David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate who has devoted the past two months to the arduous task of pressing for a full review of the mess that Ohio officials made of the election in that state, called on Friday afternoon to proclaim a sort of victory. “I think we’ve finally got a movement going for election reform in this country,” Cobb said.
To an extent, he’s right.
At the grassroots level, there appears to be growing support for a count-every-vote, eliminate-every-opportunity-for-fraud standard that would radically alter the way in which the United States runs elections.
And, to some small extent, this enthusiasm for election reform has been communicated to those members of Congress who are still interested in what their constituents say — as was evidenced by Thursday’s decision on the part of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to support the objection by members of the House to the certification of Ohio’s electoral votes. The objection, and the Congressional debates that followed, were decried by the usual suspects — White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who has the distinction of having never told the truth in his official capacity, dismissed evidence of disenfranchisement of minority voters as “conspiracy theories” — but they also drew enough thoughtful coverage and editorial comment from mainstream media to suggest that the fight was worth it.
A lot more Americans know about our flawed voting systems now. And a few more Democrats in Congress seem to have gotten the point that it is not appropriate to casually certify the results of an election that has been tainted by evidence of disenfranchisement, voter suppression and official misdeeds.
While critics tried to remake the Congressional challenge as an attempt to reverse the result of the 2004 election in Ohio, and by extension nationally, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, explained that, “This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning or challenging the victory of the president.” The point, said Tubbs Jones, was to expose the fundamental flaws in the current system and to highlight the need for reform.
It was, added Boxer, a matter of “electoral justice.”
Unfortunately, that point was lost on every Republican member of the House and Senate and on the vast majority of Democrats. When all was said and done, only one member of the Senate (Boxer) took a stand for electoral justice by refusing to back certification of the Ohio results. There was more support in the House, from 31 members: Florida’s Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings, Indiana’s Julia Carson, Missouri’s William Clay Jr., South Carolina’s James Clyburn, Michigan’s John Conyers and Carolyn Kilpatrick, Illinois’ Danny Davis, Lane Evans, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, California’s Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, Arizona’s Raul Grijalva, New York’s Maurice Hinchey and Major Owens, Texas’s Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ohio’s Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Dennis Kucinich, Georgia’s John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, Massachusetts’ Ed Markey and John Olver, New Jersey’s Frank Pallone and Donald Payne, and Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson.
That most Congressional Democrats failed to act is not merely a matter of a failure of courage. Primarily, it is a matter of lack of responsibility.
Boxer and the 31 House members who objected were not being courageous. They were simply performing their duties in the manner that was intended. The founders of this country gave the legislative branch the responsibility of certifying election results because they understood the need for oversight of elections — especially for a position as powerful as the presidency. And they trusted that Congressional representatives, who were more directly accountable to the citizenry, would assure that partisan pressures did not trump democracy.
Last Thursday, however, democracy got trumped. The vast majority of the members of the House and Senate chose not to live up to the responsibility rested upon them by the founders.
Congressional Democrats who failed to support the objection to the Ohio count — as well as those moderate Republicans who would like to think of themselves as anything more than rubber stamps for a president who has never displayed respect for the Constitution — need to ask themselves some questions: What is it about the phrase “electoral justice” that don’t they understand? Is there any level of minority disenfranchisement that they would take seriously? Do they really believe that conservative Republicans in Congress would go along with certification of election results from a state where there was significant evidence of disenfranchisement of a Republican leaning group, such as evangelical Christians?
They know the answers to those questions. And, if they are honest with themselves, those thinking members of Congress who failed to object to the certification of the Ohio results know that they let the American people down.
So the people will have to respond. I hope David Cobb, who has worked so hard on these issues, is right. I hope we are seeing the birth of a multi-partisan movement for election reform that will establish a universal set of standards for registering voters, casting ballots and counting ballots, and a deep commitment to assure that the system works for all Americans. Because, as Thursday’s failure of responsibility by most members of Congress illustrated, we are still far short of electoral justice.
John Nichols’ book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, “This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president.” Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, “The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton’s no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting).”
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.