Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A quantum of umbrage: Where that morning-after taste in your mouth came from today

A pictogram featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders floated up to the top of my Facebook feed more than once in the three or four days leading up to the election yesterday. It shows Sanders earnestly telling a characteristically fascinated Bill Moyers: "Election Day should be a holiday so that everyone has the opportunity to vote."

Well, yes and no. Then again, mostly no. Actually, completely no.

Sure, it's a great idea, in a sort of Superman-Fights-Mighty-Mouse otherworldly way. Congress has the power to declare a day a federal holiday (giving a paid day off for all federal employees). But apart from the fact that this is an expensive thing to do because there are so many federal workers (and you know how Republicans feel about government spending), it gives a paid day off to federal workers (and, by extension and tradition, the rest of us), who the majority in both houses of Congress as currently constituted believe deserve no such thing. (Or have you forgotten how long Arizona held out against recognizing Martin Luther King Day?)

And of course, anything that might make it easier for just any old citizen to actually vote would go directly against the Republican party's avowed electoral strategy.

And there's another problem: Here in Oregon, we have had state-wide voting by mail since 1998. Nothing could be easier: A few weeks before the election, Oregon voters get Voter Guides on all the candidates and measures on the ballot. Then they get their ballot. They have until 8pm election day to return them, by mail or drop-off. Both Oregon Republicans and Democrats say they favor the system. (And, despite the warnings of convicted racketeer and initiative-system-gamer Bill Sizemore, voting by mail hasn't led to noticeable increase vote fraud, which was hovering around zero to begin with.)

So: How did it go as of the night before Election Day?

Out of the 2.2 million registered voters in Oregon, 48.80 percent, or 1,068,889, have returned ballots so far.

During the last midterm general election, in November 2010, turnout statewide reached 70.9 percent.

So, while Oregonians didn't get a paid day off to vote, they had about three weeks to mark the forms, seal and sign the envelope, and either mail it or drop it off at a county collection site, all at their convenience, and yet a substantially smaller number of them did so this time around, compared to the last midterm election.

I don't think convenience is really the issue here.

Nor do I think that, despite several decades of being told by right-wingers that government can't fix our problems (at best) or (at worst) that government is the problem, in the immortal words of Saint Reagan the Dotard, most voters really believe that's true. Some do, and perhaps they'll get what they expect, perhaps at about the point when they retire and find that Wall Street has gambled away their retirement just like they said they would. But most, I think, don't. Even though they've been handed every opportunity to be cynical about the process and every excuse to let the franchise slide.

Look at the progressive tilt to the pattern of measures that passed or failed around the country yesterday: Recreational marijuana (and with it, the undermining of the war on [some groups of people who use some kinds of] drugs) initiatives passed, minimum wage initiatives passed, personhood initiatives failed, top-two primaries failed. Those passed (or failed) because people saw a chance to make the political process work for them, and they took it. Then look at the collection of anti-science, anti-women/anti-black or brown/anti-voting rights/anti-regulation/anti-immigrant/anti-regulation/anti-Obama whackjobs that got elected to Congress.

The reason for the discrepancy? We live in a post-Citizens United America, where obscene amounts of untraceable money supported (and covered for) candidates that the Kock Brothers and their ilk favored, while comparatively little dark money was spent at the statewide initiative level. Monsanto and their corporate kin could be counted on to carry their own weight there.

Election Day as a national holiday, even if it could be made to happen, will accomplish little or nothing. Getting unlimited and unaccountable corporate money out of our elections will be as nearly impossible, but of the two, it's the one worth going to the mattresses over. The other one's just window dressing. 

No comments: