Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Failure of Democracy?

It’s been all over the news of late, the blatant and massive election fraud during the recent Afghanistan elections. We are allowed to recognize it over there because…..well, it’s over there. So let’s talk about it. We are told that bringing democracy to the people of Afghanistan is one of our goals, priority unknown, of eight years of death and destruction we call Operation Enduring Freedom.

From our vantage point it’s quite easy to assign blame for this “democracy failure.” Some will observe that the Afghan culture is just not ready for democracy, or that three decades of occupations and civil war have caused the populace to become so cynical as to prevent ideals such as democracy from taking root. Poppycock! What we have here is a failure of leadership by American political actors, the ones that were so cynical as to claim to want to bring democracy to the Afghan people, and then enthusiastically used military force to make whatever they wanted to happen, happen.

You might sense that I doubt the U.S. motives in Afghanistan…of course I do. And you might wonder what all this has to do with election integrity here in Schoharie county. I’ll explain.

Several months back the Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project (VIP) sought to introduce the concept of a Citizens’ Advisory Board for Election Administration (
Challenge Provincial Power: The Test) to the County Board of Supervisors (BOS). Without going into too much detail I’ll simply report that we were rebuffed by both the Board of Supervisors Rules & Legislation Committee and the Election Commissioners. They simply refused to talk to us. Was it a distaste for the goals of such a board or was it dislike of individuals associated with the effort? We can’t be sure but there are clues we can follow.

One of the proposed activities of the CABEA was fact finding which could assist the Board of Elections (BOE). One specific action we suggested was research and activities to expand the number of registered voters. Lacking the cooperation of the BOS and the BOE we decided to go forward with a simple research effort which compared Schoharie County with five other counties of similar demographics (
Analysis of Voter Registration Performance). What we discovered was that Schoharie County had a smaller percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote than the other counties. Approximately one in four voting age Schoharie citizens is not registered.

The VIP report was published, and reported, and delivered to the BOS in June of this year. There has been no reaction from the BOS. There has been no reaction from the BOE. And, other than printing the press release we provided, there has been no attention from the press. Why?

The clues: On the occasion of our meeting with the R&L Committee to introduce the CABEA concept, one Supervisor responded to our proposal to expand the franchise to more Schoharie citizens by saying she thought “… we would be better off if they didn’t vote.” Apparently this legislator believes there is a segment of Schoharie County citizens who shouldn’t be encouraged to register and vote. On another occasion, a Supervisor from one of the largest towns in the county, responded with similar sentiments to a constituent’s query about the report.

The tally: Two County Supervisors who are either entirely clueless as to what democracy is or arrogant enough to dismiss it (and so indiscreet as to express their prejudice). Another handful of Supervisors lacking in courage or conviction to do the right thing. Two Election Commissioners dumb enough and arrogant enough that they believe they don’t need to attend to some of their responsibilities. A pair of Deputy Election Commissioners without sufficient autonomy or initiative to act. The remainder of the Board of Supervisors who lacked the initiative to spur action by a county department which is obviously failing in its mission. And a newspaper editor without the courage or initiative to act on a story with significance to the functioning of our democracy.

What do these actors have in common? They occupy leadership positions. They have responsibilities and they failed to fulfill those responsibilities. Is this a failure of democracy? I don’t think so! Democracy is fading for sure but as a concept, an ideal, it can not fail. It can be intentionally suppressed by those with elitist sentiments or allowed to suffocate through ignorance and inattention, but it can not fail.

The lesson:
Democracy requires leadership by the actors previously identified. For democracy to thrive requires leaders who are actually committed to democratic egalitarian ideals. Our job is to train the people we allow in power…...and to demand of them stronger support of these ideals. If we had such leaders we would not be killing Afghans and we would already have universal health care. With such leaders here in Schoharie County we might have even created a Citizen Advisory Board for Election Administration.

Oh yeah, about the Afghanistan elections: Mr. Karzi’s “win” in the past two Afghanistan elections is to Bush’s “win” in 2000 and 2004 here. In both cases local war lords screwed with the electorate, voting machines, polling places, ballots and ballot tallies to shape “democracy” the way they wanted it.


No comments: