New Arrangements for Empowerment of the People Are Needed
President Barack Obama announced is campaign for reelection on April 4, while various candidates among the Republicans have also begun vying for the nomination. The 2012 presidential election is expected to be the most expensive in history, with Obama alone expected to spend $1 billion. Not a few consider such massive election spending to be a crime and at the very least a harmful use of the country’s resources. More than this, it is an indication of how undemocratic U.S. elections are, blocking working people from running and being elected.
The reality that elections are of, by and for the rich and actually stand as a block to democracy for the people is coming to the fore. There are various indicators of this fact alongside the massive amounts needed simply to run for office. In the 2010 elections, 59 percent of the eligible voters did not vote. The average vote secured by those elected to Congress was only 26 percent of the eligible vote. Literally no one elected secured a majority of the eligible vote. Even when workers are able to overcome the many obstacles to being a candidate and getting on the ballot, such as collecting enough signatures, the wall of silence imposed by the rich and their monopoly media keeps them out of office.
Further it can be seen that those elected do not submit to the popular will of the people, the majority — a basic need for modern democracy. Numerous demonstrations, fax and letter campaigns, petitions and polls indicate strongly that the popular will is anti-war and pro-social — against the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, pro workers’ rights, pro pensions, healthcare and education, against cuts to Medicare, and so forth. The mainstream of public opinion is not represented in the halls of Congress or the Presidency. This is a critical problem to solve and one being addressed through the many diverse tactics now being pursued.
As the people increasingly take stands that favors democracy for them, whether in Wisconsin, across the country April 4, in the streets of New York City April 9 and more, every effort is being made to block their demands for empowerment. The determined struggles for rights show that the voice of the people cannot be silenced — but it is absent in the halls of power. That is where it can and must be.
With Obama launching his election campaign, those organizing for rights are being called on to instead join his campaign. By launching through the internet, he is striving to create the impression that ordinary people do have a voice, through him. Despite planning to raise $1 billion, he emphasizes “The politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you — with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends.” What is absent here is the politics of the working class and their politics of empowerment. That is the politics the workers believe in and are fighting for.
New arrangements are needed that provide for the political empowerment of the people themselves. At a minimum these arrangements must:
1) permit only public funding of the process, not the parties and their candidates, so that all candidates have equal opportunity to discuss and debate their programs;
2) require candidates to secure 50 percent plus 1 of the eligible vote to win
3) eliminate existing restrictions and have automatic registration of all eligible voters by the government
4) equal right of candidates of, by and for the working class to run and be elected.
President Obama Announces Reelection Bid
On April 4, President Barack Obama announced his plans to seek reelection in 2012. He did so via an e-mail and web video sent to supporters. He also did it on a day when workers demonstrated in all 50 states, defending their rights and resisting attacks on unions and pensions. Held under the banner “We Are One,” Obama’s timing at least in part was an effort to show he too was “one” with the workers. His actions before and since, including bombing Libya and defending more government handouts for the rich and more cuts and attacks on the right to education, healthcare and pensions, indicate Obama’s “one” and the workers’ “one” are not the same.
It is significant that Obama chose to announce his candidacy in this manner. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, he had speaking engagements at various Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraisers. He did not announce there. As well, in his announcement, there is no mention of the Democratic Party. On the contrary he emphasizes, “In the coming days, supporters like you will begin forging a new organization that we’ll build together in cities and towns across the country. And I’ll need you to help shape our plan as we create a campaign that’s farther reaching, more focused, and more innovative than anything we’ve built before.
“We’ll start by doing something unprecedented: coordinating millions of one-on-one conversations between supporters across every single state, reconnecting old friends, inspiring new ones to join the cause, and readying ourselves for next year’s fight.” Similarly, the video released has various individuals young and old promoting and supporting Obama. The announcement was followed by an “I’m In” for Obama campaign using the internet, while students were urged to sign up for summer organizing.
Taken together, it is not Democratic Party machinery that is being built. It is an army for Obama, with allegiance to him. The campaign itself is an indication that the old arrangements based on the political parties of the rich and their machinery, especially in key cities and states, is being eliminated. Now the contending forces within the ruling circles, representing differing economic interests, are organizing to contend using individual candidates and machinery and internet armies built up by the candidate and their ruling class backers. Given that capturing the presidency is the central prize, these changes lessening and even eliminating the role of state level parties will likely impact elections all down the line. When this model is connected with the splits and difficulties facing the Republican Party, one can see the possibility of the existing party arrangements breaking down altogether.
