Friday, November 4, 2016

Vote — Because We Don’t Need Another Civics Lesson

The political process is inspiring to some and mind-numbing or unexciting to others. Whether or not one is a flag-waving, flag-pin wearing patriot, a cynical fence sitter or simply uninterested, remember that voting is an opportunity not available to many citizens in other countries.
By the time Americans finish high school, most should understand that voting is a privilege for which millions have fought and died. That lesson, though, is hardly taken seriously as evident by the fact that only about half of registered voters commonly go to the polls for presidential elections.
There are always voting options. Choices may not always be the cream of the crop, but, if you prefer one candidate or a single issue, that opinion is conveyed with your ballot. Some voters also assert their right not to vote, no doubt due to apathy or a notion that their vote isn’t relevant in the grand scheme of things.
Sixteen years ago, when the counting and the arguments were over, Democratic candidate Al Gore amassed the majority of the popular vote by a razor-thin margin, but lost, in one of the closest presidential elections in the nation’s history, which led to a dilemma not seen since 1888. After a compulsory delay and a contentious 5-4 decision, Republican George W. Bush became the first Supreme Court-decided president in American history. There had been questionable presidential elections before, but the results, even when close, were never challenged to the degree they were in 2000.
That shouldn’t happen again. But it could.
When the Founding Fathers drew up the Constitution, they surely had worthier intentions in mind than sidestepping the popular vote. It puts a damper on the premise of democracy.
That exceptional outcome may have validated excuses for apathetic non-voters. Nevertheless, if just one tenth of one percent of those who stayed away had voted in 2000, the results probably would have been different.
On the other hand, the number of eligible voters expected to vote on November 8th is roughly 55 percent, compared to nearly 60 percent eight years ago and almost 58 percent in 2012. While those numbers are slightly higher than previous elections, it is still disappointing that more than a third of registered voters do not to participate.
On a positive note, with only a few days to go before Election Day 2016, it’s been reported that a record 30 million early ballots have been cast nationwide.
However, it doesn’t solve the dilemma of the archaic Electoral College, which bestows the ultimate decision in presidential elections, and, once and for all, should be abolished. That, however, requires a constitutional amendment, which is a cumbersome process.
Chosen by political parties and voters, the Electoral College comprises 538 electors, who officially elect the president and vice president several weeks after the popular vote is tallied. It was the outcome of a compromise when some framers were concerned that the populous North would outnumber the sparsely populated South. It is, nonetheless, incompatible for modern politics. (The presidency, by the way, is the only elective office not determined solely by the popular vote.) Every state gets one electoral vote for each senator and representative. (New York and Florida have 29 each, while California and Texas have 55 and 38, respectively.) Most states use a formula where one candidate may win by a single vote, but gets all the state’s electoral votes.
The presidential election process needs to be restructured to create an uncomplicated one-person, one vote, winner-take-all direct election. Whoever amasses the most popular votes is the winner. Period. No electors. No Supreme Court. No nonsense.
Foremost, the integrity of the process must include safeguards against voter fraud, uncorroborated charges of rigging and guaranteed beyond reproach. Obviously, in a close race, the loser may challenge the results, leading to painstaking procedures to settle disputes. (The integrity of next week’s election has been under suspicion for weeks. According to some media reports, Republicans and Democrats have hired attorneys and poll watchers in battleground states where discrepancies might occur.)
This year, 32 states have some form of voter ID laws. In addition to stricter ID regulations, more than a dozen that passed laws restricting voting rights, including cutting back voting hours and making it more difficult to register. When the Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act three years ago, it made it easier for states to set up voting barriers. Next Tuesday, seven states will require voters to show photo identification in order to cast their ballots. In 2012, only four states required it.
Practical changes should be established to guarantee that the voices of all Americans have the opportunity to be heard. Moving Election Day to the weekend — on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid conflicts with religious observations — might make it less complicated for those with weekday excuses.
Years before the chaotic 2000 fallout, one constitutional law expert said the Electoral College was “a train wreck waiting to happen.” We lived through that wreck and endured a three-week delay before an outcome was known. We stand on the brink of another accident waiting to happen.
After lots of grumbling, nothing’s changed and the possibility of another blemished — albeit not rigged — election still exists. To avoid potential voter erosion, restore confidence and remind registered voters that every vote is critical, it should be determined whether the Electoral College still makes sense.
Those troubled by the accuracy of the vote or troubled by the nastiest campaign in memory, coupled with an erosion of trust in our political system, should put those concerns aside since campaigns are hardly ever civil, but elections should be.
Voting is a civic duty. Every eligible person who participates is exercising their Constitutional right. At one time, not all American citizens could vote. African-Americans couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t vote. Non-property owners couldn’t vote.
Even with a few pockets where voter suppression may crop up, current laws are designed to give every qualified citizen the right to vote.
Thomas Jefferson said it best, “An elective government is the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power.”
Until our rights are threatened or curtailed, Americans tend to take our freedoms for granted. Every four years we have an opportunity to exercise a valued right that more than half the world has never known. That right should not be squandered.
Heck, even if casting that ballot on Election Day doesn’t make you feel a little patriotic, this year, it may relieve some of the pent up anxiety triggered by the contenders.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sober Observations in the Wake of a Political Milestone

