LAW DAY SPEECH 4/22/2014: American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters"
The ABA today announced the theme for the 2014 Law Day. In recognition of the approaching 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the theme "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters" calls on every American to reflect on the importance of a citizen’s right to vote and the challenges that remain to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy."
IMAGINARY VOTE FRAUD:
Six years ago I attempted to make a bet which, had it been taken up, would have netted me ten million dollars. What was the bet?
How many of you have heard something in the news during the last 10 years about States- including Georgia- enacting strict new photo ID laws for voters? Why, you ask, is it that when we can't get legislatures to pass needed legislation, did so many States take the time and trouble to enact laws- including photo identification requirements for otherwise validly registered voters- that make it harder for people to register, and harder for registered voters to cast their ballots?
It hasn't just been photo identification laws which will restrict the number of otherwise eligible voters to vote: laws have been passed in several states which have restricted early voting. Some States have made it more difficult for convicted felons who have completed their sentences to have their voting rights restored. Other states have made it more difficult for groups such as students to vote in the towns where their colleges or universities are located. The State of Texas allows persons to get a concealed firearm carry permit with forms of identification that are not allowed at the polls- including student ID's with photos.
So what was my would-be ten million dollar bet? I offered that bet during the weeks before the 2008 presidential election, when there were national outcries of rampant voter fraud, when the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain and right wing commentators were howling that a liberal community get out the vote organization, A.C.O.R.N. was trying to steal the election. ACORN stands for: "The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now." It once was the nation's largest organization working for social justice and stronger communities- but it died in 2010, after it had become a symbol of rampant voter fraud.
There was just one problem with the stories about ACORN stealing elections via voter fraud: they were all made up. Completely. One story that made headlines had to do with independent contractors working for ACORN in Nevada who were collecting money from ACORN for registering non-existent people to vote, including members of the Dallas Cowboys football team. The contractors would turn in their lists to ACORN, which would then pay them a set price for every new voter registered. That sure sounds like fraud, doesn't it? But think about it: who was the victim of the fraud? Did any of those fictitious voters- like someone pretending to be Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo- who was actually registered by the contractor- show up to vote in Nevada's election? Not hardly. The victim of the fraud was ACORN itself- it was paying people to register real human beings as voters, but instead they were registering fictitious people who never showed up to vote in the election.
So my bet was this- and I fervently hope that the next time a government official tells you that we need photo ID to curb rampant voter fraud, some one will offer the same bet to him or her: if more than 10 people in the entire country show up to vote under another person's identity, for the 11th person and every person after him in the United States who shows up to vote at the polls in the 2008 presidential election who votes under another persons' name, I will pay $1,000.00: but only if you will pay me one million dollars for every number less than 10. In other words, if only 9 people voted under another person's name, I would get one million dollars. 8 people, two million. And so on down to 0- where I would get 10 million dollars.
There were almost 130 million votes cast in the 2008 election: 69,498,516 for Barack Obama and 59,948,323 for John McCain. Care to guess how many of those votes were cast by persons at the polls using another person's name? That's right: ZERO. I could have picked up a cool $10 million if any of the fear and hate mongers crying about "vote fraud" had the guts to take up my bet.
So the next time you hear a pundit or a politician using the phrase "voter fraud," look hard at them and ask yourself: what does this person have to gain by suppressing the votes of legitimate voters who are least likely to carry a photo ID? The answer is probably that the legitimate voters whose votes they suppress are more likely to vote for the other side, and by suppressing enough votes they hope to steal a close election their side would otherwise have lost.
MONEY IN POLITICS:
Two recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court have been cited as having a huge- and negative impact- on money in politics.
CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMM'N, 558 U.S. 310 (U.S. 1-21-2010)
McCUTCHEON v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, 12-536 (U.S. 4-2-2014)
There are two themes of these cases: Citizens United decision decided that corporations are people, too. They get First Amendment freedom of speech protections from government regulation. Here is the essence of that decision: "The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether."
The McCutcheon case did not have to do with corporations: it had to do with overall spending limitations by persons wanting to give money to a number of candidates running nationwide, rather than restricting their financial contributions to a few. Here is what the Court said: "Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26-27. It may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others."
Here is my question: how many of you cast a vote in an election for federal office- Congressman, Senator, President- based on the amount of money spent on the candidates? Is there any amount of money spent on advertising, on flyers, on yard signs, or door bell ringers, that would get you to change your cherished principles and vote for the other guy- or lady?
Put another way, how many of you think that you can be flimflammed by sleazy ads that characterize your candidate in the most unflattering light possible? The answer is that the more that voters are ignorant of the actual character and the actual record of candidates- the attackees and the attackers- the more influence money has on elections. The more that you know- the more that you take the time to be informed- the less influence money can have on your vote.
I HAVE A SIMPLE SOLUTION to the money in politics problem: simply allow every candidate attacked in any radio or television ad to preview it, then film or record a response, twice as long as the first, that will air free of charge immediately following the attack ad. In one stroke, the power of money to influence elections will be reversed- like a judo move that uses the attacker's force against him. Every unfair attack ad will be unmasked immediately. No need for the attacked candidate to rush out to raise money to respond to unfair attack ads. The wealthy opponents- whether corporate Political Action Committees, called PAC's, or superwealthy billionaires like Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson or the infamous Koch brothers, Charles and David, will be providing their opponents with double the bang of the bucks they spend trying to buy an election.
EVERY VOTE MATTERS:
Fourteen years ago this country had a presidential election between two major candidates and one third party candidate whose presence in the race may have altered the course of modern American history. Before that election in November of 2000, it was a common occurrence to hear people say: what does it matter who is elected? No matter which candidate- the Democrat or the Republican- wins, my vote won't matter. Both parties are the same, and nothing changes in Washington no matter who takes office.
That election, however, proved that who wins does matter. At the time of the election, we were at peace, we were running a surplus, and hard as it is to believe, the biggest issue in the 2000 election was how we were going to spend the surplus- paying down the national debt, shoring up Social Security and Medicare, or in tax cuts.
A few votes- 537- in the State of Florida- decided the 2000 election.
George W. Bush (W) 2,912,790 Republican
Al Gore 2,912,253 Democratic
So please remember: your vote counts, as do the votes of your friends, your family, and your neighbors. Our country does not ask much of us- show up for jury duty, pay our taxes, stop for red lights. We don't even have a draft anymore. So getting up on election day- or one of the early voting days leading up to it- and trucking down to the polls to do your civic duty should be a no brainer.