Of Inaugurations and Irregularities

2013-01-20T170622Z_268443140_TB3E91K1BIGO2_RTRMADP_3_USA-INAUGURATIONToday many will turn their eyes to the United States for the inauguration of the second presidential term of Barack Hussein Obama.  Well, the world will be watching … but Mr. Obama has already been inaugurated for a second time.  The event took place yesterday just before noon, local time, during a brief ceremony in the White House.

This was done in faithfulness to the twentieth amendment to the US Constitution which requires presidents to be sworn in on the 20th day of January following their election.  It’s quite ironic.  The president who seems intent on dismantling the Constitution piecemeal has obediently fulfilled its instruction regarding inauguration. There are only four years left and still so much of America must be remade. No use giving those ridiculous constitutionalists one more issue to whine about.

Much will be made about the fact that an American president of African origins has begun his second term, ostensibly on the day that memorializes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his struggle for civil rights.  Anyone who is aware of our torturous national history regarding slavery and the lynching of the innocent for nothing more than the color of their skin must realize the significance.  For me it merely confirms something I already knew: Americans are quite capable of rising above the problems of their past.

Yet the inauguration of any elected official finds its legitimacy based only upon the guarantee of free and honest elections in which the will of the people is gauged accurately and instituted effectively.  Given what I experienced on election day, it raises my concern to the level of alarm. Sadly, many Americans are becoming far too comfortable with excessive government meddling in their lives. With so much at stake and an electorate so divided as ours, the need for honest election results may be greater than ever.

Let us be mindful that the official tally of presidential votes gave the victory to Obama by a margin just under 5 million votes, or 4.9%.  Less than 60% of eligible voters turned out. Still, in our political system, the state-by-state numbers are more important.  Under our Constitution the president is elected by the people as they are arranged in their sovereign states, not by popular vote.  This affects election strategies–and for those intent on winning at all costs (even fraud), it also affects their planning.

The best way to prevent voter fraud is to prevent those occurrences known as “voter irregularities” (actions, situations, or policies that prevent standard voting procedures).  In signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson reminded us that “the vote is the most powerful instrument devised … for breaking down injustice.”  The law was intended to halt irregularities that discouraged voting by citizens of African descent or preventing their votes from being counted.  To be genuinely effective, everyone who may legally vote must be allowed to do so once, without coercion, and every vote cast must be properly tallied.

Voter irregularities can cast grave doubt upon any election’s outcome.  Given the existence of our electoral college and the importance of swing states that so greatly influence presidential elections, irregularities have far-reaching consequences for the validity of any such election. This remains true even when the mainstream press offers little or no coverage of the matter because of its own bias. As the electoral map demonstrates, it only takes successful campaigns of voter fraud in a couple of the big swing states to turn a presidential election.

It’s not just the actual vote fraud that robs us. Even credible hints of fraud are liable to erode away voter participation. This is why every aspect of an election must be handled with accountability, soberness, and in strict accordance with regulations.  Poll workers (the officials running the precinct) must be diligent for the rights of all and poll watchers for the political parties and candidates must be able to confirm stringent adherence to election law. Anything less may throw a shadow upon results. Confirming the identity of voters is crucial. States need to enact voter ID laws.

What I experienced on election day was nothing less than shocking. More than two months later I’m still disturbed by it. In fact, I’m haunted by it. I’ve been voting since 1978; never have I seen such chaos as on election day 2012. In that chaos there were disturbing irregularities.

On November 6, 2012 I served as a poll watcher (unofficial observer) for the Republican party.  At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon I arrived at my appointed polling location, the Mac McGinty Civic Center located at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Pascagoula, Mississippi. As I entered the building I was overwhelmed by the noise and lack of order. People were everywhere. They crowded the tables of precinct officials in a scene that resembled a post-holiday sale at Wal-Mart.  Since the poll opened at 7:00 am, I can only presume that this had been taking place for much of the day. For whatever reason, the Republican poll watchers already on duty did not seem as concerned as I. Perhaps they were overwhelmed.

It did not take long for my concern to turn into action.

The purpose of allowing poll watchers is to guarantee proper elections. They are especially important when a precinct votes overwhelmingly in favor of one political party. No matter how a vote turns out, if representatives of both parties agree that the election was fairly run and properly managed, political conflict and legal challenges can be minimized. Poll watchers in Mississippi have no legal authority but they can point out irregularities to those who do have authority. The first place to begin is with the precinct manager, known by law as an election bailiff.

