In abstract, I like the idea behind Steal Back Your Vote, the collaborative project by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast to pre-emptively protect the votes of people across the United States. Why wouldn’t I want to prevent a nefarious scheme to prevent voters from casting the ballots they’re entitled to cast?
Then, I take a look at the actual web site, which seems to be little but an attempt to promote the sale of Kennedy and Palast’s political comic book, and give the authors some personal publicity as well. The front page is filled with information about the comic book, but no actual information about how I can, well, steal back my vote. That’s not very effective voter education, and so I start to wonder if voter education is really the point.
The point seems to be to establish the idea that Republicans are stealing Americans’ votes – even before they’ve voted. There’s some evidence to suggest that this is happening, in some form, in some states, with Republican Secretaries of State attempting to get some voters placed in categories of official inactivity that will make it difficult for them to vote on Election Day.
I don’t deny that this is a genuine problem, but I do question the use of language that refers to these activities as “stealing votes”. There’s no theft involved – merely the exploitation of voters who are too busy to check that their voter registration is in good standing, and has not been challenged.
There are good, valid reasons for laws to challenge particular voter registrations. There need to be procedures through which it can be ensured that fake voters are not being invented in order to manipulate the vote. In spite of Democratic Party denials, that has been a serious problem in the past, just as voter suppression has been a serious problem.
More fundamentally, I’m concerned that conspiracy theories about voter suppression efforts serve as an excuse for Democrats who don’t want to come to grips with the fact that there are enough Americans who believe in right wing ideology to elect Republican politicians. It’s easier to blame America’s problems on stolen elections than on corrupted voters. The Democratic Party has become so hungry for swing voters that it is unwilling to speak the truth that many American voters don’t give two hoots about traditional American civic values such as liberty, equality and justice.
It’s this unwillingness to speak frankly about the flaws in right wing ideology, more than voter suppression, that led to the presidential election defeats of 2000 and 2004. In both elections, the Democrats pandered to right wing ideology, rather than confronting it, and in doing so, the Democrats strengthened the Republicans’ hand.
Yes, there were problems with the election in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. However, if Al Gore hadn’t chosen Joseph Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, and John Kerry and John Edwards’s war waffling were not made the weak voice against George W. Bush in 2004, the elections would not have been close enough to steal.
In 2008, the Democrats have had a similar problem. With Barack Obama standing with Wall Street on the fat cat bailout, working to help George W. Bush spy on Americans with the FISA Amendments Act, joining in the chant of drill, baby, drill, and calling for an expansion of Bush’s megachurch kickback scheme (faith-based initiatives), the Democrats lost a huge amount of ground, and what should have been a landslide turned into a neck-and-neck contest.
Even with Barack Obama pulling ahead a few points in national and swing state polls, there’s a lot of concern among Democrats that the presidential election may be too close to call in the end. That’s why you have political operatives like Kennedy and Palast hyperventilating about stolen votes once again. They’re playing a game that wouldn’t have to be played if the Democrats worried more about persuading voters than pandering to them.