CAN YOU READ THIS? THOSE UNABLE TO READ, in an America now long gone, could have been prohibited from voting. But such literacy tests were struck down by the courts, banished as arbitrary tools used by white racists to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote. With the enfranchisement of blacks, politics in many parts of the nation changed radically.
Now read the signs around you. The elections of 2002, 2004, and beyond are being quietly decided in a variety of ways during this year of seeming pause between elections.
Last Friday a judge in Bangor, Maine, stuck down a portion of that state’s constitution and a referendum vote by the people last November upholding it that barred mentally ill people under guardianship from voting.
Such disenfranchisement deprived mentally ill people of due process and violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, ruled U.S. District Judge George Singal. It also, according to the judge, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Because of his ruling, those with the mental age of a small child but the chronological age of an adult, will henceforth be able to vote like any other adult citizen in the Pine Tree State. Many will vote as their guardians direct, in a state whose motto is the Latin word Dirigio, meaning "I direct" or "I guide."
In accord with Judge Singal’s precedent, why shouldn’t millions of us who have legal guardianship powers be able to cast votes on behalf of our Alzheimer’s Diseased parents or grandparents in nursing homes? Or of loved ones in comas?
This seems only fair in today’s non-judgmental – with the accent on the "mental" – America. Ponder the thousands of illiterate and/or mentally-disadvantaged voters last November who could not decipher a simple butterfly ballot in West Palm Beach, Florida. At what point in senility would we deprive them of a driver’s license or a ballot?
Major efforts are underway by the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project and others, as previously discussed by this columnist, to create "a nationwide constituency of people with mental illnesses by locating potential voters – whether in hospitals, at advocacy events, in housing projects, clinics, or support groups."
The re-emergence from the shadows of a bearded Al Gore reminds us that his wife Tipper was a major promoter of putting as many of the estimated 5.6 million mentally ill as possible onto the voting rolls. Gee, what party would mentally impaired people tend to vote for?
(Leftists should think twice before again publicizing a phony scientific study, as they did last week, claiming that Bill Clinton’s I.Q. is 182 but President George W. Bush’s I.Q. is only 91; this might win Brother Bush empathy votes from this emerging Gore constituency.)
The Left in general, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in particular, likewise have been hard at work trying to roll back laws that in at least 45 states prohibit felons in prison from voting. Gee, which political party do you think felons would tend to vote for?
Roughly three-fifths of states ban voting by felons on probation or parole. Convicted felons are denied the vote for life, even after "paying their debt to society," in 14 states. One of these 14 is Florida, where an estimated 5,000 felons last November voted anyway – more than 75 percent of them as registered Democrats. Florida has been shamefully slow to arrest these lawbreakers for their crime in the voting place.
When a Leftist tells you that the mentally ill and felons should have their right to vote restored, ask him or her if those persons’ Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms should likewise be restored. Have a tape recorder on hand to capture the hemming and hawing evasions your question will elicit. Then ask why they would entrust control of selecting our leaders to people they would not trust with a gun. (Oh, I forgot. They trust nobody with a gun…except Big Brother.)
What about one of the first laws imposed by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and a Democrat-controlled Congress – "Motor Voter" – designed to register as voters anyone coming to a government welfare office or Department of Motor Vehicles (and to make it exceedingly difficult to purge improper or deceased names from voter rolls)?
Now that states from California to Tennessee to Wisconsin are rushing to issue Driver’s Licenses to illegal aliens – reasoning that, hey, they’re going to be driving on our roads anyway so why not decriminalize them? – will such licenses make it easier to register these non-citizens to receive government goodies? And to vote?
Remember Holly Briscoe? She was a registered voter in Maryland until a few weeks ago, when following a jury summons for Holly her owner sheepishly acknowledged sending in the voter registration card for her brown and white Jack Russell terrier dog. That is how difficult it is today to become a registered voter.
And once registered, a dog or pig or ghost can now vote by mail unchallenged for election after election after election. Occasionally a fraudulent voter may be ferreted out. But an attempt to purge improper names from Florida voter rolls made occasional errors – and these were pointed to in an effort to discredit the whole election.
Last November roughly one in five votes nationwide was cast by mail. Roughly one in four votes were absentee in Texas, Tennessee, and California. More than half of all ballots in Washington State were cast by mail.
In Oregon 100 percent of votes were cast by mail in what might be the nation’s first election without polling places. This meant, of course, that a lazy or partisan Letter Carrier might have prevented ballots from arriving. Witnesses in some Oregon counting places reported, to their horror, that counters had been equipped with White-Out and marking instruments to "fix" any ballot misread by the machines – or, for all anybody knew, to "fix" any ballots marked for the wrong candidates.
Voting by mail opens the door to many other kinds of vote fraud, too. Ballots can be cast by pets or ghost voters. Absentee ballots can be forged, or filled out under badgering, or filled out by a spouse and signed by the voter under duress.
And the tracks are being laid – e.g., by last year’s Pentagon’s Internet voting experiment that garnered 84 votes at a taxpayer cost of $74,000 per vote, and by other computerized voting in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Riverside, California – for future voting to be done from home by computer.