(Original published November 13, 2008)
It’s now nine days since America elected its first African-American president. Seconds after 11 p.m. (ET) on a crisp autumn night in New York City when the polls on America's West Coast closed, and the 14 networks reporting on the election declared Barack Obama the nation's 44th president, you could almost hear a distinct sigh of relief, followed instantly by a collective, joyful cry of "We did it!" ripple across the nation.
But since that watershed moment, conservative media commentators — some of whom only halfheartedly endorsed John McCain merely because he wasn’t a Democrat — continue to howl over spilt milk. Rather than offer any grain of reconciliation, they relentlessly carry on their attacks on Obama without even affording him the customary hundred days to settle in.
Remember, this is the far right faction that had as much influence for John McCain mistakenly choosing unqualified conservative political neophyte Sarah Palin for his running mate just to soothe their dissatisfaction with him, as anything else.
On New York 1, conservative commentator Curtis Sliwa ranted the night after the election and called it an "Obamanation," another term from his dictionary of nonsensical malapropisms.
On Sean Hannity's radio program, the host agreed with a caller, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq and who called the election one of the "worst moments" in the history of our nation. The man clarified his remark, noting it had "nothing to do with race," but rather "Barack Hussein Obama's" left wing politics.
For the next four years, regardless of President Obama's successes — or failures, they'll continue to spew their rage and incessantly criticize his every move. But if they can't come up with a more suitable alternative than Gov. Sarah Palin as their Great Right Hope for 2012, it may fuel the progress of moderation nationwide.
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Despite a campaign rife with fear-mongering and bogus innuendos, John McCain bowed out with poise and class on Election Night with a gracious, hands-across-the-aisle concession speech. The former POW showed his true character — that was practically nonexistent throughout his campaign — that I was drawn to eight years ago when I was tempted to vote for him if he won his party's nomination. That was before George Bush's rat squad spread a vicious lie that he fathered a black child out of wedlock, which ruined any chance he had to top of the GOP ticket.
If McCain would have displayed that positive quality, and criticized President Bush's policies more, he just may have edged Barack Obama — even with his vice presidential albatross, whose flame flickered as quickly as it sparked the campaign after the convention.
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For the time being, the international community has turned from loathing the United States, during eight years of the Bush Administration, to admiring us for electing the first non-white president in our 232-year history and coming to the realization that that's not what America is really like.
Not only was Barack Obama's victory a milestone in American history, it was a significant moment that saw a few states that had been red for decades — and strongly supported George W. Bush four years earlier — turn a bright shade of blue.
But before optimists think America is becoming a lot more tolerant and open-minded, they should realize that while several coastal blue states voted heavily for Obama their voters rejected propositions for such liberal issues as extending gay rights.
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In closing, I must note that I didn't anticipate what the impact of Barack Obama's historic victory would mean to black Americans — until election night. (It took me a while to appreciate the influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring “I Have A Dream" speech in 1963.) But when I watched the stirring victory celebrations in Grant Park in Chicago and on the streets of Harlem in Manhattan, the exhilaration and teary-eyed faces of citizens of all shades moved me. (On the other hand, the crowd gathered in Phoenix to hear Sen. McCain concede looked like it was 99.44 percent Ivory Snow white.)
Ever since the Supreme Court integrated schools over 50 years ago and Congress passed laws to end segregation in the Deep South 40 years ago, black Americans have been — for the most part — patiently waiting to see how far they could progress in a nation where many tend to remain a benignly neglected minority as the ugly specter of racism has yet to be justly overcome. Despite seeing advances of successful African-Americans in all levels of government, including the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, in corporate America, in higher education and as thriving civil servants, few blacks — and few whites for that matter — ever thought they'd see a descendant of an African become president in their own lifetimes.
One hundred and forty five years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, 53 years after Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Alabama, more than 40 years after ancestors of former slaves were given the right to vote, 36 years after Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the nation' first black woman in Congress who ran for president when Barack Obama was not yet a teenager, America has its first president of African-American heritage.
Across America, for many aging civil rights leaders, who paved the way for equal opportunities in the 1960s, plus the many freedom fighters who died for the cause, electing a black president is the pinnacle of their struggles for equality.
Somewhere in heaven, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is smiling as he watches a piece of the vast dream he envisioned — "a nation where (people) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" — fulfilled.
It's certainly great to celebrate a triumphant election in which a black candidate inspired a diverse electorate to catapult him to victory, though it will be much more challenging to transform the uncompromising attitudes of bigots who unfailingly defend barriers to combat explicit — and tacit — racism in America.