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Tuesday, November 02, 2004
 
It Can't Happen Here

While we listened this morning to NPR's recapping of the Ohio and South Dakota voter intimidation rulings, my girlfriend expressed a very keen insight: "what would we think if this was happening in another country? The ruling party has people going to polling places to challenge and intimidate voters. It would be so obvious the election was bogus." A half-second's reflection told me she was absolutely right.

For all of the handwringing over the legitimacy of this year's Venezuelan referendum, we never saw partisans of Hugo Chavez openly challenging the elegibility of likely opposition voters. If we had, U.S. neocons would have been screaming for military intervention to remove him from office.

If there had been evidence that former Turkish prime minister Tansu Ciller's brother had deliberately attempted to purge Islamists from voter registration rolls, there would have been riots in the streets, and foreign policy wonks worldwide would have been tsk-tsking over Turkey's crooked democracy and the EU would have washed its hands of them.

It's an open secret here that high voter turnout favors Democrats generally, and especially in the presidential race. In one sense, it could be said that any Republican presidential victory, given the manifest and continuing preference for their opponents, is somehow illegitimate. However, because voting is not mandatory, the winner is the one who gets more actual votes, case closed.

I can accept this without question. Although I loathed them both, I had no problem with Reagan and Bush I taking office; they both won beyond a reasonable suspicion of shenanigans, and I had to shut up and deal. Fair enough.

What must foreigners think of our democracy in light of Jeb Bush's attempted purge of eligible black voters? What must they think in light of the Republican recruitment and deployment of poll challengers in Ohio and elsewhere? What must they think of Republican operatives conspicuously writing down license plate numbers of Native Americans in South Dakota?

They must think that America's democracy is rigged, that it's a sham. They must think that the side controlling the government is cheating and that the will of the public is being subordinated to that of the rich and the powerful. They must think that the United States of America no longer lives by the principle that everyone is equal and has the right to be counted. They must think that representative government here is dead or dying.

Why don't we think that here? Isn't it obvious?

The fact that we may get enough votes this time to overcome this creeping anti-democratic cancer absolves us of nothing. If we do not make ourselves heard on this issue, we'll deserve what we get.