There ought to be foreboding
The US presidential election 2012
By Ronald Austin
As I write the American media are in a frenzy over remarks made by Mitt Romney in much the same way that they were a few weeks ago when Ted Aiken delivered his opinion that illegitimate rape does not lead to a pregnancy. Mr Romney was secretly taped at a fundraiser on May 17 last in Miami at the home of billionaire Mark Leder, saying in essence that the 47% of the people who pay no income tax, take no responsibility for their lives and are dependent on the government. He went to say that it was not worthwhile to bother with “those people” but rather would concentrate on the 10 % of undecided voters who might vote for him. It was an embarrassing rant in which he revealed himself as uncaring and out of touch with American life. The tone was dismissive and arrogant.
The release of the recording, which interestingly enough was engineered by Jimmy Carter’s grandson, brought reactions ranging from defiance by the Romney camp and Romney himself, to sharp criticism by a few top mainstream Republicans, and to the prediction of the end of the Romney campaign. I suspect that Romney will survive this recent ‘gaffe’ as he has others in much the same way that Todd Aiken did. They both expressed views which are consistent with the views of the Republican base and the millionaires and billionaires who support him, but who hate Barack Obama. I cannot leave this matter without making an observation. The American media are so narrowly focused that they often miss essential points in a statement. After I read the transcript of Romney statement I realized that many important facts never gained the attention of the pundits and commentators. I thought that the analysts would have found the fact very interesting that Romney said that among his advisers are persons affiliated to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Also, Romney gave some of the most interesting reasons why he has a difficulty detaching voters from their allegiance to Barack Obama.
Romney will survive and the race to the White House will be very close until the end. This is the source of my foreboding. This election seems to me to be moving to a conclusion which might provoke a legal challenge and convulse American society, and, as I have argued so often before, tarnish America’s reputation as a democratic state. I am not alone in this view. The New York Times has already warned that the election can be “tangled in legal battles.” Less than 7 weeks before the day of voting there is a fierce battle going on over voting rights. Closely watched are the cases being heard in such key ‘battleground’ or ‘swing’ states as Ohio and Philadelphia. And while the Attorney General has opted to appeal two court decisions in Wisconsin to block voter ID laws, there are still critical cases to be heard in Florida and Iowa. Americans will remember Florida this time. It was there that ballot design and tallying (the infamous ‘chads’) led to a Supreme Court 5-4 decision which gave George Bush the presidency. In all there are a dozen decisions pending in federal and state courts over matters involving early voting, voter identification, and provisional ballots.
These cases would not have arisen if the states led by Republican governors were not engaged in a transparent plan to suppress the vote to ensure that Blacks, Hispanics, the old and Native Americans forfeit their right to vote. Since the start of 2011 180 Bills were passed in 41 states which had a direct impact on identified elements in the respective states. Voter suppression, aimed at preventing an Obama victory at the polls, is alive and well, and now seems to be part of a larger strategy hatched by the Republicans and their extreme wing, the Tea Party.
Voter suppression is also intended to make voters uncertain and nervous about fulfilling the requirements of these laws, like obtaining a government issued photo ID. The whole process has been deemed expensive and time consuming. This has been an effective deterrent. The complaints in various states have been numerous. But even those who succeeded in getting around these bureaucratic and political hurdles face the prospect of ‘caging,’ which was used in Florida during the presidential election of 2000 and the possibility of being intimidated at the place of poll by officials of the Tea and Republican parties. ‘Caging’ is the technique of disqualifying a voter by waiting until the person turns up to vote only to be told that their name is no longer on the list.
The Tea Party and some top officials affiliated to the Republican Party have made it known that an organisation called The True Vote organization (TTV) has been formed. Supposedly a million people are being trained to be deployed at polling stations on November 6. Charles P Pierce, a well-known journalist, in article entitled ‘A Warning for the mess at the Polls in November,’ which appeared in Esquire magazine on September 10 and which is based on a study done by Demos, a non-partisan public policy organisation, called ‘Bullies at the Box’ has pointed out that the TTV has had extensive practice at disrupting voting at several elections, and has done so with impunity between 2010 and 2012. It would be a real tragedy that after this organisation has announced itself and it is well known what its purpose and tactics are, it is allowed to affect the outcome of the presidential election. It cannot be that they are not known: the organisation was visible at the Republican Convention in Tampa Florida.
According to the Demos study, in an election in 2010, in Texas members of a well-funded organization with a clear affiliation to the Tea Party were observed intimidating voters of colour at multiple polls during early voting. They interfered, blocked lines, and engaged in confrontational incidents with voters. The study pointed out that under Texas law “poll watchers are not allowed even to speak to a voter.” The report also revealed that in 2011 in Massachusetts during a special election, a Tea Party group harassed Latino voters at a number of polls. This action was protested by the Town Clerk who had witnessed disillusioned voters promising “not to vote again.”
There were also illegal interventions in the Wisconsin Recall elections, which prompted the Wisconsin Accountability Board to issue a statement to the effect that “in recent elections we have received disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behaviour by Observers. Voters expect a calm setting in which to exercise their right to vote.” The danger of this situation is that there could well be brawls at polling stations as the TTV members seek to impose their will. Pierce has argued in his article that too many polling stations are manned by volunteers, most of whom are elderly people and, improbable as it might seem, unfamiliar with the voting rules because of their rudimentary training. All of this could lead to the nightmare situation described by Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Centre for Justice, because of the close nature of the race in many of the ‘battleground’ states, the measures put in place to prevent so many of the perceived voters for Obama from going to the polls and the possibility of the absence of a legal resolution:
“In any of these states there is a potential for disaster… you have a close election and the real possibility that people will say their votes were not counted when they should have been. That’s the nightmare scenario for the day after the election.”