Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Keeping Democracy

Even before Jon Stewart and the team at The Daily Show pointed it out last night, our staff had been struck over the last few days by a stark contrast in world politics.

Even as the world's largest election in India was beginning, the vote for a new President to replace the outgoing Hamid Karzai was finishing this weekend in Afghanistan. While some journalists were less surprised than others, the election itself was generally without major acts of violence. There were a few reports of scattered violence after the election - including at least one incident that killed some election workers and destroyed some ballots. Even though Afghanistan's citizens were literally threatened by the Taliban with death if they showed up at the polls, their voter turnout rate looks to have exceeded 60%.

We had to ask each other: When was the last time Americans turned out for ANY election like that?

For the record, America hasn't exceeded 60% turnout in a presidential election since 1968 - and we haven't exceeded 40% turnout in a midterm election since 1970. That's an incredibly embarrassing record for a nation that's spent the greater part of the last four decades trying to "promote democracy" around the world - sometimes, at the point of a gun.

With all the technological tools and and experience in voting, logic would tell you that making voting easier, while more accurately reflecting the will of the people, should be easy for Americans. Indeed, at the beginning of 2014, after a six month review, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration released a 112-page report outlining actions that cities, states, and our nation could take to accomplish all of those goals.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans seem to have taken that report as a guide on how to prevent millions of Americans from having their voices heard. From Ohio, to North Carolina, to Wisconsin and elsewhere, for several years now, Republicans have been trying all kinds of unethical and sometimes outright illegal tactics to try and suppress the turnout of those voters unlikely to buy into their propaganda.

As Jamelle Bouie noted last week, it's clear these attempts at voter suppression have been driven by partisanship, an effort to cheat the system in places where Republicans can't compete honestly. Unfortunately, this isn't a new thing for America. As Bouie also pointed out, Americans on the left and right have been trying to rig the system in their favor for most of our history.

Yet, you'd think if Republicans are really as proud of their bare-knuckle political tactics as the blowhards in right-wing media claim, they'd be proud of what they've accomplished. As Dave Weigel of Slate pointed out last week, that's actually the last thing Republicans want to do: Draw attention to how they're trying to rig the system in places like Wisconsin.

With all of the shenanigans by cowardly Republicans, you also might think we'd be mad at the GOP for how they're trying to twist the system - and you'd be partially right on that count.

However, we're also sick and tired of Democrats who won't stand up, get out, reach out, and fight to get every one of their voters to the polls. Sure - you can

Citizens of Afghanistan risked their lives to vote. Americans might have to arrange for a babysitter, or make special travel plans for voting day, or - God forbid - learn how to program the DVR.

Somehow, we don't exactly think of those actions as serious acts of courage.