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Stand Up, Senator
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Report

Wednesday 05 January 2004

"Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out."
- Vaclav Havel

Four years ago, members of the Congressional Black Caucus ran deliberately and vociferously into a brick wall when they chose to stand and protest the deplorable election calamity in Florida. They sought the name of one Senator, just one, which they could append to their complaints. Had they gotten that one name, a debate and discussion on what happened in Florida would have taken place in the House and the Senate. No Senator came forward, and the debate never happened.

Now, four years later, another election has come and gone. Now, four years later, there are rafts of evidence which point, once again, to overwhelming disenfranchisement of minority voters. Now, four years later, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with several other House members, plan to stand once again and protest an election that failed to live up to the standards required of participatory democracy. Now, four years later, they seek a Senator to stand with them.

This time, a Senator must answer the call.

Four years ago, standing up was politically dangerous. The country had just endured a month of mayhem and charges and countercharges and overheated rhetoric. The Supreme Court had ruled, a judicial version of the loud voice from Mount Ararat that cannot be contravened. The tablets had been handed down.

The mainstream news media had launched into the soothing refrain, "This is an orderly transition of power…this is an orderly transition of power," and a Senator standing up in Congress to swat the hornet's nest again would have, bluntly, gotten their butt kicked up between their shoulderblades. Recall the line from the film ‘The Right Stuff': "It takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV." Four years ago, no one was feeling special enough to volunteer. Do not forget, as well, that candidate Gore asked his Senate colleagues not to join the CBC, so that they all might "heal the country."

The politics this time around are comparably dicey. Mainstream media coverage of election irregularities in Ohio and elsewhere has been meager at best. What coverage there has been has managed to be simultaneously disparaging and uninformed. Take, for example, the editorial from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer directed today at Rep. Tubbs-Jones and Rev. Jesse Jackson: "(Kerry) had the good grace and sense to acknowledge the abundantly obvious, go home and resume his life. You might consider emulating his excellent example, because what you are doing now - redoubling your effort in the face of a settled outcome - will only drive you further toward the political fringe. And that long grass already is tickling your knees."

A Senator who stands with Conyers and the CBC risks marginalization. A Senator who stands with Conyers risks blowing their credibility to smithereens on the eve of a fight over Bush's wacky judicial nominations, and on the eve of a fight over the very existence of the minority's ability to filibuster. A Senator who stands with Conyers and the CBC risks being targeted for defeat by an increasingly effective GOP machine.

The difference this time around, however, cannot be overstated, and is the reason why a Senator must step forward. Four years ago, the argument was about replacing Bush with Gore. This time, despite the earnest desires of millions of people, such an option is not on the table. The process itself, barring another edict from Ararat, precludes the notion that someone besides Bush will take the oath on January 20th. If Conyers and company stand and object with the support of a Senator, the Electoral College hearing will adjourn, and both the House and Senate will hear two hours of testimony on the reasons behind the objection. After the testimony, the House and Senate will have a straight up-or-down vote on whether to entertain the objection. Given the GOP dominance in both chambers, the outcome of such a vote is preordained.

Even if, by some miracle, both chambers vote to uphold the objections based on the merits of the testimony, and Ohio's 20 votes are removed from the Electoral College count, the waters beyond are muddy. The constitution is vague as to whether the 270 Electoral College threshold is an absolute, or whether the candidate with the most Electoral College votes is to be declared the winner, regardless of whether or not that 270-vote line is crossed. Bush would still lead Kerry 266 to 252 if Ohio were subtracted, and in all likelihood, would carry the day with that lead.

The difference this time politically for any Senator who stands up is that this fight is not about and must not be about replacing Bush with Kerry. This is about making sure that the greatest democracy in the history of the world lives up to that title. Rev. Jesse Jackson put it best when he said, "If America is to be a champion of democracy abroad, it must clean up its elections at home. If it is to complain of fraudulent and dishonest election practices abroad, it cannot condone them at home. But more important, if our own elections are to be legitimate, then they must be honest, open, with high national standards."

A Senator must stand up with Conyers and open the door to testimony on this election in both chambers of Congress. A Senator must stand up so a national dialogue on how we run elections is created and carried forward. That dialogue must include:

The fact that Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell engineered a series of outlandish maneuvers designed to deny citizens the ability to vote before and during the election, including junking vast numbers of new voter applications because they were not on postcard-weight paper, by making sure that heavily Democratic and minority voting districts did not have enough voting machines to accommodate the number of voters who came out, and by revoking access to public records of the election to citizens attempting to lawfully audit the poll books;

The fact that Warren County election officials shuttered the public counting of votes based upon their claim that the FBI warned that terrorists were coming to attack them. No FBI agent anywhere on the planet has acknowledged issuing this warning, and the ballots in Warren County were subsequently left unguarded and unprotected;

The fact that a county in Ohio shows more votes than registered voters; the fact that another Ohio county shows an underfunded Democratic State Supreme Court candidate getting more votes than an incredibly-funded Democratic presidential candidate; the fact that one machine alone in one county gave Bush 3,893 more votes than he actually got; the fact that another county registered an unheard-of 98% turnout rate, and that county subsequently handed Bush 19,000 extra votes; the fact that in another county, at least 25 voting machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to Bush.
This list goes on, and on, and on.

Protecting the right to vote is not and must not be a partisan issue in this country. The fact that candidates of both parties too often acquiesce to the so-called Nixon Rule on elections - a tacit agreement not to argue the outcome of questionable elections, which came about after the riddled-with-inconsistencies 1960 presidential race - means that people who do violate the public trust by violating the sanctity of the ballot are safe from censure, especially if their actions lead to a victory.

In a perfect world, all 100 Senators would stand up because of one simple fact: They are where they are because of the vote, and if they do not protect that vote, it may be them looking at the short end of the stick come some future election day. All 100 should stand, but it only takes one. It only takes one to move us closer to that more perfect union, where every vote counts and every vote is counted, where the citizenry can trust that the people leading them were properly chosen, where partisans acting in the dark of night to thwart that simple, admirable goal are exposed and purged from our system.

Stand up, Senator. Stand up.
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