Politics & Policy

The Myth of The Disenfranchised

It's not the government's fault if you can't properly fill out a ballot.

On October 21, the Associated Press reported: “Sen. John Kerry, bracing for a potential fight over election results, will not hesitate to declare victory Nov. 2 and defend it, advisers say. He also will be prepared to name a national security team before knowing whether he’s secured the presidency.”

#ad#The prior Sunday, Eric Holder, a member of the Democrats’ “Election Task Force,” told Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday, “If every vote is allowed to be cast, and if every vote is counted, John Kerry will be president within a day of that election.”

Wallace chuckled at what he thought was so much partisan bravado. “Well, I don’t know how you can guarantee that,” he said.

“You heard it right here,” Holder responded coldly. “If every vote is allowed to be cast and every vote is counted, John Kerry will be president.”

Meanwhile, in Missouri the Democratic front group Americans Coming Together hands out fliers depicting an African American on the receiving end of a fire-hose blast. “This is what they used to do to keep us from voting,” the piece reads. On the back is a list of alleged incidents of recent voter intimidation, with the line, “This is how Republicans keep African-Americans from voting now.”

Let’s just skip over the fact that odds are the guy ordering the fire-hose treatment was a Democrat.

The Democrats’ voter manual instructs party operatives to “launch a pre-emptive strike” by charging voter intimidation even if there is no evidence any such thing is taking place.

And of course, a standard line of John F. Kerry’s is, “Never again will a million African Americans be denied their right to exercise the vote in the United States of America.”

That’s a nice general sentiment, and I would be in total solidarity with Kerry if he were referring to Jim Crow or the days of slavery. But he’s talking about the 2000 election. And there is simply no evidence that one million African Americans were denied their right to vote in 2000. Indeed, John Fund, the author of the eminently comprehensive and thoughtful book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud is Threatening Democracy, has implored the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Democratic party to provide him with real-life examples of blacks–or anybody else–who were specifically disenfranchised. Alas, like the “real killers” O.J. Simpson is still searching for, Fund’s quest has remained unfulfilled.

In 2000, Janet Reno–still the attorney general–dispatched crack squads to highlight the crimes against democracy the Democrats had been touting. They came up empty, too. Indeed, even Al Gore’s lawyers–who saw nothing wrong with trying to squelch the votes of Americans serving in the military–failed to cite a single example of the allegedly “pervasive” disenfranchisement Democrats claimed had taken place. You always know something’s fishy when party hacks say one thing in front of cameras and another in front of judges.

Now, obviously, the GOP is hardly pure on such matters. The reports that a firm in Nevada allegedly tore up the registration forms of Democrats and Independents is just one small example of how both sides play games with the rules. And, admittedly, in 2000, Florida Republicans did over-purge the rolls of felons. Yet during the same election, Democrats kept polling places in Missouri open late in Democratic precincts. And in South Dakota they probably stole the Senate election from the GOP by using the Indian vote “creatively.” Undeniably, both parties have played fast and loose.

But there’s a huge difference between the two sides’ tactics. The Republicans’ lawyers aren’t preemptively declaring the election is fraud if they don’t win. Simply put, they aren’t trying to undermine the legitimacy of the American political system. The Democrats–who constantly decry Bush’s “politics of fear” even as they warn of a draft and tell blacks they’ll be disenfranchised–have taken the position that a Bush victory is by its very nature proof of voter fraud. That is the Holder Doctrine. If all the votes are counted, Kerry wins. Period. If Bush wins, the votes must not have been counted.

Already, in state after state, the Democrats have said that voter confusion over how to vote constitutes voter disenfranchisement. But, as George Will recently noted, disenfranchisement is something the government does to you. It’s not something you do to yourself. If you can’t figure out how to fill in the ovals or punch the chads–and some minority of voters will always botch it–that doesn’t mean your right to vote was rescinded. It means that you didn’t take your right to vote seriously enough to pay attention to the instructions. Democracy requires two things: an electorate that takes its responsibilities seriously and small-d democrats of all parties who take the process seriously.

Judged on these two criteria, it’s hard to see how the Democrats can call themselves democrats.

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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