Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book review: Billionaires and ballot bandits

Greg Palast's latest book Billionaires and Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps is a primer in how the ruling class goes about disenfranchising millions of Americans every year in order to prevent their voices from being heard.

These days elections are stolen by stuffing ballot boxes with phony votes like in Chicago or down in the Valley. Elections are stolen by preventing people from voting in the first place.

Conservative politicians masquerading as election officials have used dubious methods of eliminating folks from the voting rolls. In Florida the lists of voters being "scrubbed" from the rolls included the race of the voter. Anyone who had a name similar to anyone who had been convicted of a felony offense was placed on Florida's list. And no one bothered telling the voter. They would only find out if they showed up at the polling place and asked why they weren't allowed to cast a ballot.

Anyone who showed up to vote whose name had been removed from the rolls was handed a provisional ballot that was placed in a separate envelope - maybe to be counted and maybe not.

Voters in Ohio who showed up on the final Sunday of early voting found themselves standing in long lines as the state consolidated polling stations in black and working class neighborhoods. While standing in line they were handed not actual ballots, but applications for absentee ballots. They weren't voting absentee. And, if any of the information they filled out on the application didn't match the information the voting officials had - guess where that ballot was going.

Back when I went with my mom to vote we still had the machines with the curtain and the levers. Then we had ballots that we marked with special pens. Then came the punch card ballots. Now we have electronic voting machines with proprietary software that no one is allowed to examine (hmm, sounds like one of those breath test machines, doesn't it?). Ever try to conduct a recount of bits and bytes in the hard drive of a computer? Guess what? There's no such thing. Yes, technology is a wonderful thing (sometimes), but not when it comes at the price of eliminating the opportunity to recount the actual ballots.

And then we come to the voter ID laws across the country. These new laws were the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel - otherwise known as ALEC - a business lobby that drafts model bills for its "friends" in legislatures across the country. The clear intent of these laws was to discourage voters and to prevent immigrants, the poor and the elderly from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

It's not just about Republicans trying to steal elections from Democrats (though having the Ohio Secretary of State proclaim that the new voter ID law was going to deliver Ohio for Romney spoke volumes). The Republicans and Democrats are opposite sides of the same coin. The Democrats may speak out about the economic policies of the Republicans but they get so much of their money from Wall Street and corporate executives that their proposals are more window dressing than actual policy differences.

The reason to remove folks from the voting rolls is to prevent the disenfranchised from voicing their displeasure with our political and economic system. The politicians know that those voices will be marginalized and that their votes won't count. They know they can go right on along doing what they've been doing to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to accumulate ever greater sums of wealth while polluting the environment and lowering living conditions for everyone else.

Billionaires and Ballot Bandits will make you think twice about our "one dollar-one vote" electoral system. And that's a good thing.

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