Metropolis: Your vote could mean ... nothing

There are conspiracies, and one is to keep you from voting and to prevent some ballots from counting

The withdrawal is already beginning. Junkies twitching for a fix. There's an edge of desperation in the voices of Olbermann, Hannity, Blitzer and the whole infinitely rude, cacophonous band of punditry screechers. In a few days, it's over, and they know it.

They, not to mention the rest of the nation and world, will have to face up to the horrible truth that the election is finished. Cold turkey.

Oh sure, for a few days, we political addicts will survive by being ghouls, devouring the dead carcass of voting results. While we sober up, maybe some of us will notice that there was a far larger and more important story clamoring for attention, seldom getting what it deserved.

That story is about the war for control of the ballot box. The media give it scant attention – mostly parroting demonstrably false claims from Republicans that hordes of illegal, ineligible or nonexistent would-be voters are registering. Yet, there is a gaping fault between those who favor broadening democracy and those who don't.

Yes, we should ensure that everyone who votes is eligible. But we also should ensure that there are absolutely no impediments to voting for those who are eligible. A commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker – as bipartisan a duo as can be imagined – came to the same conclusion in 2005, and made 87 recommendations to implement those goals. The report collects dust.

At the heart of the problem is this: A broader electorate favors Democrats. So, for years, Republicans have waged war on voters. The GOP has become expert at creating legal hurdles to voting. Its propagandists spread the message that a lot of people shouldn't vote because they're not really real Americans – as when Cox Radio's Neal Boortz derides black voters as "ticks." I'm not engaging in partisan sniping. The facts tell a grim story.

In 2000, a Florida election official pointed me to a story that changed history. While the mainstream media focused on the hanging chads, the real election theft went largely unnoted – except in the Creative Loafing in Tampa, a few other alternative publications and articles by an American reporter, Greg Palast, writing for English newspapers and the BBC. Jeb Bush and his chief vote suppressor, Katherine Harris, disenfranchised 57,000 voters because they allegedly were convicted felons.

The tip I got dealt with only one county, where elections officials were able to verify only a handful of the purged voters as "felons." In all, Palast reported that fewer than 3 percent on the statewide list were proven to be ineligible because of criminal convictions. Shades of Minority Report: Some were denied the right to vote for crimes committed in 2008 – keep in mind that this purge was in 2000.

The result? A BBC study estimated Al Gore would have picked up 20,000 votes if all eligible voters had been allowed to vote, far more than enough to win Florida and, thus, the presidency.

George Bush signed a typically Orwellian named law, the Help America Vote Act, in 2002. Its impact – intended, I'd argue – was the opposite of its name. In the 2004 election, millions of votes simply weren't counted. The law encouraged partisan state elections officials to create a multitude of obstacles to voting. About 3 million people were forced to cast "provisional" ballots in 2004, and 1 million of those were simply thrown away.

Another favorite tactic of GOP election commissars is to send antiquated voting machines to minority districts, as happened in Ohio and elsewhere. This results in what is called "spoilage," ballots not being counted because the machines don't operate properly. A U.S. Civil Rights Commission study showed that blacks are nine times more likely to have their ballots "spoiled" than whites.

Then, there's always the more blunt tactic of intimidating voters by trying to disqualify them or their ballots. Four years ago, more than 70,000 voters across the nation were pounced on and challenged by the GOP on Election Day.

In Colorado, the top election boss, a Republican, tossed out a fifth of all new registrations. A new twist in 2006 was to allow state officials to challenge registrations that don't match government lists. If your registration spells out your middle name, but you use an initial on your driver's license, sorry, pal, you may not be allowed to vote. In California, 42 percent of new registrations were trashed for that reason.

If there was widespread fraud, maybe this sort of thing would be justified. But, according to Palast and other reporters, federal elections officials have been able to identify only five (not 5,000, much less 5 million) fraudulent voters a year. Here in Georgia, I've yet to see Secretary of State Karen Handel march out a single culprit, yet she has been relentless at pushing the racist-inspired voter ID law, whose real purpose, as with similar efforts across the nation, is to deter minorities, the poor, the elderly and others likely to vote for Democrats from exercising their constitutional rights.

The flap about the community group ACORN has been a Faux News staple for weeks – yet the only fraud was in the reporting. Fake names were recorded by workers, but there's little or no chance any people would have voted using those names. The ACORN workers were getting paid by the name, and some cheated. None of those lists would have impacted the actual voting, though.

The vote suppression was going on even as I wrote this column. African-Americans were being heckled at early voting polls by John McCain supporters in Fayetteville, N.C., according to the conservative Washington Times. It was a clear violation of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, but officials refused to intervene.

In Georgia, Florida and other Southern states, purges of voters continue. Of special concern are Republican efforts to keep students from voting in Virginia, a key battleground state.

Whatever the results next week, no election is going to mean anything more than the show-voting in totalitarian states unless citizens fight through efforts to block them from their ballots – and then demand an end to vote suppression. Start by holding Handel accountable – she can't be both an election official and a party hack. Beyond that, we must go back to the Carter-Baker panel's report. It was sensible and sound – and that scares the hell out of those who want to steal your vote.

The report by Jimmy Carter and James Baker can be found at www.american.edu/ia/cfer.

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