In the end, Bush won a clear majority of the popular vote, and there was not a repeat of the disputed outcome of the 2000 election. This does not mean, however, that American democracy has been “fixed” since the Florida debacle four years ago.
In that election, even though Gore won the national popular vote, he lost because the Supreme Court refused to allow a full recount of the Florida vote. But as Michael Moore and others have pointed out, the 2000 election was stolen in Florida even before voters got to the polls. Not only did voters have to contend with “butterfly ballots” and “hanging chads,” but voter rolls were systematically purged of ex-felons, overwhelmingly African Americans, many of whom turned out not to be ex-felons at all.
African Americans in Florida were targeted by the notorious Secretary of State Katherine Harris because they were, of course, far more likely to vote Democratic. But as Greg Palast, the investigative journalist and author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, points out, Florida 2000 was not some random aberration of the system.
In every election in this country, there are a significant number of “spoiled” votes. Typically, in a national election some 2 million votes are spoiled. Most of this is not caused by voter error but by faulty voting machines, especially those using punch cards. Such machines are concentrated in poor areas, and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Harvard Law School Civil Rights Project estimate that 54% of “spoiled” ballots are cast by African Americans.
This year there were numerous reports of attempts to purge the voter rolls, including in Florida and Ohio. Republicans also came up with “hit lists” of voters, of course mainly black, whom they planned to “challenge” – that is, intimidate – at polling stations. On top of this, large numbers of voter registration applications were summarily rejected in “battleground states” for minor inaccuracies. Again, black and Hispanic voters were mostly affected.
Disenfranchising black voters is an ugly national tradition going right back to the country’s founding. Under Jim Crow in the South, it was carried out by the Democratic (“Dixiecrat”) Party, while today it is mainly the Republicans who play this game. But it should not be thought that this is simply a Southern issue. And the silence of the Democrats on this issue is deafening, even though it clearly cost them the 2000 election. As Palast says, “There’s a lot of politicians in both parties that like it that way; suppression of the minority vote is the way they get elected.”
The government could easily require a uniform, transparent voting technology for federal elections that leaves a paper trail and is not prone to “spoilage.” Instead, we continue to see a range of systems, and now the introduction of paperless electronic voting which studies show is very much open to tampering. Despite the danger to the credibility of their political system, the American ruling class appears happier to maintain the option of stealing elections.
As socialists, we call for not only getting rid of electronic voting and punch cards but also instant voter registration, which could be done, for example, when people get their social security numbers or drivers’ licenses. Election Day should be a paid national holiday to allow workers and the poor full access to the voting process. There should also be one national standard of ballot access with a low threshold for independents and minor parties to prevent the type of anti-democratic campaign that the Democrats waged this year to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot. And in regard to presidential elections, it is obviously past time to abolish the completely undemocratic Electoral College.
Achieving these and other basic reforms would not change the fundamental character of an electoral system dominated by corporate interests. But even simple reforms will not be enacted as long as there is a political monopoly by two parties who have no interest in changing the situation. Achieving these demands will require the pressure of a new political party based on the interests of the working class, people of color, and young people.