Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Nader's Candidacy

I try so hard to be gracious and all that when it comes to politics or anything else in life. But some people make it so doggoned hard at times.

I speak today of the anti-Nader brigade. That would be the bloggers and commentators who have over the past few days have resorted to name-calling and all manner of evil-speaking directed at Ralph Nader, who on Sunday announced his candidacy for president.

"Spoiler," of course, is the most common charge hurled by those who blame Nader for George W. Bush's win in 2000. Conventional wisdom says Nader took votes away from Gore; my unconventional wisdom says Gore took votes away from Gore. But more importantly, the nearly 3 million Americans who voted for Nader that year were able to vote for the candidate of their choosing rather than the candidates of the major parties' choosing. That is what counts. I want to vote for the candidate of my choosing, and I will continue to defend the right of every other American to do the same. Here's Nader's response:
Nader said Democrats should "concentrate on the thieves who steal elections" instead of "scapegoating the Greens," a reference to the Green Party, the ticket he ran on in 2000.

"The Democrats ought to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves why they have not been able to landslide the worst Republican Party and the White House and Congress over the last 20 years," he said.

Other critics have called Nader a narcissist or an egotist. I don't know Nader personally, and I'm sure many of his critics don't know him either. But I do know this: it takes a whole lot more than shallow egotism to go the distance as a third-party or independent candidate. I may never vote for Nader, but I admire his tenacity and sense of purpose.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

2008: An Historic Election?

As a chronic multitasker, I seldom pay close attention to partisan political coverage on television, except for the real deal on Comedy Central. One thing I have managed to hear, as I'm reading or knitting or researching or writing, is the phrase "historic election year," over and over again, for months on end now. Each time I heard it, I'd mentally nod in agreement. Yes, this truly is an historic election year, and it feels good to be a part of it.

Before I make an astonishing confession, please bear in mind that I was only half-listening to said pronouncements. I consider myself to be politically aware and reasonably intelligent. What's more, I'm not blind.

Now to my confession: For the longest time, I was not consciously aware that the talking heads were referring to the whole race and gender thing when they were using the word "historic." Honest. I'm not kidding.

And here's why I was unaware: I consider this to be an historic election on so many other levels that race and gender didn't even factor in to my assessment. That's not to say that turning the reins over to a different race or gender isn't a significant milestone; what that is to say is that I've gotten so accustomed to the possibility of having a female or black president that I don't give it much thought any more. And I know I'm not alone.

Here are all those other factors that make this an historic election year:

  • Independent voters' concerns are finally being taken seriously, with some major candidates, like Barack Obama, listening carefully to us even as others, like Hillary Clinton, dismiss us as annoying pests at a picnic.

  • We have a more engaged electorate than we've had in recent memory, meaning my memory.

  • Not only is the electorate more engaged, the electorate is actually doing stuff, like voting in primaries and participating in caucuses. Except for independents in closed primary states, that is. We just find other stuff to do, like hammer away at the need for political reform, starting with open primaries.

  • After seven-plus years of President Bush, even Republicans are ready for a major change. I can't ever remember a time when the party in the White House was so relieved to see the resident of the White House get ready to move out.

  • Evangelicals are no longer walking in lockstep with the GOP. Of course, many evangelicals never did, but you can't convince the media and non-evangelicals of that.

Help me finish this list. What are some of the other factors that make this an historical election year?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Independent" Board at Diebold?

Thanks to Brad Friedman at BradBlog for keeping us informed about the latest goings-on at Diebold, the company that continues to supply us with faulty voting machines. The company's latest move is to create an "independent" board of directors to oversee Diebold operations. Of the five directors, three are Diebold execs. You can read Brad's full post on this debacle here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Calling Colorado Independents!

I made this announcement several weeks ago and want to repeat it for anyone who missed it:

Colorado Independent Voters now has a social networking site on Ning.com. I've met many independents throughout the state, but we're so scattered that once you get outside the Denver area, it's difficult for us to get together to talk about the issues at hand and provide support for each other. The cyber group is a warm and welcoming alternative to face-to-face meetings. We invite open and spirited conversation, though we do try to keep the focus on political reform rather than any one ideological stance. Our only agenda is to help reform the political and electoral systems so we can eventually have some hope of seeing real progress in other areas.

