situation. By all reason, every day the Senators are out of
the state this story should get bigger. Instead, news media have
gradually lost interest in the story. The California recall has
dominated the attention of the national media, and the Texas media
has largely lost interest in the story -- out of sight, out of
mind. Without public attention to this story, the Republicans
have all the leverage -- if it does not cost them politically,
it costs them nothing(8) to continue calling special sessions
until the Texas 11 are forced to come home.
The second critical need is funding. The cost of hotels, meeting
rooms, staff support, and public relations efforts is mounting.
In addition, the Senators must defend themselves legally against
Republican efforts to compel their return, while also filing legal
claims against the Republican power play. The Senators are actively
raising money for the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus Fund to offset
these costs and prepare themselves for a stay of indefinite duration
2. At a cost to taxpayers of over $1.5 million per session.
3. House Republicans passed a redistricting bill in the special
session despite an outpouring of public opposition in hearings
across the state. All 12 Democratic state senators opposed the
plan, along with Republican state senator (and former Lieutenant
Governor) Bill Ratliff.
4. The "2/3 rule" requires the Senate to reach broader
consensus on difficult issues than a simple majority vote. It
is a combination of official Senate rules and tradition. The rules
of the Senate require a 2/3 vote to suspend the "regular
order of business" to consider a bill that is not the first
bill on the Senate calendar. By tradition, the Senate has always
placed a "blocker bill" at the top of the Senate calendar,
so that every bill requires a suspension of the regular order
of business to be considered. The process requires compromise
and consensus to achieve a 2/3 majority on each bill. One Texas
insider has said that the 2/3 rule is "what separates us
5. In fact, the Governor and Lt. Governor attempted to "surprise"
the Senators by calling the second special one day early and "trap"
them in the Senate Chamber. The Senators were able to escape the
Capitol with literally minutes to spare.
6. Republican party activist Grover Norquist, head of the Washington
D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, was quoted as follows in
the August 17 Fort Worth Star Telegram: "Republicans will
hold the House for the next decade through 2012 if Texas redistricts It
depresses the hell out of the Democrats and makes it doubly impossible
to take the House and probably depresses their fund raising Anything
that helps strengthen the Republican leadership helps DeLay become
speaker someday if he wants it."
7. Established in the landmark case Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186
8. Notwithstanding the millions of dollars it is costing taxpayers.
Dear MoveOn member,
Impeachment. The 2000 Election. The California Recall. The pattern
is becoming clear: there's a group of men in power who will do
anything to consolidate that power, including undermining our
democratic institutions. We've got to fight back. In Texas, they
are fighting back. And while the world is focusing on the California
mess, they are fighting alone. They need our help.
A partisan plan pushed by Karl Rove and Tom Delay will redistrict
up to 7 Democrats out of Congress. Right now, 11 Democratic State
Senators are hiding across state lines -- with the Texas Governor
calling for their arrest -- to prevent this illegitimate plan
from being strong-armed into law. They have put their reputations
and careers on the line for all of us. A letter below from State
Senator Rodney Ellis explains the situation in detail. Please
read it, and then please help us launch a hard-hitting ad campaign
to fight back in Texas. Whether you donate $5 or $5000, you will
be helping to hold accountable reckless leaders who think they
can get away with anything. Please contribute to this effort now:
The Texas special session that was called to gerrymander the
Texas congressional districts ends early next week, and the pressure
is building. These courageous leaders need to see real support
now, or they won't be able to hold out.
Our numbers our great enough now to fight back effectively against
these attacks on democracy. Please get even more people involved
by forwarding this email to everyone you think would like to help.
--Zack and Wes
August 20th, 2003
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