Obama’s announcement also indicates the degree to which only the very rich and those they back can even participate in elections. Obama has refused to submit to using federal matching funds in his campaigns, as doing so means placing a cap on total spending for a campaign. Instead, he has launched his campaign now, more than 18 months before the November 2012 election, so he can begin filling his campaign war chest. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is already touring the country to meet with major donors. He has asked 400 major donors to each collect $350,000 in 2011. This target, if met, would mean that Obama would end the year with $140 million raised. Obama raised $750 million in 2008 and is expected to raise $1 billion for 2012. The total for just the presidential campaign is expected to make it the most expensive in history.
It should be kept in mind that the existing electoral process dominated by the parties of the rich is in part a mechanism to sort out conflicts among the various factions within the ruling circles so as to prevent open violence and potentially civil war from breaking out among them. In the current situation where violence is the weapon of choice by the rulers at home and abroad, and talk of assassinations remains, this danger of civil war is even more serious.
Elections are also a mechanism to keep the rich in power and the people out. An indication of this is the fact that members of congress are multi-millionaires, representing and themselves being part of the top 1 percent of the population. It is an electoral system so rigged in favor of the rich that the large majority, 59 percent, did not even vote in 2010. Obama is attempting to capture the discontent among the people with the current situation, by mobilizing them behind him and to a large degree against the two parties. He is to be seen as the solution, the parties and gridlock in Congress the problem.
No doubt the parties of the rich and gridlock in Congress are serious problems. The issue is, how can a different form of rule by the rich be the solution? The necessity presenting is for political empowerment of the people. It is representatives of working people that should be brought to power, not the candidates of the rich. The solution lies not in going back to old arrangements, but in moving forward to new electoral arrangements that favor the people. Securing and advancing public right and the public good are necessary and elections must be organized for this purpose.
Most House Members Elected with 26 Percent
A recent study done by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) concerning the 2010 House of Representatives elections revealed that none of the current members of the House of Representatives won 50 percent of the eligible vote. Fewer then 2 percent — only 6 of the 435 representatives — got even 40 percent of the vote. More than 1 in 10 representatives received less than 20 percent of the vote in their elections — 48 of 435. That is 11 percent of total membership in the House. The average vote received was 26 percent.
The study also revealed that the common claims of the person elected that their victory represented a “mandate” from the people were thoroughly bogus. Overall, in the 2010 midterm elections, 40.9 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, meaning 59 percent did not vote. By most democratic standards, it is the 59 percent NO vote for any candidate that represents the majority view. It also represents a mandate for changing the current electoral process, where candidates are elected with 25 percent of the vote. At the very least, a minimum standard of securing 50 percent of the eligible vote is required.
The percentages presented in the study were calculated using the number of eligible voters in each district, as distinct from the number of those that actually voted or even the number of registered voters. Utilizing the eligible vote provides a clearer picture of the actual stand by the majority and the fact that those in Congress are often elected by only one quarter of the population. They are the clear minority, not majority. The number of eligible voters was added to the number of votes for the losing candidate, to achieve the percentage of the vote actually gotten by the candidate.
The study itself was done as part of CWA’s effort to block legislation contained in the FAA Reauthorization Bill currently under debate in Congress. Included in the bill is the content to have union elections for airline and railway workers conducted on the basis that anyone who did not vote would be counted as a “no” vote. The actual “no” votes and the vote of those who did not vote would be tallied against the “yes” vote for the union. The content is part of the general attack on unions and workers’ rights now taking place across the country at all levels of government.
The CWA study of House elections brings to the fore the undemocratic character of the current electoral system. How is it democratic for people to be elected with such a small percentage of the vote? The fact that 59 percent did not even vote is itself an indictment of the existing system. People no doubt feel voting for the existing candidates of the parties of the rich is not a means to achieve representation. They also likely feel that despite repeated shows of the majority public opinion on crucial issues, which defend workers’ rights, oppose war and defend the rights to healthcare, education and pensions — that majority opinion does not find expression in the House of Representatives. Such a situation brings to the fore the necessity to change the existing set up in a manner that favors the public, favors the majority.
