Dear Members of Congress:
As you are no doubt aware, concerns about possible voter fraud abound. Irregularities have been well documented in many states, more than enough to raise legitimate questions. Is it widespread or in several isolated places? Might it change the outcomes of any of the races? What changes need to be made to protect our vote? We need you to investigate. But more than that, we need you to understand that this issue is not a partisan one. It’s not another round in the sparring match of Democrats vs. Republicans. Nor is it post-election sour grapes or the machinations of conspiracy theorists. Ultimately it isn’t even about the outcome of the election. To relegate it as such is myopic and lazy and dangerous because the scope is much larger.
This is about Democracy. And all of us – the gun toters and the bible thumpers, the tree huggers and the pro-choicers, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Greens – we all live under the laws and promises of our democratic system. And one of the most important and cherished promises of this system is that when we come of age every one of us (well, most of us, but that’s another story) can participate in our Democracy by voting and then resting assured in the guarantee that our vote will be on the whole fairly and transparently counted. This principle is one of the defining features of our country, and, theoretically, part of what separates us from dictatorships and banana republics.
The voting process is a public right, a sacrosanct civic event. It isn’t a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder or most well-connected corporation. That we have private corporations in our public election process at all should be astounding and illegal, but instead it’s a perfect, dismal metaphor: corporations run our Democracy. And that one of you in Congress could even entertain the notion, much less argue out loud that there is no need for a paper trail or paper receipts of electronic votes, that there is not a serious need to rethink our voting system’s checks and balances, is not only arrogant and dismissive and undemocratic, it’s absolutely flabbergasting. Yeah, that’s right: flabbergasting.
It’s disheartening to say the least, but somehow not surprising that it doesn’t occur to many of us that private corporations having more and more control over our public elections (some claiming they are beholden to nobody, no less) is inappropriate or wrong or scandalous. A complicit media who often fail to report, and hence, comment on such things, coupled with the fact that we have become incredibly desensitized to the ever-present corporate hands down our pants make us too numb to stop and think that maybe those hands shouldn’t be there in the first place. Corporations have permeated our schools and nearly every sports team out there, right down through grade school. Their products are carefully placed in our movies, and their logos are plastered unabashedly on every item of our clothing. And as we sit in our public bathroom stalls their ads stare us in the face as they slink onto the airwaves of what were once our untouchable “public” television stations. Why should our vote be any different, many must unconsciously conclude? “Election 2008 brought to you by Nike: Vote for Our Guy. Just Do It.”
Congress Members, we beg of you, don’t make speeches or put out press releases filled with phrases like “I have every confidence” and “above reproach.” We don’t want platitudes. We want action. If ever there was a time to wrest yourself from the shackles of partisan politics and self-interest and corporate lobbyists and actually do the job, we, your employers – we, the people – hired you to do, it’s now.
Because if there is a possibility – no matter how small or dubious - of voter fraud, a chance that our precious, inalienable right has been tampered with in any way, at any point in the process and you did nothing meaningful to intervene, your lack of action would be a direct affront to the very essence of Democracy and a big ‘screw you’ to every single citizen of the United States.
We need a truly independent investigation. No sham investigation. No closed door, off the record “chat.” No dog and pony show filled with sound and fury signifying nothing. We want an investigation that says, ‘We are willing to unearth whatever is there and bring it to the light of day, regardless. We fathom what’s at stake.’
Not to investigate will leave us and the rest of the world (still reeling from our unilateralism and bullying and treaty reneging) wondering and doubting, suspecting that our Democracy has become one in name only. Not to investigate would leave many of us believing what we already fear: that you very much don’t want us in the process, that the saying, “Democracy is not a spectator sport” makes you cringe. Not to investigate would be a metaphor for what we, in our most jaded or perhaps our most lucid moments suspect - that all but a handful of you have become mouthpieces for corporate interests and blatant self-promoters.
Prove us wrong. Show us we’re full of it. Show us you’re better than that. Disprove the claims of the disenfranchised, disillusioned millions who don’t vote because they think their voice and their vote don’t matter to you beyond Election Day. Show them they can trust their votes will be counted, literally. Be our voice; not yours, not the corporations’, not your party’s intractable line, but the voice of the people, of conscience, and of a true Democracy.
You’re busy; I know. Many of you have admitted you don’t even have time to thoroughly read the majority of the bills you sign, allowing little phrases and paragraphs, obscured in a sea of jargon, to slip right by. Those few seemingly negligible words affect every single one of us, often in unspeakably negative ways, be it through legally allowing venomous toxins near our homes and our children’s playgrounds to disallowing our right to sue those who create those toxins.
The demise of a fair and transparent voting process would be yet another ugly toxin that in fact could prove fatal to this country. So, Members of Congress, if you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to protect this most fundamental expression of our Democracy, then our leadership has sunk lower than low, and you have failed the people of the U.S. miserably.
f those of us who work for social justice, opposing an agenda of the elite few, have learned any lesson at all, particularly in the last four years, it’s that we must take a stand again and again and again. Through grassroots efforts we have won many struggles outside your congressional halls and outside the judicial system, taking to our computers, our living rooms, and our streets. Hear us when we say we will continue standing and protesting and e-mailing and organizing, whether you choose to do the job we hired you to do or not.
But, it is no less than a tragedy for our country and our children’s future that we are forced to do such things amidst the very system, as deeply flawed as it is, that was created to attempt to give everyone an equal voice. So yes, we’ll take to the streets if need be because even during these difficult post-election days for some of us, we know that people across the country came together and mobilized in a way not seen in decades. There is momentum amidst the mourning. We’ll peaceably and raucously protest in front of your offices if we must. But come time, we’ll also take to the voting booths. And we’ll remember that the biggest fraud of all pulled on voters was your promise to stand up for the people and for Democracy and your failure to do so.
Carol Norris is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and organizer with CodePink: Women for Peace. www.codepinkalert.org