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A Repeat of the 2000 Election Crisis Would Be a Disaster for American Democracy

A review of the 2000 election suggests we could again experience a crisis election with results which call the United Statesu2019 republican way of government into question and lead to a general sense that ours is a failed state.

A review of the 2000 election suggests we could again experience a crisis election with results that call the United States’ republican way of government into question and lead to a general sense that ours is a failed state.

As we come down the home stretch in the presidential campaign, we should look back at the 2000 race and realize we may again experience a crisis election. This would be an election with results that call into question the United States’ republican way of government. This time, the crisis may lead to a general sense that we are now a failed state which cannot hold a legitimate presidential election.

Remember what happened in the 2000 election. There were four key factors which characterize that election and may be seen again in 2012. They are:

  1. Al Gore won the popular vote but did not become president. Current polling on a national basis reveals a fairly consistent preference for President Obama. There is every likelihood that he will receive more popular votes than Mitt Romney. An early September CNN poll has Obama ahead by a six-point margin (52-46, outside the margin of error). Of course, in our system, that does not necessarily lead to becoming president. We still have the Electoral College, which was bequeathed to us by the founders in the 18th century. They, frankly, did not trust the people to vote in what they considered the correct way.

  2. The Electoral College is weighted toward smaller states. Every state receives two votes because of their two senators, no matter what the population. Thus Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Idaho, and other reliably Republican states will have a somewhat disproportionate effect on the outcome.

  3. State governments, especially the secretary of state, have some control over voting procedures, and, thus, can influence the outcome. Remember Secretary of State Katherine Harris in Florida fighting any attempt to count all of the votes. She was, however, a novice at influencing elections. Current Republican governors and secretaries of state are engaging in unprecedented efforts to suppress the vote in 2012, especially in ways that disadvantage traditional Democratic voters. Early voting has been reduced, especially on the Sunday before the election, when a strong African-American early vote has been achieved. Voter ID laws are aimed at minorities, older voters and students, all often Democratic strengths. We have seen the sad spectacle of Republican state officials boasting that such laws will deliver their state to Romney. State governments can also facilitate voter intimidation actions by Tea Party groups such as True the Vote. Should these tactics work in key swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida, we may see the Electoral College majority, which Romney needs, ensured by his fellow Republicans in state office. Greg Palast has just released a book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (available through Truthout) which describes some of the current tactics in great detail. Truthout also carried an interview with Palast recently.

  4. The 2000 election was finally decided by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision ending vote counting in Florida. The vote was representative of the justices’ political affiliation and was probably the low point for the Court since Dred Scott. The Republicans still have a 5-4 majority on the Court, and judges like Scalia and Thomas are now openly partisan in their actions and comments. The Republican Party will send battalions of lawyers into the swing states to set up lawsuits where they may have a chance of reversing an Obama win with a court decision. Friendly federal courts, with Reagan, Bush and Bush II appointees, will move the cases along in favor of the Republicans with a final call by Republicans on the Supreme Court.

We survived 2000 mainly because of Al Gore’s sense of patriotism, which led him to stop the fight and publicly accept the results as legitimate. Barack Obama has displayed a similar sense of patriotism. However, given the horrible results of 2000 (the Iraq war and the economic disaster of 2008), supporters of democracy may not be as inclined to let this one go so easily. How such a crisis will be resolved is a guess at this point.

With this in mind, we must take steps to avoid such a result. The press must be our first (Amendment) line of protection. Plans for voter suppression and intimidation must be constantly identified and called out. Such publicity may have led the Ohio secretary of state to drop plans for having more early voting in Republican-leaning counties than in Democratic-leaning ones.

Members of the public must put pressure on their states to take the right action, not the politically expedient action. In my home state of Iowa, our secretary of state is threatening a voter purge right before the election but will not release the planned names to local state auditors. We continue to protest this action.

Finally, you all must get out and vote and encourage others to do so. A large voter turnout, despite the impediments Republicans are putting up, may be the only hope to protect our republican system.

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