Currently, as their vote percentages reflect, those in Congress are multi-millionaires, among the richest 1 percent of the population. It cannot be considered democratic for the majority of the population, the workers, to be excluded. Among immediate demands favoring political empowerment of the people are those to require that candidates win 50 percent of the eligible vote; ensure candidates of, by and for the workers can run for office and be elected; and public funding of the process, not the candidates or parties. On that basis, people would be able to select worker politicians they would come out to vote for and increase the presence of workers — the majority of the population — in Congress.
Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg has filed paperwork for a statewide, state-sponsored “recount” in the controversial April 5 State Supreme Court election. [Kloppenburg had originally secured a slim 200-vote victory in the election, which then became a loss by 7,316 votes to incumbent Justice David Prosser, backed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In the face of many irregularities, including 14,000 votes “found” after Election Night, the recount is being called.]
Speaking to supporters at a press conference in Madison, Kloppenburg pointed to a number of reported irregularities around the state, including in Waukesha County, as well as Racine and Milwaukee and a number of other areas that led to her decision to ask for such a count. She also mentioned unusually high undervote rates in a number of areas that the campaign had examined.
“I’ve asked for a recount to determine what the right count is, and also to preserve confidence in the electoral process,” she said in response to a question from reporters.
Kloppenburg stated that her campaign would be asking for a hand count of ballots in a number of districts, and will work with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.), the state’s top election agency, to determine which areas should be hand counted. State recount procedures allow for a machine recount of paper ballots unless hand examination is ordered by a court.
Referring to critics of such a post-election examination of results, Kloppenburg was unflinching in her response, saying they have called it “a drama and a circus. Actually, it’s called American Democracy.”
During her remarks, she also called for a special investigator for controversial Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, the focus of a number of anomalies that have appeared in election results since Election Night.
“The recount will reveal if there were discrepancies in the Waukesha vote count, but going forward, an independent investigation needs to determine what the clerk did there and why,” she explained, while pointing to a number of still-unanswered questions about post-election vote tallies in Waukesha, including why it is that “conservative bloggers” were told about those adjustments before they were announced publicly.
“I don’t know what will happen in the recount, but we’re asking for a recount to determine what the proper count should be, and to help, from this point forward, to assure that elections are fair,” Kloppenburg said, stressing her belief that the count should move forward for the benefit of all voters in Wisconsin.
Results of the Supreme Court election have drawn close scrutiny over the last two weeks, as Kloppenburg’s unofficial 204 vote “victory” on Election Night turned into a 7,316 vote “loss” to the incumbent Justice David Prosser after his former colleague and GOP activist turned Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced some 14,000+ votes from the city of Brookfield that she says she failed to include in results announced on Election Night.
The election itself had become a proxy battle between supporters of Governor Scott Walker’s controversial legislation stripping union members of their right to collectively bargain with the state, and those who supported the unions. Prosser, a partisan Republican, has vowed to support the state GOP agenda, while Kloppenburg has maintained she planned to be an independent jurist, guided by the rule of law rather than partisan politics. She reiterated again at the press conference today that she would not be aligned with unions or their supporters, but rather would proceed independently on the bench.
The court’s balance with Prosser still on it is weighted 4 to 3 in favor of the Right, and would likely change if Kloppenburg were to replace Prosser before Walker’s controversial measures make it to the high court.
After all 72 counties in the Badger State completed their canvass last week, Prosser held a press conference to declare victory and vow to block any verification of the unverified vote count, despite state law which allows for such a post-election verification if a candidate comes within half a percentage point of the reported winner. Prosser currently holds a 0.488% lead over Kloppenburg out of some 1.5 million ballots cast, after all counties have submitted their final canvass report.
It must be noted, however, the counties’ post-election reconciliations do not include verification of actual results to assure the oft-failed, easily manipulated optical-scan computer tally systems used in the majority of the state accurately tallied the hand-marked paper ballots.
State recount procedures allow for a hand count of paper ballots only by court order after a candidate demonstrates that such a hand count was likely to change the results of the election. Short of a hand-count, as election integrity advocates have called for, the ballots will be run through the same optical-scanners used to tally them previously. However, campaign representatives will be allowed to examine each ballot before it is run through the scanner, allowing for a “virtual hand count” of sorts in the process.