Come on over to Colorado Independent Voters and join in the cyber discussion!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Taking a Break...

...and a breather after all of this week's political news. Be back Moday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

And Now, a Word from The Hankster

We interrupt this series on political reform to bring you a post-Potomac-primary word from the esteemed Nancy Hanks, who keeps independents well-informed through her daily blog, appropriately titled The Hankster. Nancy obviously has more energy than I do. The primaries wiped me out, but they energized her. Listen to her cheer us on:

Kudos to all the independent voters, the unaligned, the blanks, the unaffiliated, the declined to state, the misfits, the couldn't care less, the disenchanted, the fed-up, the disgusted, the can't make up my mind till the last minute, the disenchanted, the disenfranchised, the disempowered, the poor, the marginalized, the fringe,the radicals, the conservatives, the middle-of-the-roads, the leftists, the fundamentalists, the constitutionalists, the people that insist that democracy means something, the .....

We are being heard. Let's be louder! Speak up now!

You go, girl! I promise, I'll be louder! I'll speak up now! I mean, in the morning or whenever I wake up!

Thanks, Nancy. I needed that boost. I feel empowered once again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 16: Exercising Our Power

Here’s another Problem That I Never Knew Existed, because I live in a state that allows its citizens to create laws that can be passed on a statewide ballot, rescind laws passed by the legislature, and recall an elected official from office. Alas, not all citizens are so fortunate; said citizens live in 26 states that do not allow political processes known as Initiative, Referendum, and Recall (IRR), the Big Three that give voters a direct voice in writing, passing, and rescinding laws, as well as removing elected officials from office.

In the remaining 24 states, voters can write laws and collect a certain number of signatures on petitions to have their proposed initiatives and referenda placed on the ballot. They can also “fire” elected officials (most often on the local level). This is an example of direct democracy, and it’s the best means we have to bring about all the other reforms we’ve talked about. That's because our other means involves representative democracy, and those representatives tend not to support political reforms that could cost them their power.

When it comes to power, though, not enough people seem to understand the power of IRR. It represents the difference between having someone else (such as a legislator) write a bill and vote on it, and you writing a bill and voting on it. IRR truly puts the power back in the hands of the people. Statutes, constitutional amendments, and other propositions fall under the sway of IRR; some of the 26 states that don't allow IRR may allow, say, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment but no other initiatives.

To find out if your state is one of the lucky 24, check out the web site of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC, an excellent source of information about IRR laws across the country.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 15: Signing Petitions

In We the Purple, I go into considerable detail about the problems all voters as well as independent candidates face when it comes to regulations that apply to those petitions we're sometimes asked to sign. One of the most egregious problems arises when states go to extraordinary lengths to complicate the petitioning process.

Let's say you're at a state fair. It's clear that you're you and not me, because I don't go to state fairs. They're always held on the hottest and most humid days and nights of the entire year. I don't do hot and humid for anything less than an enormous amount of love or money. But I digress.

At this fair there's a booth for a hapless independent candidate for, oh, I don't know, governor or something. Let's call her Candidate X. Well, X is pretty busy talking to potential supporters, and though you'd like to talk to her, you realize it's nearly time for the pie-eating contest. You simply must run. But first, you grab one of the many clipboards containing petition forms and scribble your name and address and whatever other information the state says you have to provide.

Little did you know that the state would later rule your signature invalid. You signed the petition for Crawford County voters, but you live in Craymore County. What's worse, your mistake invalidated every other signature on that petition. I ask you: huh???

But that's the way it goes. Try fighting that one.

Here's another one: you take leave of your senses and vote in a partisan primary. Your independent cronies forgive you, because they've done that and worse. Ah, but the state is not so forgiving. Let's say you come to your senses a month later, find an independent candidate you can support (let's call him Y), and sign a petition backing his candidacy. In some states—I kid you not—your signature will be invalidated.

