Friday, November 02, 2012

Are There No Laws?

There appears to be still another terrible shortcoming having to do with the operation of what we fondly keep insisting is American Democracy, namely the absence of laws governing our elections. I am not a lawyer, or a constitutional scholar, or even a very astute observer, but there seems something very wrong with what is going on in this election cycle. I find it impossible to believe that what is going on with respect to voter suppression in so many of our states could actually be considered legal, but nothing much seems to be done about it. Well, that is not strictly true as some state courts have put a stop to some of the more egregious attempts to suppress the vote, but in some cases Governors and others persist in their attempts to keep people from exercising their right to vote. Take Florida, for example, where voting involves standing in lines for up to five hours in order to vote. First of all, this in itself should not be allowed. There is no reason why anyone should have to stand in line for hours to vote. Nor is there any excuse for a ten page complicated ballot. These conditions are obviously designed to discourage people, especially ordinary citizens, from voting. In the past, when voters were confronted with such problems, the then Governors went out of their way to extend voting hours to encourage everyone who wanted to vote the ability to do so. But not the current Governor of Florida who has refused to allow extended voting. This is an obvious and blatant attempt to interfere with the right to vote, and equally obvious to help swing the vote toward Republicans. This is so obvious and so blatant it should clearly be illegal. But apparently it is not. Either there is no law preventing the Governor from doing this or if there might be it is not being enforced.

Similar things are going on all over the country. Letters are being sent to people telling them felons cannot vote, not true in some cases, telling them false voting dates, false voting places, false information about the candidates, and more. Nothing much seems to be done about this, it is mostly just dismissed as “politics as usual.” But it surely should not be so considered. If it is not illegal it certainly ought to be. But where is the authority to stop such things from happening? As in the case of prosecuting war criminals there is no independent authority with clear jurisdiction over such things. That is, for example, the locus of authority for the prosecution of war criminals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should lie in the hands of the Justice Department and the Attorney General’s office. In principle it does, but that is practically unworkable. Can you imagine what would have happened in the U.S. if the Obama Administration had actually attempted to prosecute Bush/Cheney? The nation would have split in two, there would have been chaos if not a civil war. So even though they should have been prosecuted, according to the constitution and our laws, that was practically impossible. I suggest this is true, perhaps to a lesser extent, in cases of attempted voter suppression. In some cases the violations were so obvious and so blatant the courts could and did rule against them, but in many other cases the violations were not so easy to deal with. Does the Governor of Florida, for example, have the legal authority to refuse to extend voting hours? Is this, strictly speaking, even a legal issue, or basically a moral one? As previous Governors found no problem with extending voting hours should that not have established a precedent for this one? It is possible this problem might eventually be handled somehow, but like other such issues, by the time it is settled the damage will have already been done and cannot be undone. Such is the democratic process, too slow, too cumbersome, too confused, and completely lacking in an overriding authority capable of deciding and overseeing such conflicts. This is, in my opinion, a serious indictment of a two party system. The party in power, for practical purposes, does not truly have the unchallenged authority to enforce the laws without risking serious political consequences. Even a multiple party system would be a great improvement. Our current two party system is becoming increasingly unworkable, largely because one of the parties has developed previously unthinkable criminal tendencies, placing their personal and party objectives above that of their country.

I will be away for a couple of days to meet and welcome Graeson.

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