Posted 10 months ago on July 13, 2014, 9:29 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Why Elections Still Matter, Except When They Don't
Thursday, 10 July 2014 10:40
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed
Martin Luther King once talked about how a black person in the south was unable to vote, while one in the north had nothing to vote for. 50 years later, the south as become the north too. The two capitalist parties have gamed and subverted the electoral process to exclude real opposition and to make it meaningless, except for bestowing legitimacy upon their stooges. So why and when to elections still matter for the left, and when not?
Two years ago, I wrote a piece called “How to Waste Your Vote in 2012” in which I said:
Your vote really is your voice, and in the modern era, every government on earth claims to rule with the consent of the people. This bestows upon the vote a unique kind of legal and symbolic power. The gap, however, between this legal, this symbolic power of the vote and any real ability to change things for the better is a vast one. The authorities rightly fear the people's voice, and so have contrived law and custom to ensure that we are seldom heard and almost never heeded.
They would never dream of allowing us to vote on the price of gas, food, housing, credit or college tuition. But they don't mind at all letting us choose between corporate-funded Republicans and corporate-funded Democrats. The powers that rule our economy, our media and our politics won't let us vote on whether to bring the troops home from 140 countries and the seven seas, or whether to continue spending more on weapons of death and destruction than the other 95% of humanity combined. But they will let us choose between an ignorant, crazy or racist Republican who promises to give banksters, polluters and corporate criminals a free pass, and a sane, smart, level-headed free market liberal Democrat who does exactly the same thing, no matter what he promised.
The authorities won't let us vote on whether the broadcast spectrum should be privatized, whether we should have the right to start and join unions, whether to create millions of good-paying green jobs. They won't allow voters to decide whether corporations deserve more rights than flesh and blood people, or whether the president should be able to kidnap, torture, imprison and murder people without trials or even charges. But they will let us choose between a white guy and a black guy. As long as it's their white guy, and their black one as well.
All that is still true, and much, much more. The terrain of electoral politics is nothing like a level playing field. It's more like a briar patch, inside a labyrinth, built over a minefield.
Democrats and Republicans Have Created Ballot Access Hurdles
In states like Georgia where I live, third party candidates face incredible obstacles to even getting a candidate on the ballot. A Green congressional candidate for example, has to get 20-25,000 signatures on a nominating petition to appear on the ballot, and a statewide candidate needs more than 60,000, distributed in a complicated formula among several score counties, while Republicans and Democrats simply pay a nominal fee. These are laws passed on the state level by Democrats and Republicans working together.
Access to Media is Limited by Private Owners of Print, Broadcast, Cable Networks.
Cable networks are laid and maintained beneath public streets and roads, with massive public subsidies and gobs of corporate welfare, but privately owned by a handful of greedy corporations. Broadcast spectrum wasn't invented by any clever engineer working for a corporation, it's a property of the physical universe, like sunlight. But the same handful of greedy telecoms own that too, along with most of the print newspapers.
The private owners of these public resources have decreed that the only candidates and causes who can afford campaign commercials are those bankrolled by wealthy individuals and greedy corporations, often with legally anonymous cash. With no interest in an informed public, the billionaires who own print, cable and broadcast outlets have been firing reporters and spending less every year on journalism for several decades. Reporters refuse to cover third party candidates in partisan elections, lest their careers end prematurely. In nominally “nonpartisan” races like mayor in most medium and large cities, the owners of media all but refuse to cover the existence of candidacies not endorsed by local elites.
Legal Obstacles to Registration and the Vote.
Since 1992, when I was one of three field organizers in an Illinois voter registration drive that signed up 133,000 in the 4 months preceding the November election, rules in many jurisdictions across the country have been tweaked to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Florida is one of several states that made clerical and procedural errors on the part of registration organizers into felony vote fraud, thus causing outfits like the League of Women Voters to stop doing registration drives.
More recently many states have adopted voter ID laws specifically crafted to lower the number of eligible voters among the populations they'd rather not see at the polls, and felony disenfranchisement has always been a potent tool for declaring hundreds of thousands outside the electorate.
Without a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote, registration and eligibility and how candidates are placed on the ballot and the votes counted are in the hands of 2,000 counties and hundreds of cities, each with the authority to make its own rules.
And There's Black Box Voting, Caging, and Official Manipulation of Turnouts and Results
And if you do organize a grassroots campaign, register your voters, perform a canvass that counts and identifies them before election day, and chase them out to those effectively, the last 25 years have seen the advent of unaccountable, faith-based computerized voting systems without paper trails which make the outright falsification of election results trivially easy.