Because Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader didn't pull out of the election - an election Nader had no chance of winning - it cost Al Gore the presidency.
It's a common perception among many Gore supporters. And like much of the Gore camp analysis, crucial aspects of the current political reality are misread or just plain missed. If Gore and his supporters want to blame someone or something for not having captured the White House, they would do well to look in the mirror and acknowledge the party's lack of vision.
Because Democratic leadership spent the last decade of the 20th century trying to co-opt the Republican platform with soft-minded, hard-hearted notions, such as being "tough on criminals," whatever that means, perhaps they could have done something to change the fact that 436,900 former felons in the state of Florida have been permanently disenfranchised.
According to a joint study conducted by Human Rights Watch and the Sentencing Project, two nonpartisan research and advocacy organizations, "among Florida's African-American residents, the impact of the state's disenfranchisement laws is particularly dramatic: 31.2 percent of black men in Florida - more than 200,000 potential black voters - were excluded from the polls." Who do you think these potential voters would have cast their ballots for?
And this isn't some new report. The report, "Losing the Vote," was published in 1998. It documented, state-by-state, the impact of disenfranchisement laws across the nation. Among the report's findings: Nationally, one in 50 adults, an estimated 3.9 million Americans, were unable to vote because of a felony conviction - 1.4 million of these are ex-offenders who have completed their sentences and are not on probation or parole.
There are three absurd justifications for disenfranchisement laws: 1.) Protection against voter fraud; 2.) prevention of harmful changes to the law and; 3.) protection of the "purity" of the ballot box.
It's clearly illogical to argue for disenfranchisement laws as a punishment for crimes that have nothing to do with elections. And there is absolutely no evidence that ex-felons are more likely to commit voter fraud than anyone else.
The idea that ex-felons would vote for harmful changes is also an insufficient rationale for forever taking away the most fundamental democratic right. There is no evidence to suggest ex-felons would vote for harmful laws, to say nothing of the fact that the Supreme Court, in Carrington v. Rash (1965), ruled that states may not "fence out" a class of voters because of concerns about how they might vote. Clearly, making the content of the vote a condition of the right to vote is the antithesis of universal suffrage.
And it is revealing to note that no one is calling for corporations who have been found guilty of serious crimes to be permanently denied any access to the political process.
The "purity of the ballot box" argument can be easily dismissed once it is recognized that it is "no more than a moral competency version of the idea that the franchise should be limited to people who 'vote right'," the report points out.
Now, some would argue, no doubt, that disenfranchisement of ex-felons is simply a penalty the state chooses to impose in addition to incarceration. But it's ridiculous to think that states may punish offenders by depriving felons of any right it so chooses. The arbitrary and undiscerning nature of such a view is revealed by a question put forward in the report: "Would a state be able to punish felons by forever denying them the right to go to court or to petition the government?"
Of course, supporters of such laws will find it difficult to explain why this punishment is not meted out according to the fundamental principle governing all criminal sanctions, namely that it is the job of the judge to hand out punishment. And why is this punishment doled out with no regard for the severity of the crime committed? With such a cookie-cutter approach, a person convicted of a minor crime can be banished to political never-never land for the rest of his or her life.
This all creates a situation where felons have done their time and are trying to re-enter normal life, only to find their intense sense of isolation exacerbated by being denied the most basic right of any American citizen. As the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals explained: "If correction is to reintegrate an offender into free society, the offender must retain all attributes of citizenship."
If Democratic leadership gets a real vision and stops whining, maybe they will start winning. Or at the very least, we'd have a more meaningful choice at the voting booth.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist.
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