When the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, it was with the explanation that "Congress could have updated the coverage formula at that time, but did not do so. Its failure to act," said the 5-4 majority, left "us today with no choice but to declare [Section 4] unconstitutional. The formula in that section can no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance." In light of what has happened since, we can infer that the Court having admonished Congress for not updating the coverage formula has learned the old adage: "it is easy to criticize."
In all seriousness, the Court has unwittingly uncovered and exposed the depth of most often GOP partisans to deprive modest and low income voters -- those most likely to be dependent upon over-burdened public transport and trying to feed and shelter families -- of the franchise. One would hope that the justices would be uniformly appalled at the aggressive ways certain states and locales -- often those that would have been subject to pre-clearance -- are designing means to make it more likely that citizens will encounter publicly imposed barriers to casting a ballot.
And it's not just voter ID laws enacted on the pretense of preventing fraud when very little has been shown to exist. No, unlike democracies in Europe, which have multiple days and staggered hours usually over a weekend resulting -- no surprise -- in large, high percentage turnouts, even as high as 90 percent plus, legislators who should be rightly scared of being tossed out of office are mitigating any chance of that by making it more, not less, difficult to get to the polls (shortened hours, fewer days); more likely an otherwise valid ballot is not counted merely because it was cast at the wrong polling place, or in a way hardly calculated to win over understandably cynical young voters, invalidating measures designed to encourage young people to pre-register before their 18th birthday. This type of chicanery mimics the age-old voter-neutralization policies known as gerrymandering devoted to making it near impossible to defeat incumbents.
Of course all of this anti-citizen effort is on top of a Citizen United decision that by unleashing unlimited corporate (and union) independent expenditures makes public office the province of the rich and affluent.
The Supreme Court has been all over the jurisprudential map in response. It might be argued that some of this inconsistent treatment of these various measures by the Court -- in terms of the issuance or non-issuance of a stay of lower court pronouncements -- reflects proper or genuine judicial restraint in light of the proximity of the election.
But judicial restraint allowing an election to be conducted with intrinsically unfair requirements is hardly a virtue. Given the numbers of citizens estimated to be excluded in Texas, for example, one can hope (and for now at least, I am hanging on to a chad of hope) that the Court will find it difficult to distinguish the stay in Wisconsin setting aside that State's voter ID measure from the situation in TX. But the notion that one is only protected from contrived disenfranchisement because large numbers of Americans are also deprived puts an ugly chink into the idea of equality that gave us "one person/one vote."
So where does this leave the US electoral process? In total disrepute; under cover of preventing fraud, a greater fraud is perpetrated. Four times the Court has been asked to set aside these unjust impediments to the right to vote recently and thus far, only the citizens of WI, but not citizens of OH and NC, have been given proper relief from unjustifiable interference with casting a ballot. If the Texas barriers are not kept in check, Of course, it won't only be conspiracy theorists and skeptics concluding that the restrictions on voting that are being left in place correlate more with whom the majority of justices want to win in those given states.
As for me, I have demonstrated quite definitively (by "not finishing in the money" -- a phrase usually associated with horse racing, but equally meaningful now to describe the commerce of American elections) and certainly apt to describe my own unsuccessful attempt to rerun "Mr. Smith's" journey to Washington. Jimmy Stewart in the movies might get by with handmade signs made by boy rangers, but in today's wealth-skewed process, raising $17,000 from my neighbors and family as a political independent in comparison to the corporate monies in excess of a million flowing directly or indirectly to the opposition had about as much chance of defeating the hand-picked candidates of the major parties as the Cubs have of winning the series. So no voter ID worries for me. My primary vote totals leave me perched back in the classroom teaching about a Constitution that I wish we still honored.
Out here in California, the major news media in my district very kindly declared that I may have been the "most learned and interesting candidate" to ever ask to serve in Congress. That is indeed a consolation, but I would gladly trade the compliment for a chance to stand in a fair election -- you know an election like the one's we monitored recently in Iraq and Afghanistan -- well, maybe not. My proposals for a truly progressive income tax, a family wage, a family-friendly immigration reform, and more, were gaining traction, but I admit they were not natural sellers to those banking large bonuses for steering corporate profits outside the US, and most importantly to themselves. The top 1 percent folks tend to be very vigilant in the battle against vote fraud. Go figure.
But lest I misunderstand the sound of that door slamming behind me, the rules in California preclude disaffected voters, of which there are thousands as indicated by the anemic 26 percent that voted in the primary, from even writing my name in on the ballot. I have been urged to challenge the write-in prohibition, and while I still might, why add yet further proof that America's commitment to free and fair democratic elections is at a very low ebb?
Any way discovered that unused campaign funds can be used to help the homeless and the large needs of those relying upon the social justice fund. That I suspect is the real victory, and no one need present an ID to get a bowl of soup -- at least not yet.
So, I have contented myself to writing columns on reforming our dysfunctional government; a task I fully expect the next president to take up in earnest. Actually, since American vice-presidents have few constitutionally defined functions, it would be reasonable to assign such reform efforts to that office. Recent correspondence from my former boss suggests she is quite interested in some of these ideas, and that, rather than the Court's episodic and inconsistent guardianship of the vote, is likely the best prospect for electoral reform -- especially if she taps say Elizabeth Warren as a running mate.
I wouldn't mind "getting carded" for that line-up... and helping out.