Some people—that is, partisans—will tell you it's your own fault that your signature was invalidated; you should have known the regulations. Right. I challenge you to research the petitioning requirements in your state. I can just about guarantee that whatever you manage to find out 1) didn't come easily and 2) isn't the whole story. Let me know how you fare, okay?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 14: Providing a Paper Trail

As most of us should know by now, electronic voting machines have created countless (no pun intended, but an appropriate word) problems in recent elections. If you need a a refresher, here are some lowlights.

From 2004: machines in North Carolina erased more than 4,000 ballots and failed to count several thousand others; one machine in Ohio arbitrarily gave Bush an additional 4,000 votes.

From 2006: machines counted each vote three times in one Texas county; in Sarasota, Florida, 18,000 votes simply vanished; a machine in Arkansas registered no votes for one mayoral candidate who knew he had received at least two votes, his and his wife's.

There are too many other problems from the past to list. So let's look ahead. The following groups are among those at the forefront of efforts to force elections officials (and electronic machine manufacturers) to provide a verifiable paper trail for all electronic votes that are cast. Any one of these groups can provide valuable information on what you can do to make sure your vote, and everyone else's, is actually counted on Election Day.

Voters Unite
Where's the Paper?
Verified Voting
Velvet Revolution
National Voting Rights Institute
True Majority

There are so many others that it would be impossible to list them all. This is another election problem that all voters should be concerned about. And it's another political that all of us can support, regardless of our party affiliation or independent status.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 13: Registering on Election Day

I've learned the hard way that when you move from one state to another, you need to find out right away what the deadline is for voter registration. If you care, that is, which I didn't always. But one year I did care, and having come from a state where the voter registration deadline was 20 days before Election Day, I traipsed into the DMV on Day 28, ever so proud that I remembered in plenty of time. But no. My new state's deadline was 29 days before Election Day. I was one day late.

Which brings up this question: do you know your state's voter registration deadline? My guess is you don't know, because a full 84 percent of Americans are unable to accurately identify their state's deadline. It's no wonder; some of the deadlines are unbelievably complex, like Nevada's: "9:00 p.m. on the fifth Saturday before any primary or general election. 9:00 p.m. on the third Saturday before any recall or special election. However, if a recall or special election is held on the same day as a primary or general election, the registration closes at 9:00 p.m. on the fifth Saturday before the day for the elections." (Translation: "Move to another state already; we don't need your vote.")

North Dakota neatly avoids the problem entirely by not requiring voters to register at all. And not surprisingly, it's one of a handful of states that have a 15 percent higher voter turnout rate than the national average, which is an abysmal 36 percent. Those states with the highest voter turnout rates, in addition to North Dakota, are Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, all of which allow same-day voter registration. That's right; in those states you can register to vote on Election Day. Minnesota leads the pack with a whopping 77 percent voter turnout rate.

Early registration deadlines made sense in an era of slower communications. But in an age when my computer can decide in roughly 3 seconds whether I qualify for a credit card, surely the local election board can decide in just a few minutes whether I'm qualified to vote.

This is an issue that impacts partisans and independents alike. But it's especially important to politically active independents for this one reason: when partisan officials make it harder for people to vote rather than easier, that's a form of voter suppression. And ending voter suppression in every form is a high-priority independent voter issue.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Colorado Independent Voters

Colorado Independent Voters now has a social networking site on Ning.com, and I'm inviting all Colorado independents to join in the discussion there. Ours is a big state with a lot of space between towns and major cities, so it's a challenge for independent voters to find each other, let alone get together in a physical setting. Come on over to Colorado Independent Voters and join in the cyber discussion!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 12: Relaxing Voter ID Laws

In an effort to quash widespread, nefarious, bring-down-the-republic voter fraud, a number of states have decided to crack down on the massive numbers of people who are attempting to register to vote illegally. Only problem is, there isn't a shred of evidence that there's any significant voter fraud going on in the U.S. of A. But really, who needs evidence anyway? With all the evidence we have of election fraud on the part of partisan officials, who has time to investigate the voters? Just assume the fraud is there, okay?

