On July 4, 2011, former President Bill Clinton spoke to students in Washington for the annual convention of Campus Progress. His message to them was surprisingly stark and pulled no punches. Coming from the famed triangulator who faced impeachment from Republican lawmakers after giving them NAFTA and Glass-Steagall's repeal, this was a warning to the young audience in attendance as well as their brethren across the country inheriting the American experiment in democracy:
"I can't help thinking since we just celebrated the Fourth of July and we're supposed to be a country dedicated to liberty that one of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time," Clinton said at Campus Progress's annual conference in Washington.
One year later, this assault on voter access continues full steam. From Florida Gov. Rick Scott's targeted voter purge to ongoing battles over Voter ID laws, our next presidential election could well be decided by only one state overwhelmed with voter suppression tactics.
As we have seen in 2000 in Florida and in 2004 in Ohio, a full-court press by those wishing to interfere with voters can deny the popular vote and let partisan officials decide the election for us. As we have learned since those elections, the only thing more costly to our country than two wars was the Bush tax cuts. Not only do elections have staggering consequences, the subverting of elections have even great implications.
The identity and ideal of America is so noble to us, no matter how many bad actors we have to face from time to time. From this goodwill and principle woven into our national fabric, our high expectations of fellow Americans can leave us vulnerable to deceit. And while concerns about election integrity were once swiftly denied by both parties, overwhelming evidence of voter suppression and electoral manipulation have made election administration a new spectator sport.
In 2006 I co-founded VideoTheVote.org, a national effort to recruit volunteers to document polling place problems on Election Day and share reports via the newly-launched YouTube. From polls opening late to machine breakdowns to improper provisional balloting to misinformation to intimidation -- citizen journalists nationwide shared their stories. In recent election years, the media has taken up covering polling place dramas, although they tend to gravitate to the more tabloid tales of the day (see: Ohio poll worker bites voter's nose).
For this election in 2012, live streaming technology allows Video The Vote unprecedented opportunity for real-time reporting and follow-up with election officials. A new smartphone app will bring the 866-OUR VOTE hotline into the Cloud Era. Video the Vote will be working before election day to report on voter access issues nationwide, on Election Day to report and address voting issues, and after election day to follow up on Voter ID law impacts, possible recounts, purging outcomes and more. With more and more young Americans mobilized around issues facing the 99 percent, learning The Playbook of Voter Disenfranchisement is key to fighting for your voice.
My 2008 documentary FREE FOR ALL! explored the Ohio 2004 election and its mismanagement by Secretary of State (and fellow Huff Post blogger) Ken Blackwell. From partisan maneuvers to deliberate confusion to outright deception, Ken Blackwell left no trick untried from The Playbook. I am proud of this film as a record for history reflecting the extraordinary steps taken to deny democracy, and validated by how our accuracy has borne out. (Indeed, there was more afoot in my own film than we could predict.) Roger Ebert wrote of FREE FOR ALL!: "The doc is engrossing, even enraging. ... [Ennis] has a lot to say."
This Fourth of July, I encourage you to watch and share this film, which begins and ends on Independence Day, and start working in your state toward a fair Election Day. And as you watch your local Fourth of July parade, remember that politicians generally don't organize parades -- they show up in front of them.
I thought I couldn't do much as just some dude, until I realized that the guys running things were just some dudes as well.
Follow John Wellington Ennis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnennis