By Ron Daniels
The record turnout all across the country is almost like a Nelson Mandela moment in South Africa where no amount of barriers which have been erected whether intentionally or unintentionally-people standing in the pouring rain in Richmond and Norfolk Virginia-seem to be able to hold people back.
Not only Black people, but young people in particular, seemed to be determined to make this a historic moment in American history. These numbers held up, even though the polls seemed to have tightened in a number of battleground states by the middle of the day. Even those whites who would not vote for Barack Obama because of race, were offset by a tsunami of people coming out to vote.
People were very excited. When I was at my polling place yesterday morning the wait was an hour. Some of my colleagues here at York College in Jamaica, New York, reported being on line for 3 hours. Still they talked about a festive attitude, which was reflected across the country.
I host a radio program here in New York and one of the persons who called in said that she and her Jewish neighbor (the caller is African American) joined hands and marched to the polls singing “We shall overcome.” It was that kind of spirit and you heard people saying they sensed something in the air and I think they are absolutely right.
This is a potential sea change in American history. Not only the election of Barack Obama, but the economic crisis, which opens up huge opportunities for a new debate about the role of government and the need for a culture of rights that was shredded by the Reagan administration. The neocons shrunk government and fed people a philosophy and policy that has been against the interest of Joe Sixpack, Joe the Plumber and Shirley the Waiter. All this considered, this shaped up to be a powerful moment.
Still, on the other hand, we still heard far too many complaints about voting machines malfunctioning. In one report, a person went to the polls and on three different incidents tried to use an optical scanner. Three times he selected “Barack Obama” and all three times his vote came up “McCain.” This person happened to have been blind, but was accompanied by someone.
In this instance, there was a paper trail so that helped to correct the error. But there are nine states across this country that don’t have paper trails. So if that happened in one of these nine states we would never know the difference.
I’m disappointed that the press speaks admirably about a large voter turnout, but is not speaking out about this utter calamity of a voting infrastructure. You would think that commentators would be outraged!
Doug Wilder, the former Governor of Virginia raised the same point: How could you have people standing in line seven hours in the United States of America? It’s an indictment of voting practices in this country. If we profess that voting is the heart of a democracy but the apparatus to allow people to do that is inadequate, there has to be change. There has got to be a huge demand that federal elections be reformed.
But the negatives are superseded by a wave of hope and enthusiasm for change. This is an incredible moment in American history. It’s a big moment in the history of the world. But at the end of the day, it will not be Barack Obama alone that has to bring the changes that we have to make. And that’s the next step we have to look at.
Ron Daniels is Distinguished Lecturer at York College and the former Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and former Deputy Campaign Manager for the Jesse Jackson for President Campaign.
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