Stateside,  Vote 2008

US Election realism or defeatism?

Peter Tatchell paints a bleak and pessimistic view of the US Elections over at Comment Is Free. In a bold statement he declares: “The US presidential election will not be free and fair.”

He bases this on a series of articles in The New York Times, which are linked from his article, alleging massive vote tampering.

Personally, I think this type of statement is a little over the top and perhaps a bit reckless. What if Obama wins? Do we then withdraw the claim? Tatchell endorses Greg Palast’s criticism that “Democrat leaders are too high on their ‘Yes we can’ hype to kick up a fuss about this massive disenfranchisement of their voters.” This too, I fear, may lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy and cost Obama the election. If Palast’s own conclusion is, as Tatchell quotes, that the Democrats “must not simply beat John McCain at the polls – they must beat him by a margin that exceeds the level of GOP vote tampering,” then I fear their tactics are destructive. The only possible way to get everyone motivated enough to match this higher margin is by the “Yes we can ” hype. If people are convinced that tampering will cause them to lose the election no matter how they vote, if they’re persuaded their vote is pointless because of rigging, then they may not bother to vote at all.

It is low voter turnout that is a bigger enemy. This defeatism, I fear, may play straight into the Republican’s hands. They may not even have to actually rig the election if enough alarmists can persuade Democratic voters that their vote would be an act of futility.

I also can’t see what all the fuss is about requiring positive ID to vote. Tatchell says:

“Karl Rove has backed a new law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polling booth. One in ten US citizens don’t have photo ID. Among African Americans it is one in five. This requirement will disenfranchise millions of poor, elderly and black Americans, who tend to vote Democrat.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a new, last minute, manouvre. But this change came in 2 years ago – plentyof time for people to organise ID, and an opportunity for the Democrats to merge helping people acquire them with voter registration and mobilisation. If this opportunity was lost, it’s the Democrats own fault. Even South Africa requires positive ID to vote. Frankly, this is a move to minimise voter fraud, not an act of fraud itself.

I’d also like to see evidence for the claim that poor, elderly and black Americans tend to vote Democrat. I’m not saying it isn’t so, but it seems to be one of those knee-jerk assumptions that can backfire and cost the party an election.

However, these strategic criticisms aside, most of the evidence he cites is quite alarming and deserves some attention. I think the loophole that allows people due to have their homes foreclosed on to be removed as voters is a fucking disgrace. There’s no polite way of putting that.

Another incident, one of several reported in Rolling Stone magazine, (by Palast and Robert F Kennedy Jr.) points to a major cock-up where a voter discovered he’d been removed from the voter’s role for some reason… and he was the supervisor of electionsin Las Vegas!

The other allegations are serious too and must be investigated. But this should be done with a quiet efficiency and tenacity, not with alarmist and demoralising outbursts.

A final criticism though. In the last 100 years, there have been 16 elected presidents – a reasonably balanced 7/9 split between the Democrats and the Republicans. No one president has stayed in office for even a decade, with the exception of FDR, a Democrat, because of WWII. To use language like “not be free and fair” with regard to one of the great, but like most, imperfect, democracies in the world, gives succour to despots and dictators like Robert Mugabe who always chooses bullets over ballots. It’s a deplorable relativism. We have to be careful – however passionate we are – about using exaggerated language. This is how the word “fascist” lost any meaning.

That said, politics is dirty, and the tricks are dirtier. We are right to be vigilant. These incidents must be thoroughly investigated. But if we intend to win, we must not act like losers.

UPDATE: Curiously the CiF editors have closed down comments on Tatchell’s article. Normally comments are open for three days. This article has been up for less than a day. What gives?