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Vote — for Hope

Amid the lies and the attempts at voter suppression, the most important thing you can do is cast a ballot

The seemingly endless 2012 election that will — with any luck — come to a close this evening has been characterized most of all by the depth of the dishonesty exhibited by the candidates and the campaigns.

photonamePhoto by Ho John Lee

Sure, politicians have always lied. Or, to be a little bit more generous, they have always bent the truth through omissions and exaggerations. At the risk of seeming too cynical, such fact-bending is an expected part of the hurly burly of political combat. Constructing strawmen arguments or neglecting certain facts while putting a spit shin on others is how the game is played.

But in this election season the lying appears to have hit new lows.

The most obvious example is the almost pathological level of dishonesty displayed by the Romney-Ryan campaign. Exhibit One: Ryan’s blatant disregard for the truth during his RNC speech. Exhibit Two: Romney’s eleventh hour howler about the auto bailout, a lie so outrageous that it prompted a rebuttal from the normally GOP-friendly car companies. Romney’s record of misleading voters about his own positions has become so horrible that it prompted the CW-spouting Washington Post editorial board to decry the former Massachusetts governor’s “contempt for the electorate.”

Then there’s the dishonesty of blatantly misleading voters through phony mailers and robocalls. One example that has caught my attention is the apparent effort to mislead California voters about Proposition 37, which would require labeling for processed foods containing GMOs. According to the watchdogs at Food Democracy Now, the No on 37 campaign (a who’s who of Big Food corporations like Monsanto and Coca-Cola) has funded a slew of mailers from front groups that encourage people to reject the labeling measure. It’s not quite clear whether outfits like “Democratic Voter’s Choice” or “Californians Vote Green” or the “Cops Voting Guide” exist anywhere beyond some political consultant’s boiler room. But evidently these phantom constituencies don’t like the idea of GMO labeling. There’s a adjective to describe creating fake organizations for political gain: deceitful

Another example of a dishonest political system is the flood of dark money that swamped this election season. The Supreme Court says money is speech. (Though I fundamentally disagree, I can at least understand the philosophical ideas behind that argument.) But such speech automatically turns into a lie when it hides behind a curtain. Just look at yesterday’s revelation that a Koch-funded PAC used four different organizations in three states to funnel $11 million to support California’s (already mendacious) Prop 32 and defeat Prop 30. California officials call it “the largest campaign money-laundering scheme in state history.” I can also think of a word that describes hiding one’s true intentions, which is what money-laundering is: duplicity.

But nothing reveals the lack of integrity of some political partisans than the effort to keep other citizens from exercising their right to vote. Since 2011, more than 180 bills have been introduced in 41 states that would make it harder for people to register to vote, prove they are eligible to vote, vote early, or vote by mail. And a Tea Party-affiliated group is planning to challenge voters at polling stations today and question whether they are legitimate voters. Supposedly these efforts are meant to combat voter fraud. But voter fraud is virtually non-existent in this country. The right-wing campaign against the phantom menace of voter fraud seems like a classic case of Freudian projection: Worried about someone stealing the election, conservatives are poised to steal the election by preventing people from voting. Political journalists, always handy with their euphanisms, should call it what it is — attempted robbery.

The worst of the worst is the blatant effort to misdirect people about where and how to vote. In Arizona, for example, robocalls attributed to the US Senate campaign of Republican Jeff Flake have been telling Democrats to vote in the wrong location. This is grotesque. (Thankfully, the FBI is now investigating the situation.)

For some partisans, the will to power trumps the will of the people.

I’m super grateful then, that the folks at Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Election Protection, and Video the Vote — as well as the US Justice Department — are at the polls today to guarantee that citizens can exercise their right to vote.

Video the Vote seems especially important. It has enlisted 4,500 citizen-journalists across the US (mostly in swing states) to monitor polling place conditions and report on any irregularities. “We’re documenting how hard it is to vote in America, with the hope of holding people accountable,” Matt Pascarella, director of Video the Vote, told me this morning. Pascarella is a veteran observer of electoral shenanigans, having worked for years as Greg Palast’s researcher, and he says that the situation worsens in close elections like the one today. “I’ve been covering voter suppression and intimidation for 11 years. And this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

The reports of suppression, the drumbeat of lies, and the flood of money might give cynical citizens yet another excuse not to vote. But there’s another way of looking at it. The flaws of our democracy make the franchise more important, not less.

So vote. Casting a ballot isn’t just a wish for your favored candidate or cause. Your vote is a hope for our democracy itself.


Jason MarkJason Mark photo
Jason Mark is the Editor in Chief of SIERRA, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, and the author of Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man. From 2007 to 2015 he was the Editor of Earth Island Journal.

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