liberal ["liberalis" L - suitable for a freeman, generous; "eleutheros" Gk - free] (adj) generous, open-minded, not subjugated to authoritarian domination; (n) one who believes in liberty, universal suffrage and the free exchange of ideas. elite ["eslire" Fr -- to choose fr.L "eligere" -- choose] (n) the choice part; best of a class; the socially superior part of society.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Back to the main issue

The Star Tribune has a nice summary of questions and comments about recount observations in Ohio:

Last update: December 28, 2004 at 7:11 PM
Mark Halvorson and Kirk Lund: We may never know what happened in the Ohio vote

Halvorson and Lund introduce their thesis in the first paragraph by stating:
The right to vote and to have each vote count is the cornerstone of democracy, but deep cracks are showing in this cornerstone.

This is an interesting remark. Their subsequent recitation of facts lends a lot of support to the "deep cracks" part of their thesis. Those facts are well known and summarized very succinctly by the Nashua Advocate. Many others have detailed this list of offenses to the American electorate, so I don't want to revisit familiar ground ad nauseum.

The particulars of the Ohio election legal battle are still being contested in lawsuits by some dedicated Americans, including the Green and Libertarian candidates. Today the Columbus, Ohio Free Press ran this column -- faithfully keeping us informed about the latest legal developments and voter complaints. While the "little people" battle it out in the trenches below the radar of the national media and beyond the ennui threshold of the average American, some stunning -- and perhaps historically significant -- cultural shaping is taking place.

The question is, "Is the right to vote the 'cornerstone of democracy?'" If it is, does our apathy about voting signal the death of democracy in America?

Clearly, the state of voting in America is substandard, as evidenced by this past election. Does it matter? To whom?

Many of us believe that it is our individual responsibility as citizens to actively participate in community self-government at the local, state and federal levels. This participation goes beyond voting, to actively communicating with elected officials, participating in campaigns and all aspects of fair elections. Otherwise, this mandate for citizenship marches beside the banner of "Civic Duty." It can mean volunteer work with children or the environment, auxiliary police, any community service work or public activism. This is the ingredient in American society that de Tocqueville saw as the sine qua non of our vital civilization. Without volunteer citizen action, we would be indolent and vulnerable to corrupt political and economic forces.

So, public action is important. Public involvement is key in preserving a healthy society. Does that necessarily mean we have to bust our chops about elections? Can't we delegate that to "the proper authorities?"

As quoted before on this weblog, Alexander Keyssar documents the contested history of democracy in America. In the flood of suffrage expansion throughout our history, racist and sexist beliefs and attitudes, ethnic antagonism, partisan interests, and political theories and ideological convictions, along with class tension, linked the health of the state to a narrow franchise. (Keyssar, Alexander, The Right to Vote, Basic Books, NY 2000; p. xxi).

The forces of "voter suppression," as they are termed today, are associated with the Republican party and are considered by most as partisan. But these are embodiments of historically important and powerful forces that have worked to limit voting throughout our history. In other words, the "right to vote" has always been a matter of strong contest in the United States. The "suppression" we experience now is only a flickering shadow of the gloomy blackness of disfranchisement that covered the country in past centuries.

So we are living in a cross section of dynamic conflict over suffrage that has played on the stage of American politics since the beginning of the colonial era. The wealthy have always sought to limit the right to vote and the poor have always tried to expand it. One group fears the loss of responsibility and commitment among the voting population, the other fears exclusion from the political process.

This conflict is very much an element on the landscape of the 2004 election. To pretend that it isn't a factor in Ohio, Florida and all the swing states -- if not in the red and blue states -- would be blindness to history.

So the issue is, "How do we monitor the process of these historical forces at work today in our election?"

Is there any way to get an objective bearing on what the events of the 2004 election say about fairness, justice and progress in the United States?

We rely on the media.


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