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William Rivers Pitt: Stand, Be Counted, Vote

Stand, Be Counted, Vote

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 01 November 2004


"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote."

- George Nathan

If you are an American who has not voted in the last four years - 50% of eligible voters did not cast a ballot in 2000, more than Republican and Democratic voters combined, and 66% of eligible voters did not cast a ballot in the 2002 midterm elections - this note's for you. If you live in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico or Missouri, this note's for you. If you believe there is no difference between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate, this note's for you.

The favorite talking point among political pundits on the cable news stations is that we are a deeply divided nation. The 2000 election showed this clearly, we are told. Half of the people who voted went Red, half went Blue, and if you listen to the pundits, the same situation looms before us on Tuesday.

The truth of the matter, however, is that the nation is only divided among those who actually vote. 25% of registered voters went Republican in 2000, 25% went Democratic, and 50% of registered voters cast no ballot at all. If there is division in the American electorate, it has come about because half the country has opted out of the process. The process is controlled by that half of the electorate which stands forth and raises a hand. The 'divisions' we hear about are in truth only among those who bother to vote.

The non-voting half of the electorate must be made aware of their power, for they control the fate and fortune of the nation. Consider: In the 2000 election, Bush received 50,456,002 votes. Gore received 50,999,897 votes. The difference came to 543,895 votes, a margin of 0.51% in the popular count. If 1% of those who did not cast a ballot in 2000 decide to do so this Tuesday, 1,000,000 votes would be injected into the process. If 10% of those who did not vote in 2000 decide to do so this Tuesday, 10,000,000 votes would be injected into the process. And so forth. And so on.

Such an uprising would shatter these notions of a 'divided nation' decisively. Such an uprising would bulldoze through the looming electoral problems we have been hearing so much about. The chaos of the election in 2000 was not the result of new problems in our vote-counting; such problems have always existed, but the margins of victory in past elections had left them unexposed. The dwindling turnout shaved the margins so closely that the problems, long in place, became the elephant in the room. It was that missing 50% in 2000, as much as any chicanery by partisans, that led to the mess we saw in Florida. If 10% of that missing majority were to show up at the polls on Tuesday, most voting problems would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

As we learned in 2000, the true contest in a Presidential election does not lie with the popular vote, but with the Electoral College. In truth, however, the two cannot be separated. Electoral College votes are doled out to the candidate who gets the most popular votes in a given state. In 2000, Florida and its 25 Electoral College votes were the measure of this truth, and the difference in the election. This time around, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Missouri - with a grand total of 94 Electoral College votes - is where the difference on Tuesday will likely be determined.

Many of these states face looming Florida-style debacles. In Ohio, the Bush campaign has fought to disqualify tens of thousands of newly registered voters, and will be out at the polling places in an unprecedented push to challenge voters' bona fides. In Wisconsin, a state Bush lost by 0.2% in 2000, the Bush campaign is attempting to question the eligibility of 100,000 new voters. In New Mexico, a flood of newly registered voters could create similar problems. All of this could become fodder for post-election lawsuits.

Pennsylvania voters will cast their ballots statewide on four different kinds of machines, which will deeply complicate matters if a recount is required. In Missouri, the chief election officer, Secretary of State Matt Blunt, is also the Republican candidate for governor, setting the stage for a variety of conflict-of-interest issues. Florida, ever the voting swamp, has seen some 60,000 absentee ballots go missing in Broward County alone, and has seen newly installed electronic voting machines go haywire.

Potential voting problems are not relegated only to the states, but exist at the highest levels of the federal government. John Ashcroft and his Justice Department have positioned themselves, by filing Friend of the Court briefs in Ohio, Florida and Michigan voter rights cases, to become the final arbiter of your right to vote. The Los Angeles Times reported on the matter this way on Friday: "Until now, the Justice Department and the Supreme Court had taken the view that individual voters could sue to enforce federal election law. But in legal briefs filed in connection with cases in Ohio, Michigan and Florida, the administration's lawyers argue that the new (Help America Vote Act) law gives Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft the exclusive power to bring lawsuits to enforce its provisions."

"All three courts that ruled on the matter," continued the Los Angeles Times report, "rejected the administration's broader view that voters may not sue state election officials in federal court. Still, the issue may resurface and prove significant next week if disputes arise over voter qualifications. Some election-law experts believe the administration has set the stage for arguing that the federal courts may not second-guess decisions of state election officials in Ohio, Florida or elsewhere." Such a challenge from the Justice Department would be historic; they have never, not once, tried this before.

Offsetting the potential problems in all these states is the historic number of new voters who have registered. Millions of Americans have signed up to vote in these all-important states, and all across the country. If a significant number of people from these states who did not vote in 2000 choose to join these new voters at the polls on Tuesday, serious challenges to the viability of the election would be further elbowed out of the way. It all comes down to turnout.

If there remain voters who will not go to the polls because they see no real differences between the candidates, two recent publicly-made comments may at long last end the argument. All are aware by now of the sudden appearance of Osama bin Laden on the election landscape. His visage continues to inspire fear and doubt within the American populace, which is certainly why he chose to toss his two cents into the conversation.

A report by Thomas DeFrank in Saturday's New York Daily News quotes a Bush/Cheney campaign official stating, "Anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush." This campaign official went on to describe the appearance of bin Laden as "a little gift" to the Bush/Cheney election effort. If voters are seeking to establish a difference between the candidates, these comments help to make that difference clear. Only one campaign looks to profit from the fears of the electorate. Only one campaign views the continued freedom of bin Laden as a gift.

The differences between the candidates do not lie solely in what has taken place in the past, or in what takes place today, but in what the future will bring. A window into one possible future was opened by Republican spokesman and unofficial Bush campaign advisor, Rush Limbaugh. On October 28th, Limbaugh discussed the future of the Iraq occupation on his widely-broadcast radio show with a caller. In that conversation, Limbaugh made the following observation about the continued violence in that country:

"At some point, dealing with these people is going to require taking steps that the American people are going to have to be prepared for, and they're not going to be easy steps. They're going to be brutal. I'm talking about we are going to have to exercise some very, very brutal, take some very, very brutal military steps. We're going to have to maybe use more than just conventional weapons on these people. You know, it's like trying to wipe out cockroaches with Raid. That's not strong enough. You know, you're not going to call the pest control guy and get rid of them...That's kind of like who these terrorists are. They're all over the place, and it's going to take massive, massive use of force at some point to deal with this, wherever these people are, and I think a second term for George W. Bush where there is no concern for being reelected and so forth might offer a little bit more flexibility and freedom in dealing with this as it happens."

Two roads diverge in this wood. One involves bringing in a massive coalition of international forces to stabilize the chaos in Iraq. The other involves more of the same kind of deadly mistakes we have seen to date, and if Limbaugh can be accounted as a reflection of the Bush administration mindset, involves the use of unconventional weapons against the civilian populace as a means to bury those mistakes.

The time for talk is over. So many of the problems we face as a nation lay now in the hands and hearts of the voters. Those who can always be counted on to vote must do so again. Those who have avoided casting a ballot must reverse course on Tuesday and make their voices heard.

Your vote has never mattered as much as it does now. Use it.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'

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