Hurricane Sandy barrelling up the east coast of America and then merging with two wintry continental systems has provided the October Surprise in this year’s presidential race. That is argot for an event unforeseen by the legions of political advisors, and was first coined in the 1972 presidential election between incumbent Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat hopeful George McGovern. The ‘surprise’ then was Henry Kissinger declaring “we believe peace is at hand”, and the boost of a possible ending to the Vietnam War ensured the incumbent won the race to the White House.
This will be the first year I am entitled to vote in a US presidential election and I take the responsibility seriously. I actually thought it was now my right as a US citizen, but I was wrong. The United States, along with a handful of other countries – Iran, Libya, Chechnya, Singapore to name a few – does not, in it’s Constitution, guarantee the right to vote.
That was my first surprise. The second shouldn’t have surprised me considering the variance of regulations on everything from education to banking and a raft of issues in between from state to state, and between county to county within the states. It is in my late mother’s parlance, “a bugger’s muddle”. The surprise was that there are 13,000 different voting districts in the United States, not to mention the Electoral College which is a whole other puzzle. 13,000! Each with their own rules and regulations.
That realisation did, just for a moment, give me pause to consider Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot’s edict, via letter and this is a mouthful, to Ambassador Daan Everts at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE for short), that threatened “criminal prosecution” should that organisation send election observers to Texas. Who in their right mind would want to subject themselves to a plethora of differing rules? Jumping into the mix our not-always-clear-thinking governor, Rick Perry – he of failed presidential aspirations – then tweeted, “No UN monitors/inspectors will be part of any TX election process.” If the Governor had bothered to do his homework he would have known OSCE observers are not from the UN, but oops, he didn’t.
Perry notwithstanding, it is Mr. Abbot’s short sighted and parochial view that concerns me. How can the United States expect to be an advocate for the democratic process if there are elements, voted into positions of authority, who decry the use of observers in their own states? It reeks of ‘do as I say, not as I do”. It also further damages Texas’ image around the world as a state full of baccy-chewing cowboys wearing boots ‘n’ suits in not only Austin, the State capital but in the country’s capital. Just for the record OSCE have sent observers to US elections since 2002 and those who actually run the elections, the National Association of Secretaries of State, welcome them.
On further research I find that while I am allowed to vote because I am a citizen and am not incarcerated, my mind can be legitimately meddled with not only by the politicians but also by employers. In 2010 federal law was changed to allow corporate funds to be used to promote political candidates. That in turn has opened the gates for corporations to suggest, even recommend, their employees vote for specific people. Georgia-Pacific, a Koch Industries subsidiary, sent 30,000 employees a letter stating if the current White House incumbent were re-elected it would “put unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses.” In essence suggesting that jobs might be axed because of those burdens.
Everyone in the country is of course covered by the First Amendment, that of freedom of expression, but what concerns many legal experts says Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, “is there is an unavoidable power disparity between management and employees.”
The Brenan Center for Justice is part of the New York University’s School of Law, and is a non-partisan public policy and law institute. It is actively working to restore the voting rights to a huge number, 5.3 million or thereabouts, of US citizens disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Up to 4 million of them remain disenfranchised even though they live, work, pay taxes, and raise families in the community but are still paying for a past conviction. Again each state has different rulings.
I have a lot to learn still about voting here, but what really dismays me is that because of the Electoral College, that process which counts the votes of 538 nationwide selected electors, with numbers of votes differing in each state, my vote in Texas will not impact who occupies the White House for the next four years. Why? Because Texas is a steadfastly Red State, and has been since the 1970s, which means we have seen little to no presidential campaigning here. There are quick money-grubbing excursions to the major cities but that’s it. The Romney camp knows they have Texas in their pocket and the Obama camp know they can’t change that this election cycle. Texas needs to become something in between, say indigo, to become more than a purse for the campaigns.
And so after all my research, and ignoring the October Surprise, maybe I should just take heed of W.S. Gilbert’s words in H.M.S. Pinafore, “I always voted at my party’s call, And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”
There is only one problem with that. I’m freelance!