Here's how officials are combating this epidemic (if there actually was any fraud going on it would seem reasonable enough on the surface): simply require voters to produce identification, or better yet, photo identification, when they arrive at the polling places to vote. For most of us, that's no problem. Our driver's licenses have our image right there in living color. Or maybe, even if we don't drive—and plenty of people don't—we work at a place or go to a college that requires us to wear photo ID badges. We're good to go.

So what about those people who don't have photo IDs? That would include the poor, the elderly, and the disabled, among others. How can they produce a photo ID when they may not drive or even work?

Well, the great state of Georgia, among others, proposed that they fork over $35 for an official state photo ID. That’s a lot of money to people on a fixed income; believe me, I know. But that’s not all. The poor, the elderly, and the disabled would have been required to travel—in some cases, hundreds of miles—to a limited number of state offices to get that ID. Who are the people who think up these things? How incredibly out of touch with the realities of everyday life do you have to be in order to be in charge of elections?

Unless, of course, the whole idea is vote suppression, but we know that can’t be the case. Oh, wait. What did Paul Weyrich say? That a high voter turnout could be counterproductive? Right.

In 2006, and in some of today’s Super Tuesday primaries, voters were asked to show photo IDs even though there was no legal requirement that they do so. Also in 2006, minorities in New York City were asked for photo IDs while whites were not asked for any form of ID. Some states are trying to require proof of citizenship, which also seems like a no-brainer, but some people—again, most often the very poor—have no birth certificate and no way to obtain one.

One of the best sources for information on unnecessarily restrictive voter ID measures is NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, as well as myriad other organizations that are trying to—of all things!—increase voter participation rather than suppress it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Political Reform, Lesson 11: Crashing the Parties

I'm writing this on the eve of Super Tuesday and the Colorado Caucus. Having never lived in a caucus state until now, I've never observed the process first-hand. I sure would love to. But like many independents across the country, I'm shut out of the process.

Until recently, I can't say I cared very much. Let the parties have their party; I probably wouldn't vote for either of their eventual nominees anyway. But now my independent dander is up, a little bit anyway, and for one reason: I pay taxes that fund the major parties' primaries and caucuses. (Oh, how I wish the plural was "cauci"! To think of what I could do with that word!) And because by profession I'm an independent contractor, I actually write checks to pay those taxes, five times a year. Unlike a payroll employee, I have my fingerprints and DNA all over those payments. The process is a bit more personal for me.

Anyway, if I had wanted to, I suppose I could have registered as a party member, attend the caucus, and then re-register as an independent, but that seems a tad hypocritical. (Under Colorado law, it's up to the parties to allow me to register, attend, and then essentially unregister.) I don't know; maybe someday I won't see it that way and I'll break down and play their little game.

But again I say: my taxes help pay for the cost of the Colorado caucuses. I should be allowed to participate.

About half of U.S. states have open primaries, which means a voter does not have to be registered with a major party to vote in that party's primary. States with closed primaries, which restrict voting to those who have registered with either of the major parties, often have quirky restrictions about how long before a primary you would have to register with a party and how long you would have to wait afterward to re-register as an independent. You really have to research your state's voting regulations to stay on top of all this, and even then, the information isn't always that easy to find.

Partisans who object to open primaries do so because they feel that in order to have a say in who the party nominates, you should be a member of that party. Independents who support open primaries do so because they feel that the dominance of the major parties unfairly excludes them from the first round of voting. And then there's me. If I'm going to help pay for something, I ought to be allowed to partiticate, even if I sound like a broken record.

Partisans and independents who support open primaries also say that the change may increase voter participation, which is scandalously low in this country. Tomorrow may prove otherwise; I think we have a real horse race going this year, and the primaries and caucuses may attract more voters as a result.

For more on this, an excellent resource is IndependentVoting.org, where you can find out how to get involved in a campaign for open primaries across the country.