When all voting is computerized, fraud will likely be unstoppable. There will no longer even be paper ballots, much less dangling chads, to manipulate and re-count. Whatever digital tabulation a giant counting computer makes will be untraceable, uncheckable, and final. And instead of sending millions in campaign funds to presidential – and as America learned days ago from Senate Intelligence Committee hearings, even congressional – candidates, a foreign nation such as Communist China might simply be supplied with secret channels to hack into our election computers to alter the outcome. Our future elections could be decided not in Palm Beach but Beijing.
Given these trends towards voting by mail or computer, it seemed odd that at the end of July the private National Commission on Federal Election Reform chaired by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter proposing making Election Day a federal holiday. In President Ford’s native Michigan, however, the United Auto Workers had already demanded and gained Election Day holidays off work in their contracts. Without a general holiday, would this give an advantage to unionized voters? Or, since small business people and entrepreneurs would work that day anyway, would such a holiday disproportionately give time off for voting to unionized government employees?
Would an Election Day holiday prompt more voting – or less, as people get away from it all? And if Election Day remains the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, as the Constitution mandates, how many workers will take what the Italians call a "Ponte," taking off Monday to build a "bridge" between the weekend and Tuesday holiday? The cost to the economy of a new holiday could be tens of billions of dollars – but to combine this new holiday with Veterans’ Day would be taken as an insult by many veterans.
All such fraud could be blunted, of course, if we followed the recommendation of columnist George Will. Simply do away with secret ballots. Let every citizen’s votes be an open matter of public record. Today if a dog or fraud votes, that anonymous vote becomes inextricably commingled with legitimate ballots. Under George Will’s open voting, in Florida we could go back, determine how the 5,000 illegal felon voters cast their ballots, and erase those specific votes. Reaching a final vote tally could therefore be slower to arrive, being subject to challenges, but it would be cleaner and the outcome less subject to charges of theft or dishonesty.
The politicians and parties whose power traditionally has come through voting graveyards and the like will, of course, resist reforms like Mr. Will’s that would reduce fraud.
These tend to be the same politicians and parties who favor making it easier and easier for people to vote – through "same day registration" or "voting by postcard" or "provisional voting" or many other gimmicks that would open the way to widespread fraud. Where such things were possible – e.g., Madison, Wisconsin, last November – some Leftist University of Wisconsin students boasted that they had simply gone from polling place to polling place, casting up to 10 votes apiece. I have seen no reports that any were prosecuted for this criminal behavior. The city’s namesake James Madison, father of our Constitution, would have been horrified by such political corruption.
Yet it was Madison’s own Vice President from 1813 until his death in 1814, Elbridge Gerry, for whom the Gerrymander is named. As Governor of Massachusetts in 1812 he had controlled how electoral lines were drawn to create a few districts full of Federalists and more districts with enough Jeffersonians to carry a majority of the state’s seats.
The tactic has persisted, and in this "off year" state lawmakers are busy redrawing state legislative and congressional districts to give the ruling party a tighter grip on power.
How much power can Gerrymandering produce? Three decades ago the difference in total nationwide votes for Congress differed between Republicans and Democrats by only about one vote per congressional district – but by clever Gerrymandering Democrat-controlled state legislatures redistributed those votes to produce a 41-seat majority in the House of Representatives, and with it near-dictatorial control over all Federal spending and taxing legislation.
By such tactics, for 40 years the House of Representatives was controlled, like a Central American banana republic, by the same ruling party. The art of thus concentrating and diluting votes was refined to elect lawmakers not only of a particular party but also of favored racial or ethnic groups. Today Gerrymandering is so refined that instead of you picking your representative, chances are that he or she through back room deals picked you to be in that district.
Gerrymandering became a way to encourage lawmakers of the opposition party to be compliant and "moderate" as well. Those who went along to get along with the ruling party usually found themselves in "safe" districts that were comfortably 70 percent Republican, adjacent to two districts that were 55 percent Democratic.
Lawmakers who were not cooperative, such as former California Congressman Bob Dornan, could find their district’s lines redrawn to put their home outside the district. As I write, feisty Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr is refusing to answer questions about where he has rented apartments – knowing that Democrats controlling his state’s redistricting intend to redraw his district to exclude his legal residences.
And how will Democrats who control the California legislature redraw the Republican-majority district of their Modesto Congressman Gary Condit now that his mouthpieces say he intends to seek re-election in 2002?
And, it almost goes without saying, so-called Campaign Finance Reform is merely another kind of Gerrymandering. By prohibiting most private advertising for or against candidates during the final 60 days of a campaign, it tilts the political playing field overwhelmingly in favor of incumbents, the editorial slant of newspapers and broadcast media that are unrestricted by the law, and Left-leaning groups such as organized labor that can command lots of shock troops on the ground.
Some reforms might make the voting process better, as this columnist has discussed. But opening our elections to the mentally ill, felons, illegal aliens, Motor Voter, same day registration, voting by mail or computer, the current Campaign Finance Reform bills, and the Ford-Carter Commission recommendations are ways to make Americans even more cynical and dissatisfied with our democratic republic.