Democracy Under Seige

October 29, 2008

Four years ago on Election Day, I saw the face of voter intimidation. It belonged to a tall thick-chested man standing outside the elections office in Portland. He glowered at the people waiting in line, looking them over head to toe. He was among Republicans dispatched to “protect” us against voter fraud.

Of course there is no widespread voter fraud in the United States. Investigations galore, including a bipartisan congressional inquiry, have proved this again and again. Yet Republicans across the country fraudulently hype the non-existent problem to divert attention from their systematic attempts to block voting by people likely to choose Democrats.

I doubt the glowering man and his three colleagues had any success other than creating anxiety and tension among the people in line, people whom I assume had come to the office to clear up problems so they could get a ballot. Normally Oregonians receive their ballots in the mail a few weeks in advance and can return them by mail. I was late filling out mine and decided to hand-deliver it at the elections office.

As I contemplated the scene on the sidewalk, I felt something close to rage. I probably would have expressed it if I had been in line and subjected to that suspicious scrutiny, intended solely to scare me from voting.

How would I react if I lived in Colorado and found out next week on Election Day that I’d been purged from the voter rolls for no legitimate reason? That apparently could happen to as many as 30,000 people. Imagine showing up at the polls and being turned away — without any prior notice of a problem. Picture standing in line all day and much of the night and still not getting a chance to vote, as happened in parts of Ohio in 2004. There are many more dire scenarios now unfolding.

One political party is hell-bent on depriving people who don’t share its ideology of the right to vote. Deprive enough people to finagle a bogus McCain-Palin victory, and democracy will be dead.

And then all bets are off.