One year after Florida
debacle: Jesse Jackson Jr. presses for fundamental election
By John Nichols
November 7, 2001
One year after the election that
threw the United States into a bitter 36-day struggle to determine
whether Al Gore or George W. Bush had won Florida and the
presidency, a good many Washington Democrats seen content to forgive
and forget. Or at least to keep quiet about the dubious nature of a
now popular commander-in-chief's court-ordered presidency.
But not U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.
The outspoken congressman marked
the anniversary by setting up a podium in front of the Supreme Court
and announcing that he would ask Congress to endorse a series of
dramatic voting reforms.
"The disputes in Florida and
other states showed us that we need one national standard for voting
and one national standard for counting votes," said Jackson. "But
they also reminded us that there are more basic reforms that are needed."
Among the reforms Jackson seeks
is a constitutional amendment to guarantee all Americans an explicit
right to vote.
"Most Americans will be shocked,
appalled and outraged to learn that their Constitution does not
grant them the right to vote. The 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments
prohibit 'discrimination' in voting on the basis of race, sex and
age -- but does not extend to (Americans) the right to vote,"
Jackson said, recalling Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's
admonition to Al Gore's lawyers during last year's Florida dispute
that no such protection exists. "Even though the right to vote is
the supreme right in a democracy, the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore
told Americans there is no explicit fundamental right to suffrage in
Surrounded by Constitutional
scholars and veteran voting rights activists, Jackson outlined a
reform agenda that also included proposals to open presidential
debates to viable third-party candidates and allow for Instant
Runoff Voting (IRV) in presidential elections. In an IRV system,
voters rank candidates on their ballots, with votes for losing first
choices being transferred to second choice contenders. (Had such a
system been in place last year, a voter could have cast a ballot for
Green Ralph Nader and then, if Nader were eliminated, still have had
a second-choice vote registered for Democrat Al Gore.)
Jackson's initiatives were hailed
by the Center for Voting and Democracy's Rob Richie, and
representatives of the NAACP and USPIRG. American University
constitutional law professor Jamin Raskin praised Jackson's
"comprehensive package of democracy reforms."
Yet, Jackson was the first to
admit that he will have to fight to gain Congressional consideration
of his proposals.
Many Washington Democrats who
pledged that they would "never forget" the November 7, 2000,
presidential election and its bitter aftermath seem now, one year
after the contested vote, to have muted their criticism. With George
W. Bush's approval rating hovering around 90 percent, the
anniversary that Bush aides dreaded is passing with only a
restrained response from partisans who just months ago complained
bitterly about how the election had been stolen.
The House Democratic Caucus did,
on Wednesday, issue a call for national standards to improve voting
machinery, improve access at polling places, restore the voting
rights of ex-felons and create statewide voter registration
databases for use by poll workers on Election Day. Citing systemic
flaws that continue to prevent full participation in the election
process, the caucus report said, "We cannot sit back and continue to
let this happen while millions of voters are being disenfranchised
at the polls." Additionally, there were reports Wednesday that
Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Chris Dodd,
D-Conn., and Sen. Chris Bond, R-Mo., were close to agreement on a
compromise bill to support overhaul of some elections practices.
Such a compromise would likely include provisions backed by Dodd and
most Democrats to help states upgrade voting machinery and
procedures, along with new voter-fraud rules pushed by Bond and the Republicans.
Despite evidence of some official
activity in Washington, however,the anniversary of last year's vote
has clearly been obscured by the war on terrorism and anthrax scares
that continue to shake the nation's capital. And the Bush
administration has done its part by scheduling a series of
high-profile meetings with foreign leaders that serve to buff the
chief executive's presidential image.
Yet, Jackson is undaunted.
"September 11, if anything, was
an attack upon the democracy we thought we had," the congressman
said. "As a result, we came together as one nation, united to defend
(what) the terrorists did not destroy -- our freedom and our
democracy. I offer the voting rights constitutional amendment to
better ground our democracy in the Constitution, and these
legislative proposals as a way of affirming and strengthening it."
John Nichols' book on the
Florida vote and its aftermath, "Jews for Buchanan: Did You Hear the
One About the Theft of the American Presidency? (New Press), will be
published November 14.
Information on the Bills Introduced by Rep.