POSTED ON JANUARY 18, 2012:
Future Election Shock
If there were an election today, would anybody care?
It will come as no shock that many think our political system is broken: Too much money and vitriol, not enough fairness, decency and common sense.
So Tea Partiers party, Occupiers occupy and hand wringers wring hands over the sense that it is ever more difficult -- if not downright impossible -- to affect real change at the ballot box.
There are perfectly legitimate reasons for the gloom:
First, it's still seven weeks before Oklahomans even get a chance to cast a primary ballot, yet Mitt Romney already is depicted by national political pundits as the all-but-inevitable Republican presidential nominee.
A mere 126,185 votes cast so far. And it's over? The other 48 states don't get a say in who challenges President Obama?
Second, a tsunami of corporate cash is swamping the 2012 campaign, enabling a few, well-heeled ideologues to create so-called Super PACs and spend as much as they can afford in a bald-faced quest to buy the election.
For the record, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that 278 Super PACs already spent more than $25 million as of Jan. 13 -- with the pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC topping the list at $7.8 million and the pro-Newt Gingrich Winning Our Future second at $4.2 million.
Remember, this was after two small-state contests. Imagine what could be spent nationally over the next 9 months. Not counting any Super PAC support, Obama already raised nearly $141 million for his re-election effort by year's end.
You can blame the U.S. Supreme Court's unconscionable Citizens United decision for the torrent of cash. The court's rightwing majority gave corporations the same status as people, saying it would be an unconstitutional infringement on their free speech to limit their campaign spending.
Corporations are the same as people? Pieces of paper, legal documents are people? As one wag put it, I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.
Third, lawmakers across the country -- including in Oklahoma -- seem more interested in discouraging voter participation than in maximizing turnout and ensuring that every vote counts.
In Oklahoma, a voter now must present a state-issued identification card in order to be certain their ballots are counted. If they don't have one, they can cast a "provisional" ballot -- which will be counted later, if it's determined to be a legal vote.
The Legislature's GOP majority championed the proposal, saying state-issued ID cards are a way of life. Why not demand the same of those exercising one of America's most sacred rights: suffrage.
The truth is, the provision was a crass political power play designed to discourage voting by important Democratic constituencies: the poor, the elderly or others for whom securing a state ID is more difficult.
But state lawmakers haven't been content to stop their mischief with Voter ID. They've also turned a deaf ear to other methods of enhancing voter participation, such as same-day registration.
Same-day registration hasn't gained traction in Oklahoma because Republicans like the system the way it is -- they've won super majorities in both legislative houses and captured all 11 statewide offices. There's simply no incentive to enhance voter turnout.
State legislative leaders also have bottled up a proposal that would reform the Electoral College system by guaranteeing the presidency to the candidate receiving the most popular votes.
Under the current system, it's possible for a candidate to win the electoral college, yet not receive the most votes on election day -- the most recent example, former Vice President Al Gore garnered more popular votes than George W. Bush in 2000 but Bush won the presidency because the states he carried gave him a majority of Electoral College votes.
When it comes to the Electoral College, it's winner-take-all. So Democrats, for example, typically devote more resources to mega-states like California -- where recent voting history gives them a better chance of claiming the 55 electoral votes (one for each U.S. House seat and the two U.S. Senate seats) -- than small states like Oklahoma where only seven electoral votes are up for grabs and the state hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
If the Electoral College vote were wedded to the popular vote winner, presidential candidates would ignore the heartland at their peril. In close elections, votes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska would be just as important as those cast in California, Florida or New York.
Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, introduced the bill (SB 841) last year and it won approval in the Senate Rules Committee -- with six of nine Republicans and all five Democrats favoring it.
The full Senate, though, never was given the chance to consider the bill. Even so, under Senate rules, it remains in play -- technically -- for the 2012 session that begins Feb. 6. In reality, however, it's dead because Senate Republicans refuse to let it be scheduled for a vote.
This type of political gamesmanship throws cold water on democracy and only fuels a sense among voters that they really can't make a difference.
Think about it: When was the last time you heard any of the 2012 presidential aspirants focus attention on the nation's soaring poverty rate?
It's a real crisis here, despite all the feel-good rhetoric from the state's political establishment that we're in better shape economically than most.
Oh, really? What about the fact that one in five Oklahoma children goes to bed hungry? Not "we only were permitted one trip through the all-you-can-eat buffet line" hungry -- but real, debilitating, stomach-growling hungry.
Or that more than half our state's school-age children are from families so poor that they qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches? Can you imagine how difficult it would be to concentrate on your ABCs when you're hungry or uncertain when you'll eat next?
Still, there is silence about an issue that threatens to reduce America to Third World status -- nary a word from the supposedly bleeding heart socialist, anti-capitalist or (insert your favorite rightwing epithet here) president or the Saturday Night Live characters that comprise the Republican presidential dance card.
Is it any wonder that comedian Stephen Colbert outpolls the New Hampshire primary's third place finisher, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, in the pre-South Carolina primary surveys?
Snicker, if you dare, at candidate Colbert, but a recent Rasmussen Reports survey is quite sobering if you care about the future of our Republic: 48 percent of likely voters surveyed nationally believe most members of Congress are corrupt (only 28 percent disagree) and a mere five percent think Congress is doing a good or excellent job.
We don't think we can lose this country, but we can.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A45868