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The limits of U.S. "democracy"

November 10, 2006 | Page 6

NICOLE COLSON looks at the undemocratic set-up of the U.S. political system.

U.S. DEMOCRACY is supposed to be a "beacon of light" to the world. But a closer look at the U.S. political system reveals an apparatus manipulated--by both mainstream parties--to preserve the status quo and defend the interests of those with the most money and power.

This year, only 13 out of 33 Senate races and 50 out of 435 elections for House members are considered at all competitive. And that's an exceptionally large number compared to previous years.

As the Economist reported in 2002, "Only six sitting congressmen were defeated in the general election in 2000, a reelection rate of 98 percent...[T]he re-election rate has averaged more than 90 percent since 1952."

What else to read

Read Lance Selfa's analysis of the rise and fall of the Republican era, "The Crisis of the GOP," in a recent issue of the International Socialist Review.

You can also download an ISO Web book by Lance Selfa, The Democratic Party and the Politics of Lesser Evilism, which is based on articles that appeared in the ISR, Socialist Worker and elsewhere.

For more on how the Democrats aided and abetted the rise of the Republicans, check out Left Out: How Liberals Helped Re-Elect George Bush by Joshua Frank. Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch magazine, makes the case against the Anybody-But-Bush mania that dominated the 2004 election.

 

Or consider the process of gerrymandering--carving up congressional districts by whatever party rules the state in order to ensure that the vote will continue to go their way. Because of the way district lines are drawn, even in states where the electorate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, one or the other party can ensure that they have more "safe seats" for their incumbents.

"The results are as bizarre as you would expect," the Economist reported. "Florida's 22nd District is 90 miles long and never more than 3 miles wide. It consists of every beach house lining Route A1A along Florida's Gold Coast from West Palm Beach to Miami Beach...Other districts look like donuts, embryos or Rorschach tests." "[R]edistricting," the magazine concluded, "is becoming a glorified incumbent-protection racket."

The mainstream parties also protect their interests by keeping third-party candidates off the ballot with restrictive requirements to qualify. Democrats have taken the lead in these challenges in recent years, working especially hard to block Green Party candidates they fear would get the votes of progressives.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Democratic and Republican candidates must gather just 2,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot--while other parties' candidates and independents need 67,000.

Meanwhile, millions of people who live and work in the U.S.--including undocumented immigrants and, in many states, anyone ever convicted of a felony--are prohibited from voting at all. Minorities are hit especially hard. According to the Washington Post, laws against prisoners, parolees and ex-felons deny an estimated 13 percent of African American men the vote in the U.S.

And that's not to mention the problems with the voting process itself. As Socialist Worker went to press on Election Day, several cities were reporting problems with voting machines.

In Denver, Colo., as many as 75 percent of voting machines weren't working at any single point in some polling places early in the day--leading to long lines of waiting voters and others who left to get to work before they cast a ballot.

In Tennessee, some precincts lacked enough voting machines, voting machines were not working, or there were long lines and delays in polling places opening, according to press reports--particularly in districts with large African American populations.

According to left-wing writer Michael Schwartz, "This year, Republican state officials in as many as a dozen states have already made good use of the legal system to exclude otherwise eligible voters. They have, for instance, passed laws that will disqualify people who think they are eligible to vote. One common way to do this is by requiring a state-issued picture identity document (a driver's license), which many old and poor people (guaranteed to fall heavily into the Democratic column) do not have."

Just how easy is it to fall victim to these laws? In Ohio, Republican Congressman Steve Chabot was turned away from voting because his identification didn't comply with the state's voter ID law. And South Carolina's Republican Gov. Mark Sanford couldn't vote because he was unable to produce a voter registration card, a valid South Carolina driver's license or a South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles photo ID card.

Furthermore, according to Schwartz, in Ohio, "Republican officials there have developed an ingenious electoral 'purging' system. State-appointed officials are allowed (but not required) to eliminate people from the voting rolls for a variety of minute irregularities--without notifying them.

"This year, only strongly Democratic districts had their rolls purged, while strongly Republican districts, not surprisingly, went untouched. On Election Day, many voters, possibly hundreds of thousands statewide, are going to show up at the Ohio polls and be told they are not eligible."

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