The Assault on Voting and Democracy in Detroit

Liberty is the strange fruit hanging from America's trees. Democracy is quickly becoming a dream differed in this purported land of the free and home of the brave. While everyone is beginning to ramp up for voter registration, education and mobilization there is a secret war against the exercise of the right to vote being waged and won by conservatives. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court effectively resolved the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush. The conservative court halted the recount of votes in Florida deciding for the American people the outcome of the presidential election. In 2012, conservative forces are attempting to decide for the people again. Changes in voter identification laws have been highly publicized, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The real threat is partisan control of city clerk offices -- offices that are responsible for administering and counting ballots. In the name of financial stability, conservatives can effectively limit the exercise of the right to vote.

In 2000 it was Florida; today, Michigan is ground zero. It is true that around the nation there are voter identification laws that restrict voting behavior. Many have claimed that these laws institute a poll tax against seniors and other minority groups. Others claim that these laws will effectively reduce the number of citizens inclined to vote because of the changes in what constitutes legitimate voter identification and the challenges of acquiring the needed identification. However, in Michigan the assault on voting and democracy is unprecedented.

In the name of fiscal stability, conservatives are dismantling all meaningful exercises of the suffrage in Michigan. The recent political imposition of emergency managers in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and other Michigan cities combined with the historic consent agreement in Detroit have effectively made democratic engagement useless in Michigan. In cities (and school districts) where there are emergency managers voting is pointless. The mayor, city council or city commissioners and other elected representatives don't have the power to enact public policy or political decisions. Their power has been transferred to emergency managers. This is horrible. However, this tragedy does not compare the to sinister and systematic dismantling of democracy in Detroit.

In Detroit, a consent agreement has empowered the state to create a financial advisory board and unilaterally frame every political decision as a decision to stabilize the finances of the city. If this means restricting voting behavior, reducing public transportation, cutting police salaries or closing all public spaces, then these are all simply hard decisions that need to be made to save Detroit. While preparing to pay somewhere between 2-4 million dollars for additional bureaucrats this is the explanation for impairing the city clerk's delivery of services this November. This explanation is mendacious. The truth is restricting the administration of the presidential election is illegal. On April 17, 2012, Rochelle Riley reported, "[the mayor's budget] proposal would cut the elections department budget from $7.4 million to $5 million and the presidential election budget from a requested $1.2 million to $737,000, according to elections officials. [the clerk] spent $1.49 million on the 2008 election when President Barack Obama won the White House with the help of one of every two eligible Detroit voters." This year in the name of financial stability, the citizens of the city of Detroit will be disenfranchised. The city clerk cannot properly and legally administer the election under these financial constraints. Democracy will be sacrificed at the altar of economic efficiency.

The market, not morality is our master. In these times, our fate is sealed by business principles, principles that are slaves to maximizing profit not empowering people. In Michigan, this has resulted in lopsided public policy that promotes fiscal stability rather than voter enfranchisement and economic recovery. In Detroit, it has produced a political climate of "gangster politics" that takes genuine choice off the political table. Dialogues become monologues and elected officials are forced to manufacture consent in the interest of banks and managers. In this equation, citizens lose. Malcolm X appropriately characterized the options of every citizen. If conservatives take the ballot away from rational and capable citizens, then they force all of us to play a dangerous game of political roulette.