By Ted Braun
Now that our political campaign has ended, it would be important to start working on improving our democratic system. Following are three of the major problems confronting us:
1. The influence of great wealth
The political money spent by wealthy individuals, corporations, and various shadowy front groups has had a major impact on our nation's democratic process that has been both pervasive and corrupting. This investment by the wealthy has given them undue influence over the elected candidates who have been on the receiving end of their contributions. This influence is especially useful to these rich donors as they seek to increase their wealth further through tax loopholes and special governmental benefits.
The Supreme Court, through its ruling that money is a form of protected free speech, has been a major player in this corrupting process. By granting greater political voice and power to those with greater wealth, it has provided strong support for a government of, by, and for the wealthy. Montana tried to install a state firewall against this kind of corporate "free speech" but the Supreme Court shot it down. Our nation's future, however, depends on how we are able to solve this problem.
2. The need for an informed public
Our presidential and vice-presidential debates were not as informative as they could have been. They missed addressing some of the most pressing issues of the day such as climate change, our nation's situation of permanent war, and others. This lack of breadth was partly the result of what happened back in the 1980s when the Commission on Presidential Debates took control of the debates away from the League of Women Voters and then limited participation to only the two major parties (both representing corporate interests). Including some of the smaller parties, such as the Green, Libertarian, Justice, and Socialist ones, would have introduced a greater variety of perspectives regarding values and priorities—ones that would have been stimulating to the debate.
Another problem has been a lack of analytical and educational resource material provided by the fourth estate. For instance, if the press and media had been providing their readers and listeners with basic information on how the candidates were differing from each other, and also fact checks on their statements, that would have helped the voting public in making informed decisions.
3. Voter suppression
This has been going on for some time now: shortening of registration and voting hours, the requirement of government-issued voter identification cards with photo (supposedly to combat voting fraud, although evidence of such fraud has been almost non-existent), and even robo-telephone calls announcing a wrong voting date. Information needed for an ID card, such as a birth certificate or a marriage license (especially for women who may be in a second or third marrage with subsequent changes in their last names) have often been hard to obtain.
Voter suppression has also taken place recently through disfranchisement caused by superstorm Sandy. At least six of the states hit by the storm use electronic voting machines with limited paper ballot backups, but not all will have become operative by voting day. Where and when do the voters who have lost homes and whole neighborhoods vote? Can they get to new polling places, and will they have the proper credentials? The New York Marathon was postponed because of the emergency situation. Why not the election, as well. These are important questions to consider because climate scientists predict that we will be having more superstorms like this in the future.
The major "elephant in the room" in voter suppression, however, has to do with the electronic voting machines themselves. It has been discovered that they can be easily manipulated to give false readings. The most important example of this took place in Ohio in 2004, and involved machines made by ES&S with Diebold software, and maintained by Triad, all companies led by Republican partisans. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell gave the contract to count the votes to Michael Connell's Gov/Tech Company, and these were done on servers housed in the Old Pioneer Bank Building in Chattanooga.
A shift of 300,000 votes after 12:20 a.m. election night flipped a 4 percent Kerry lead to a 2 percent Bush victory. After Connell was subpoenaed in a 2008 federal lawsuit focusing on how the 2004 election was decided, he died in a mysterious plane crash in December of that year.
Since then a retired NSA analyst, Michael Duniho, has discovered other instances of vote flipping by studying voting patterns in larger U.S. precinct primaries since 2008. He states that crooks know they can safely flip up to 10 percent of votes without consequence. Anything more than that is statistically suspect. The only way to verify voting is by a hand-count of ballots.
This month special attention is focusing on a company named Hart Intercivic which owns, maintains, programs, and will tabulate votes on machines in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Colorado.
These, then, are three major problems challenging us. On this first day after the election, you could no doubt add others!