"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

An ominous attack on our most basic liberty

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

In the 1950′s, three governors stood on the steps of Southern public educational institutions in their states, attempting to block African American students from attending. Flash forward 50 years or so and it’s Florida Gov. Rick Scott standing between Floridians and their polling places to stop them from exercising another guaranteed right of citizenship – the vote.

Our most basic freedom – the right to cast a ballot to determine our choice of government – has been under attack this year by Republican legislatures and Republican governors as never before. It’s been totally a Republican Party drive.

And before one of my elephant-loving friends rises in defense of these elected law breakers, he/she better be holding in his/her hand an concrete example of a Democrat-sponsored effort to participate in this despicable enterprise. Go ahead. I’ll wait. ‘Cause it won’t happen.

Republicans in at least seven states have undertaken various approaches to denying Americans their rightful place at the ballot box. When the efforts were taken to the courts, all were stopped but one. And that one – upheld by a Republican-appointed judge in Pennsylvania – was reversed on appeal. These were just the ones that got through the legislative process. In more than half-a-dozen other states, the Republican-backed treachery was stopped before getting out of the chambers.

In Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Republican Secretaries of State have also tried to separate voters from the franchise. One fired Democrats on Ohio’s voting commission when they opposed his illegal restrictions. All three made drastic cuts in early voting hours, days and polling places. All have sponsored official web sites with wrong voting data about polling places, dates of the election, hours of operation and “official” telephone numbers for voting information that were either unanswered or led to automated messages containing similar bogus data.

In two states, billboards were placed along highways that contained phony information – such as photo identification being required to vote- even after courts had struck down the illegal requirement. Official mailings were sent out in three states with dates to vote listed that were two days after the election. In one case, the voting information was only wrong – in Spanish.
Is this a full Republican Party press to violate constitutional rights of citizens? No. Thank God, no. In Florida and Ohio, several Republican county officials refused to comply with state orders to cut days, hours or otherwise impede voters. They were threatened but held their ground.

But what we’re seeing played out here is – in my view – a symptom of the internecine battle to come within the Republican Party following this week’s election. There are Republicans – God love ‘em – many Republicans who’re just as disgusted and embarrassed about this destructiveness as the rest of us. They are seeing the rotten fruits of the labors of zealots and ideologues who control the Party from precinct level to national offices.

Real traditional Republicans – the majority wanting a healthy, active two-party system – are faced with one of three tough choices. The first is to take back the party. But the miscreants who have power now started their drive in the late 1960′s at the precinct level and have slavishly worked for control for nearly 50 years. They aren’t about to give up what they have. Anyone who wants to purge them will have to undertake a similarly long-view approach and that isn’t likely.

The second option is to leave the party to the rabble and become Democrats. That doesn’t seem likely, either, because the fastest growing voting group right now is the unaffiliated – that large, amorphous group that’s becoming more important to which party wins any given election. But if Independents really become the determinative factor with winners and losers, we actually will become a three party system.

The third obvious choice is to form a third major party. While doing so would still seem unlikely, widely circulated leading Republican endorsements of sitting Democrats are becoming more frequent. The Colin Powells of this world are obviously fed up with their own Party’s behavior. More voices of national Republican officeholders seeking sanity in the ranks are being heard. Some very responsible GOP members of Congress have surrendered their seats while denouncing the extreme partisanship and gridlock extant in national politics today. Their chorus is growing.

The Republican Party is coming to a crossroad. The paths offered appear to be those of the governmentally-ignorant, ideological purists who will accept nothing less than their twisted views of the world or the rational, thrift-loving, responsible conservative and honorable opposition of the GOP past. Internal pressures are building and the current course of irresponsible and often politically destructive behavior cannot continue if we are to have a functioning system of governance.

Exhibit number one of the latter behavior is surely Rick Scott. His misuse of electoral power in denying the guaranteed right of polling access to citizens of Florida must be checked. Either in the courts today or at those very same polling places two years hence.

Exhibit number two is the totality of those other governors and legislatures who have conspired to disenfranchise Americans in their states. So far, the only protective balance there’s been is the willingness of the judicial system to throw the illegal, partisan garbage out the window. When they’re asked.
Then consider the irony of the determined, very positive efforts of a lone Republican voice of reason against this tide of GOP polling place denial. Gov. Christie in New Jersey. Not only will there be no effort to impede voters, there’ll be portable polling places on trucks. Or voters can cast a ballot by email or fax.

I believe the ballot is like a single brick placed in the hands of Americans. With the proper use of each one, we can construct the institutions we chose to govern and protect us from anarchy. That masonry, when used properly, makes us strong.

But in the hands of the Rick Scotts of the world – as they were in the hands of those three governors more than 50 years ago – those building blocks can be used to construct obstacles between us and our governing system. We’ve not accepted those attempts in the past. We must not do so again.

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