Sunday, October 26, 2014

If you believe you are right, Mr. Conservative, open up the vote

The debate over voter ID laws has been heating up in recent weeks as election day draws near. The argument, boiled down to basic elements is this: Conservatives maintain that having a valid ID is a requirement of modern life and should be required for voting. Liberals say that the requirements to get valid ID cost money that many people don't have. I can see merit on both sides of the argument. But one thing that seems consistent across the board is that recently enacted voter ID laws will ensure that fewer people vote.

As I've noted previously, the conservative push for voter ID laws is a straw man, a distraction from the real goal: preventing any discussion of the voting systems and their flaws. It is well documented that certain voting machine manufacturers, such as Diebold have pledged support for past conservative candidates, but it is not well known. Diebold, among a few other manufacturers, has built voting machines based on Windows Embedded, complete with the security problems that come with Windows. Until we open source the hardware and software so that everyone who wants to know can find out how these machines operate, we may never know for sure if we're having elections we can trust.

While the integrity of the laws that qualify voters and the machines that count the votes are both issues worthy of discussion, I think there is a broader point to be raised, one that requires urgent debate. If conservatives truly believe that their ideas hold popular support, then they should be willing to pass laws that increase voter turnout, not reduce it. Why?

It is also well documented that most ordinary citizens have next to zero influence on public policy in the United States at the national level. Congress and the president, from all appearances, simply do not listen to ordinary citizens and their opinions. Rather, they patronize the wealthiest among us, discouraging input from everyone else and they limit the debate to the scope desired by the wealthiest among us so that alternatives to their solutions are not considered. To put it concisely, most of the power is held by about 150,000 people who think their ideas are best. As Larry Lessig puts it, they live in Lesterland. At this point, voting is probably the best chance for many Americans to be heard by those in power.

That tiny minority with all the power appears unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that subjecting their ideas to votes that require maximum participation. They are probably afraid that real democracy is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch. We know who will win that vote now, don't we?

This is what appears to be the mindset of the most conservative and wealthiest among us. To put it a bit differently, they appear to be afraid that with maximum voter participation, we will become a lot more like Sweden and Norway than like the United States that we knew in the 1950s, in the most nostalgic sense.

Conservatives may be right about voter ID, and they may be silent on the integrity of our voting machines and tabulation systems. But almost certainly, they don't believe their ideas have national support or they would be doing everything they can to increase voter turnout. They might consider the ideas proposed by, as solutions to increasing voter turnout.

But if conservatives consistently harp on voter ID as a problem, despite the well documented dearth of actual voter fraud (unless you're Republican), then liberals can rest assured that conservative ideas do not have the popular support claimed by their proponents.
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