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THOMPSON: The gap between fact and fiction in American politics

December 18, 2017 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


The United States has always held itself out as the world’s shining example of democracy…the pinnacle of truth, justice and fairness. Sadly, often there is a considerable gap between fact and fiction in America. But last Tuesday, voters in Alabama narrowed that gap just a bit.

Alabama voters - some 1.4 million - decided that electing Roy Moore, a credibly accused pedophile and sexual harasser as a U.S. Senator, didn’t make sense. Yes, Democrat Doug Jones won by a slim 21,964 votes. You would like to believe that more than 650,000 people didn’t look past Roy Moore’s dismal record on civil, women’s and gay rights…but they did…and they voted for him.

So, while far from a perfect, well-informed democracy…at least the majority of Alabamians did the right thing…the decent thing.

It’s important for both Americans and Canadians to understand why the vote was still too close for comfort. Millions of Canadians still shake their heads in disbelief over Trump’s election, as well as how people like Moore can float like cream to the top in state elections.

Well, it’s voter fraud…or more precisely an insidious kind of voter fraud…voter suppression. Individual voter fraud as President Trump claims - despite being proven wrong - rarely happens. Indeed, a study by a Loyola Law School professor discovered only 35 instances of voter impersonation from 2000 to 2014…a period when 800 million ballots were cast in national elections and hundreds of millions more in various state and local elections.

But Republicans often win in Alabama and elsewhere in the South because the party holds a distinct advantage in close elections. Voter suppression in Alabama is systematic and widespread. North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi are among other Southern states that have restricted voters unfairly, as well.

You see, I’m from the South - and make no mistake Florida is more Southern than not - and the region has a long and sordid past when it comes to voter shenanigans based on race. African-Americans and Hispanics historically vote more as Democrats than Republicans…they almost always have…even though Democrats haven’t fulfilled all the promises of equality.

But to understand the coldly calculated plan to suppress Black and Hispanic voters, let’s focus on Alabama and why this most recent election shouldn’t have been a close call.

The Republican-controlled Alabama legislature doesn’t allow early voting, which is the case in most states. Voting patterns in states that allow early voting show minorities turn out in greater numbers. You see, as a group, minorities are less likely to get time off to vote in Alabama.

Further, voting occurs on Tuesdays in the states. And while it makes more sense to vote on Saturdays or offer a long period of early voting, Alabama mysteriously doesn’t allow either.

In Canada, voting is encouraged…not suppressed…with easier access to voting, more advanced or early voting and laws the enable people working to go vote without penalty or fear of being fired.

Also, Alabama passed a Voter ID law in 2014 that required a photo ID. Again, there are just 34 cases of voter impersonation in more than a billion votes cast in America during a recent fifteen-year period.

Concurrently, Alabama closed or curtailed hours at 31 Department of Motor Vehicle offices across the state…mostly in areas with the highest Black and Hispanic populations. Driver licences are the most common photo ID…and as a result…more than 100,000 potential minority voters were systematically cut off from voting. The state has reversed some of the closings and expanded hours in others…but only because of protests and threats of law suits.

Also, some felony convictions in Alabama mean you can’t vote…even if you have paid your debt to society. It’s even worse in Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa…where you lose your right to vote permanently if a felon…again, even if you have paid your debt to society. It’s punishment plus.

One of the things that bothers Americans like myself and others worldwide - including a large number of Canadians - is that the United States doesn’t live up to claims made in its Constitution and Bill of Rights. All Americans aren’t equal.

It bothers us because America boasts proudly of its stature in the world and yet evidence exists quite to the contrary. And Canadians - and thoughtful Americans - just don’t like braggarts…especially when their walk doesn’t match their talk.

I hope things continue to change…that a sense of decency always trumps party loyalty…that justice and equality accrues to all…rather than meted out to certain groups.

I’ve always believed Martin Luther King Jr’s quote: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That sound we all heard faraway in Alabama last Tuesday…was that moral arc adjusting to the good.

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.  His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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