Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Voter Supression Watch

My short wait in line
Seemed so inconsequential
After four long years

--haiku submitted to the Wash. Post from a voter in Baltimore

The afternoon exit polls are looking better for Kerry than even his team could have dared to predict. He's up by 20 points in Minnesota, and even up in Florida (and Ohio), though by far more modest margins. But it's still early--don't pop the champagne yet.

One of the most interesting backstories has been the Republican party's not-so-subtle attempts to try to blunt the effect of the almost 800,000 new registrants in Ohio alone. The parties took turns winning rounds of court appeals on the matter, with an Akron federal judge with the especially evocative name of John Adams (a Bush II appointee no less) ruling that Republican poll challengers couldn't be on hand, because of the chance they would intimidate voters. He was overruled last night shortly before midnight, but that may have been too late for the Republican black-bag operatives to have unfurled their full armada of tricks.

And they are considerable. One tip-off is the name of the guy overseeing it all, a veteran dirty trickster: Ohio Republican Party Counsel Mark Weaver. Those with some memory for the players who made it happen during the Voinovich era sleaze (when he was governor, that is) may recall that name as a man at the center of many things, most of them eyebrow-raising. Anyway, this article last week in the New York Observer caught the attention of a few folks: the writer nicely infiltrated the Ohio Republican preparations for electoral challenges and gives a nice inside account of some dirty tricks war-gaming. And the Village Voice's Rick Perlstein, meanwhile, is brilliantly cataloguing in real time other scattered reports of Cleveland-area attempts at suppressing votes in this blog. To round out your information on this regrettable subject, you might also check these less authoritative but still useful sites (here and here).

All of this is just one more sad reminder of the drearily retro back to the future feel of the last four years under Bush. After all, didn't we settle all of these issues during the '60s, with Johnson's Voting Rights Act (part of the package pushed through Congress which prompted him to remark that by doing so, the Dems would lose the South for at least a generation)? Didn't we clearly decide as a nation that we weren't going to enable crackers to come up with some variation of excuses--intelligence tests, poll taxes, whatever--to keep eligible Americans from exercising their solemn right to cast their ballot? Why are we going back over this ground at this late date?

But in the end, I can't feel pessimistic about this. Average citizens seem to get the seriousness of this issue, even if some political professionals and even elite media have muffled their outrage. At my polling station this morning, there was little chatter amid a soft rain. Instead, neighbors mostly nodded silently to each other. No one needed to acknowledge what we were all there for. This group looked like a band intent on taking back their country. What I loved best was the matter-factness of their attitude. I'd call it Suburban Gothic. The only thing missing was the pitchforks.


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