Presidential elections have been a charade for many years; however, this one will be a doozy. The only interesting aspect to the next election will not be Obama’s victory; the real story will be the establishment’s shameless marginalization of Ron Paul, which may very well be accompanied by outright voter fraud and criminal mismanagement next November. Therefore, one of the best lines of action for protesters across the country to pursue, whether or not they are part of the laudable movement of occupations, is the re-institution of voting as a transparent, overt, public, unconcealable process. If self-described progressives wish to participate in a politically productive process, they should not vote for Ron Paul, but they should organize shoulder to shoulder with all of his supporters. The act of voting itself should be permanently and physically transformed into the act of protest that it has become under the illegitimate rule of our neoliberal, militarist, dominant parties.
Voting must be brought out of the polling stations and into the streets where it has always belonged. The main goal of protesters of all stripes should be to force local governments across the country to sanction two actions: permit public marches on the next Election Day and enshrine the permission as a permanent right. Nothing is more dangerous to the oligopoly of dominant parties than the specter of people voting on their feet. The only signs that need to be carried on such marches to the town and city squares are the heavily enlarged reproductions of the postal receipts of each protester’s write-in vote. Nothing will be more powerful than young voters of different camps joining in the squares together and conducting simple divisions of the house, conducting role calls, and posting counts. Dare the establishment’s stooges in the media to try to miscount and lie to parks full of people who know exactly what their numbers are and what their votes are.
The American people do not have to ask or wait for their corrupt, utterly inept politicians to provide them with physical ballots and physical, paper receipts of their ballots for every election; they have to make and march with them themselves in every election. In this regard, the potential use of write-in ballots cannot be overstated. The earlier the central tasks of voter registration, write-in voting, and the permitting and organization of Election Day vote-marches can be accomplished, the better. The American people will eventually be able to change the dismal, medieval habit of holding elections deep in autumn to a new practice of holding them late in the spring, when it is more appealing in many of the nation’s most populous states to go out to do anything.
The next logical step will be to win from the ruling Siamese-twins the simple right that more dynamic, legitimate democracies around the world enjoy, namely, national and state holidays for elections. For the most part, the idea of strictly observed, binding local holidays is alien to most people in America. The ludicrous permutations and delays in adopting MLK Day exemplify the national reluctance to enforce observance of holidays. In other countries, certain regions or cities have full-fledged holidays on which no one can be required to work. In the US, we have numerous frivolous holidays, both national and regional, but almost none of them have real teeth or a purpose. It will be imperative to harmonize state and local elections with federal elections as much as possible, but state-based holidays will be needed as well. All institutions must shut-down on these election days, including: barracks, universities, and high schools. The fact that businesses operate on election days that do not operate on other holidays is a glaring disgrace that is absolutely untenable in any society that would dream of becoming a democracy.
Although marching and write-in voting are important steps in the transformation of the process of voting, the universal institution of same-day voter registration is extremely important. All of the regulations regarding voter registration smack of Jim Crow and the vestiges of poll-taxes- as that is what they are. They do not need to be abolished to be circumvented. Nevertheless, there will always be latecomers and people who remain on the fence until the last minute; they deserve to vote. Same-day voter registration should be enshrined in the constitution of every state. Moreover, there is no justification for refusing to provide citizens with provisional ballots. The recent, egregious history of American presidential elections offers ample evidence of the need for provisional ballots. These should always be nonpartisan issues. For supporters of independent candidates, they are.
Some will argue that it could be dangerous to tamper with, or impinge upon, the secrecy of the ballot, but those concerns belong to a bygone era before shirts, bumper stickers, and temporary tattoos. Such concerns are also overshadowed by recent and future recall elections. The recall of California’s Gov. Gray Davis may have unfolded in the form of a political fiasco that brought a Republican to power. However, the recall was one of the most powerful political events of the decade because it was transparent, public, overdue, and it represented broad popular support. More importantly, this year’s recall elections of state senators in Wisconsin were an important step for all states.
Many supporters of third-party candidates and Democrats have seen widespread voter fraud and the collusion of institutions of the establishment up close; more than in previous elections, Ron Paul supporters are already seeing such corruption this time around. Again, the best thing self-described progressives can do is to facilitate the mobilization of their fellow citizens in a collaborative campaign to reclaim the voting process. The goal of transforming our moribund voting process is neither quixotic nor futile. First, many so-called libertarians are a hairsbreadth away from compromise or conversion whether or not they know it. Second, they could use some assistance in spotting and decrying the neglect of their candidates and their platforms. Third, the only remaining productive use of the manipulated, monopolized, and irrelevant process of general elections for president is to rip the mask of legitimacy off of them by marching with rivals who have been similarly disenfranchised.
Today, the most vital participants on both sides of the political spectrum are ready to mobilize on the same grounds, and the spirit of discontent within the electorate is common across the board. The time has come to nationalize the recall process by recalling the mendacious band of hacks that have run our nation into the ground. The only way to begin that process is to start by seizing with both hands the civil rights that have been debased and trivialized by a political class that is accountable to no one but itself and its rapacious patrons. Almost every one of them is just another Gray Davis. It is time to march downtown and throw the bums out- one vote for every person, IN PERSON.
Andrew Sullivan lives in East Middlebury, Vermont. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org