In 2004, things got real ugly in Ohio. Considered a powerful “swing state” in the presidential election, Ohio’s electoral process was guided by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. As Chief Elections Officer, he was the overseer of the rules that guided the elections that year in the Buckeye State, and it was up to him to ensure that the election was carried out fairly.
Funny thing was, he was also the co-chair of the Committee to Re-Elect George Bush in Ohio.
In the months leading up to the election, Blackwell set forth a mess of rules governing the voting, from insisting that only registration cards on some archaic, 80-lb stock would suffice, to throwing all kinds of stipulations on provisional ballots, going so far as to say that if you were new to a town, and voted in the correct room of the right building in the right city, but had been guided to the wrong table, your vote wouldn’t count.
Clearly his tactics were meant to confuse and ultimately disenfranchise voters from turning up at all, particularly those who had to already go to extra lengths to cast their ballots. And not many people seemed surprised that when Ohio was one of the deciding factors to the ultimate election results, it went to everyone’s favorite bitch, G.W. Bush.
It was corruption at the highest levels, and it worked in spite of public outcries. Now that Blackwell is running for Governor of this muggy state, it really seems pointless to even bother voting, as many people here feel that, despite the polls saying he’s behind, this “election” has already been bought and paid for by the Powers That Insist on Being.
However, historian Douglas Brinkley doesn’t see it that way, and points out all elections aren’t just for the President. “Most elections take place on a local level,” Brinkley reminds us, “and most of those are undisputed, meaning there’s clarity, a clear victor. It’s the minority of elections that have potential illegality attached to them.”
If anyone would have a lucid view on the basic functions of the United States, it would be Douglas Brinkley. Considered by many circles as the nation’s top historian, he’s made a reputation for himself of knowing the Real about how this country operates, so much that he serves as director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization (and Professor of History) at Tulane University. Several of his books have ended up on the New York Times’ best-seller list, with titles like Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War and, more recently, The Great Deluge causing beautiful stirs.
“We’re nothing of a country if we don’t guarantee that our electoral process is on the up-and-up,” he notes. “There’s nothing that will corrode our civic spirit more than people feeling that things are rigged. It’s been one of the problems of the last two presidential elections, in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. And we haven’t been able to demonstrate in a clear, scientific, unambiguous fashion that polling was done properly, and that the vote tally was accurate. And that’s a devastating syndrome for any democracy, when people start questioning whether their vote matters.
“So, the more consciousness you can bring to these issues, the more safeguard measures, the more security measures… The problem is, like in Ohio, where the Secretary of State determines where polling places are, people can be disenfranchised just by not opening enough polling places. We’ve gotta find a way to have a national standard, and have enough voting booths per capita, so large urban areas where it’s harder for transportation for people to get around, you don’t have to go half-way across the city grid just to cast a vote.
“Anything that we can do to keep the media on it, trying to keep it honest, and punish people that we feel are cheating the process, is essential for our future.”
So when it comes to Blackwell, Brinkley says, “I think it’s gonna be fair; I don’t he’s won this election yet. The problem is, people are so busy, it’s hard for them to micro-follow everything going on in politics, so it’s about local accountability. The Ohio media needs to have people who understand what the situation is.
“But if you mention his name right now, I don’t think it has a positive connotation nationally. The guy’s big problem is- he’s got so much going for him, in the sense of an African-American in the Republican Party, and obviously an articulate and shrewd guy- but he has the taint of scandal around him, and that’s gonna turn a lot of people off in this election. Some of these guys are big stars of the Republican Party, they overreach, and they burn themselves. He’s right on that cusp right now.
“Most normal people don’t like the concept of our electoral politics being rigged. And you just gotta believe in people.”
The hope, it seems, is that people will dismiss notions of unstoppable corruption, take the time to find out what’s going on in their communities, and cast their votes. Maybe if enough people do that, we can manage to get vermin like Blackwell out of power, not just in Ohio, but all throughout this fine country. Who knows? Maybe eventually, we’ll even have the option to vote for candidates representing some genuine, progressive points of view.
“I think we’re controlled by two parties,” adds Brinkley, “and it gets harder and harder for third party candidates to have a voice in this country, and to me it’s a disturbing trend. We’re in a crisis where our two political parties are giants, and they’ll squash any third party effort.
“But there’s clearly a public appetite for a third party. We’ve seen when there’s a strong third party candidate, and the race between Republicans and Democrats nationally is 50/50, an independent candidate can turn the election. Meaning, if the Republicans nominate McCain, it’s very plausible that an extreme conservative, pro-life candidate can come and take 5% of the vote and turn the election to the Democratic candidate. We saw what Ralph Nader’s done from the Left.
“So there’s still power in those candidates. On one hand, the laws make it very hard for a third party to gain traction. On the other hand, when one does with a 50/50 split between the Democrats and the Republicans, you can’t say they’re not having an impact.”
Which goes back to local elections, and why they are so important. Change the laws, the rules of play, and then we can change who’s in control. Or at least try to.