Watching the activity from the seats designated for party poll watchers, I noticed a man going from one voter to another as they stood in front of voting machines. As he approached each voter, he made sure to stand in such a way that I could not clearly see what he was doing. By studying his movement I finally determined that he was speaking to voters as they cast their votes. Mississippi law allows poll workers to assist a voter who asks for help without being prompted to do so, but this clearly was not the case in what I was seeing. I confronted the bailiff and was told that the man was a representative of the Democrat party! As soon as I pointed out that this was improper, the bailiff gently asked the man to depart from the voting area.

I soon noted another disturbing irregularity. In order to cast votes, a voter must secure a key card from an authorized poll worker. It has an appearance similar to a credit card and it unlocks the voting machine to allow voting to take place. It also prevents the voter from voting more than once. After each use it is returned to the proper poll worker and it must be reset for each voter. This is done by the poll worker who uses a small machine into which the key card is placed. This action reprograms the card for use by the next voter.

The security of these key cards is vitally important–as is their correct use. They are not to be reprogrammed unless a voter has be confirmed on the voter roll and after the voter has placed a signature on the sign-in book.

On this day at this precinct the process was not being followed. The bailiff was constantly holding a handful of programmed cards, sometimes even a pocketful of them. At one point he gave several to another poll worker who was moving about near the voting machines. Key cards were being handled and exchanged in multiple ways and I was unable to ascertain exactly what was happening.

Once again–with all the politeness I possess–I spoke with the bailiff. He stammered a bit, almost as if he were surprised to be questioned on this matter. He informed me that it was very busy and he was doing his best to help voters. He also said that sometimes the key cards don’t work when inserted into voting machines. Cards must then be reprogrammed or a new card given.

From my vantage point these explanations seemed inadequate. It is true that if a key card fails to allow a voter to vote, that voter should receive a working card. But a poll worker should confirm the problem before distributing a new card. Otherwise there is no guarantee that a voter only votes once. When he realized that I was watching him closely, the bailiff began checking machines when told of card errors.  Prior to this he did not always do so.

At some point after my arrival I was delighted to see members of the Jackson County Election Commission as they looked closely at the situation. They seemed concerned but they left quickly. It soon became clear that they had contacted the chairman of the commission. Upon his arrival he demanded that more order be brought to the polling environment. His quick action improved the situation but by then the voting hours were more than half over.

I spoke to the  chairman and expressed concern about the irregularities I had seen. He informed me that his power was limited by law. As it turns out, there are five voting districts in Jackson County. Each district has an elected commissioner whose authority is limited to his or her own district. The Fairgrounds precinct is located in District Two where, I was told, the commissioner was a firm Democrat who hired only her fellow Democrats as poll workers. In a perverse and disturbing way, the irregularities I had seen that afternoon suddenly began to make sense.

At that point the commissioner of District Two was pointed out to me. I wondered if it would do any good to speak to her. I realized that it would not, since she was huddled with another lady whom I learned to be chairwoman of the Democrat party for Jackson County. As the District Two commissioner looked on, the Democrat leader inserted herself into the business of the poll workers as if she were a poll worker herself. She even “assisted” voters at voting machines (so she explained to me when she saw me watching closely).

Clearly, a line had been crossed. Primaries are run by parties as they choose candidates but this should not be the case with general elections. Although I count myself among the realists of the world who understand its moral failures, I confess that a sense of hopelessness began to fall upon me at that moment. If several members of the election commission (including the chairman) couldn’t stop these irregularities, how could I?

Did I witness any voter fraud that day? I cannot say that I did. I have no accusations to make with that regard. What I did see, however, was a list of voter irregularities that took place without any hesitancy–almost as if they were understood to be part of the way things are in parts of my county. In some cases my complaints appeared to end the irregularities. In other cases they did not.

Democrat? Republican? Libertarian? Any other party? Your vote should count if you are properly registered and legally eligible. Every such citizen has the right to cast that vote in an environment that is orderly and transparent. Whether they end up in fraudulent votes or not, voting irregularities destroy the trust of citizens for the process.  This erosion is the unfortunate, untold story behind the inauguration of a president or any other elected official.

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