The first election I remember was when Jimmy Carter was elected President. My parents, both Southern Baptists, and both avid followers of news and events, were probably as excited by his outsider campaign for President as I would be about Barack Obama’s election decades later.
Though I was not quite ten years old in 1976, my parents allowed me to stay up late watching election returns with them. Not for one second did either of my parents worry that their votes wouldn't be counted, or that they would be deliberately counted incorrectly. They had absolute faith in the electoral process, if not in most of the politicians who ran for office within that process.
Unsurprisingly, I grew up to be a current events junkie, election follower and compulsive voter, never missing a Presidential election (or really any election) since my 18th birthday. Like my parents, I had absolute faith in the system. This innocence remained intact through the rancor of the Clinton years, right up until the ill-fated Gore V. Bush election.
Then, slowly, unhappily, my view began to change. It began to seem as if nothing was straight-forward, and nothing could be taken for granted. The electoral process I had grown up reverently cherishing appears to me now to be as vulnerable as anything to the everyday corruptions of greed and venality. I am not alone in my feelings: a recent Vanderbilt study revealed that fewer Americans have trust in our electoral process than Mexicans or Uruguayans have in theirs - barely 50%.
Is this how voters in a banana republic feel? Uncertain, vaguely useless and uneasy about a future out of their control?
Oh, I realize we haven't reached completely banana republic status; most times, a vote in the United States still counts. In the United Sates, elections have to be discreetly stolen; if there's a very clear result, such as the one that brought President Obama to office in 2008, it would require too much tampering to change the electorate's will. So, I will continue to care about elections and I will continue to vote.
But I will also wonder why the issue of possible election fraud is not being discussed – not among Democrats, who currently stand to suffer the most from it, not among the punditry and not (much) even in the wild and wooly blogosphere.
Just in the 2012 Republican primary process, two of the thirteen contests held thus far have already experienced vote count issues. In Iowa- viewed as a pivotal, momentum-building race- Rick Santorum actually won, but was denied the advantage of his win when the contest was announced for establishment-friendly front-runner Mitt Romney. In Maine, the actual victor didn't change when election irregularities were discovered – Mitt Romney won in either case – but Ron Paul was initially deprived of crowing over his true vote percentage, as he came in a strong second right behind Romney.
Dirty tricks have become the norm on Election Day in America. These tricks include repetitive robocalls made to an opposition candidate's possible supporters, with the intent of annoying potential voters so much that they stay home, blocking or not opening polling places so that certain precincts' voters physically can't vote and erroneous purging of voter rolls. Some voting experts now rank our process near the bottom of those used by electoral democracies world-wide.
Americans also must contend with unreliable and imminently hackable voting machines. To make matters worse, the companies building and delivering the voting machines have been shown to have ties to the Republican party.
Of course, cheating at the polls isn't necessary if you can just prevent your opposition from voting in the first place. That's why Republican controlled state legislatures in multiple states have fought to make it harder for citizens to vote. The state of Florida, proud creator of President George W. Bush, has even gone so far as to criminally punish a high school teacher who attempted to register her students as part of a civics lesson.
So, here we are in 2012. Barack Obama will be facing an as-yet-unknown Republican nominee. But he will not only be facing a Republican nominee, he will be facing an electoral system increasingly stacked against him. Voter suppression will have more of an effect on his likely core supporters than on the Republican's, those voting machines are a wild card, and Republican control of a record number of state governments makes it likely that the Secretary of State in any controversial situation will be a Republican, just like Katherine Harris in Florida in 2000.
Can Progressives and Blue Dogs come together to defeat the Republican campaign machine in 2012? Maybe. Can we beat the Republican election machine? That remains to be seen.