Peeling back the mandate

Thursday, March 10th, 2005

That march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge the other day in remembrance of Bloody Sunday and the passage, 40 years ago, of the Voting Rights Act, was not — despite the presence of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, walking arm in arm with the likes of Jesse Jackson and John Lewis — a feel-good re-enactment of our long-ago battle against racism and the Klan.

There may be plenty of reasons to feel good about the way race relations have changed in America since the mid-’60s — indeed, Frist’s presence seemingly symbolizes how far we’ve come — but don’t be lulled by news accounts into thinking the march was driven by nostalgia.

The civil rights movement is regrouping, just as racism is regrouping, and voting rights are still at the forefront. Peel back George Bush’s grinning “mandate” from November and what you find is a shadow world of widespread anti-democratic maneuvering, harassment and deceit, blatantly targeting African-American and other primarily Democratic voting blocs.

The main difference between today and 1965, when the fire hoses and police batons of Selma set the stage for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, is that racism isn’t an end in itself, just the means to an end. The end is GOP/neocon control of government.

The biggest scandal is that they get away with it. For two presidential elections, the mainstream media have swiftly withdrawn their curiosity about allegations of irregularities and outrageous shenanigans to curtail the minority vote. In their rush to legitimize, and relegitimize, the Bush presidency, they’ve swept all troubling doubts about the elections’ fairness into the nutcase file — even when a GOP state legislator from Michigan gave the game away last July by saying, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.”

Given this nation’s history of racism, Jim Crow laws and brutal minority disenfranchisement, how dare the media be on anything less than hair-trigger alert for its recurrence? As far as I’m concerned, this is bigger than who won Ohio. In a democracy, the results should matter far less than the fairness and integrity of the election.

In a recent letter to Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, laid out the troubling findings of his committee’s investigation of the Ohio vote. As well as machine malfunctions and suspicious vote totals in a number of precincts that suggest fraud, “a series of actions of government and non-government officials may have worked to frustrate minority voters,” Conyers wrote.

He cited “a lack of voting machines in urban, minority and Democratic areas, and a surplus of such machines in Republican, white and rural areas. As a result, minority voters were discouraged from voting by lines that were in excess of eight hours long. Many of these voters were also apparently victims of a campaign of deception, where flyers and calls would direct them to the wrong polling place. Once at that polling place, after waiting for hours in line, many of these voters were provided provisional ballots after learning they were at the wrong location. These ballots were not counted in many jurisdictions because of a directive issued by some election officials, such as yourself.”

There’s a lot more — uncounted and discarded minority-cast ballots more numerous than Bush’s margin of victory in cliff-hanger states such as Ohio and New Mexico, notorious ex-felon purges that cast too wide a net and clearly had no purpose other than to eliminate likely Democrats — but this is enough, isn’t it?

American democracy is a lot less than it seems. Eight-hour lines? Despite such waits in Columbus’ inner-city precincts, “at least 125 machines remained unused on Election Day” in Franklin County, where the city is located, Conyers informed Blackwell.

How is such an outrage possible? The answer that Conyers will not get from Blackwell, without giving him truth serum or a weekend at Guantanamo, is that he belongs to a party that isn’t sure it can win a fair election, yet is convinced of the absolute necessity that it win anyway.

What’s a little collateral damage in minority communities when the stakes are so high? And when it’s over, you get to hear your victorious president announce his plans to spread democracy to every corner of the planet.