By Paul K. Schwartz
It took a long time in coming, but finally some action by the White House to address the threat to the election process and the threat to democracy that a flawed election process poses. What follows is the official statement from the White House press secretary regarding the flawed election. The only problem, of course, is that the statement dealt with the flawed parliamentary elections in Cambodia several weeks back rather than our own flawed presidential elections of 2016.
It is quite a strong reaction by our president to the flawed Cambodian election even though many aspects of that election can be found in our own flawed election process including the disenfranchisement of legitimate voters and the call for “locking up” political opponents. Okay, I stand corrected. Trump’s political opponent was only threatened to be “locked up” and not actually “locked up”…yet! It turned out that it was his own National Security Adviser and his campaign chairman who were the ones actually “locked up.”
Maybe the Cambodian election and our own presidential election in 2016 isn’t a fair comparison, but I think it fair to say that the comparison possesses enough similar aspects to question how the White House could be so strong regarding Cambodia while being quite a bit less motivated to institute safeguards in our own electoral process which is proceeding at a snail’s pace, if at all.
The president’s veto of the bipartisan Secure Elections Act which instituted standards and controls to be implemented and funded via federal support for state-run polling more than anything demonstrates the level of non-commitment to protecting voting sites by this president.
The key word is “commitment” of which there is none in Cambodia and, sadly, not so much in the U.S. either. At least not from the White House. Maybe, just maybe, the results of the 2016 election were just too good to be jeopardized by instituting safeguards. Maybe.
Here, for your entertainment, if you consider hypocrisy a form of entertainment, is the full official White House statement on the Cambodian parliamentary elections from several weeks back. See if you find any similarities to the problems we face in our own elections under the leadership of Donald J. Trump. (Bold print provided by me.)
“Statement from the Press Secretary on Cambodia’s Flawed Parliamentary Elections
The United States regrets that Cambodia’s July 29 parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair and failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people. The flawed elections, which excluded the country’s principal opposition party, represent the most significant setback yet to the democratic system enshrined in Cambodia’s constitution, and substantially erode Cambodia’s achievements in promoting political reconciliation and economic growth since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement.
We are profoundly disappointed in the government’s choice to disenfranchise millions of voters, who are rightly proud of their country’s development over the past 25 years. Genuine democracies tolerate opposing political views, foster competition through elections, and promote and protect the free exchange of ideas. In contrast, in the months leading up to the vote, the Cambodian government placed ever tighter restrictions on independent media and civil society, dissolved the main opposition party, jailed the opposition leader, and banned that party’s senior leaders from participating in the political process. The campaign was marred by threats from national and local leaders to punish those choosing not to vote. These actions denied the Cambodian people a voice and choice in determining the future of the country.
The United States will consider additional steps to respond to the elections and other recent setbacks to democracy and human rights in Cambodia, including a significant expansion of the visa restrictions announced on December 6, 2017. In the meantime, we call on the Cambodian government to take tangible actions to promote national reconciliation by allowing independent media and civil society organizations to fulfill their vital roles unhindered, immediately releasing Kem Sokha and other political prisoners, and ending the ban on the political opposition.”
If only the Trump administration paid heed to its own demands of other nations and undertook a concerted effort to reverse its attack on our election process. Here are just a few suggestions:
- Encourage voting and do not discourage voting with unfounded claims of voter fraud. Just because an individual moves from one state to another and fails to notify the first state to remove the name from the voter rolls does not mean that that individual is voting in both states. Ask Mr. Kushner about that one. Moreover, comparing voter I.D. to a fictitious requirement for an I.D. to buy groceries, as the president of the United States did recently, demonstrates just how out of touch this president is.
- It would also help greatly to finally take strong actions against Russia for meddling in our elections by taking strong enough steps to make Putin feel the pain of such involvement. Yes, I understand that without Russia’s help Trump would not be in the White House, but ….never mind!
- End the practice of excluding Democratic leadership from participating in critical discussions and events and, by doing so, promote the free exchange of ideas. Recognize that a president, any president, has a responsibility to all Americans, not just his political base.
A couple of months ago, Aug. 2 to be exact, the White House did hold a joint press briefing with the National Security Adviser John Bolton, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats who, together, outlined national efforts to address the continuing threats to our election process including ongoing hacking attempts by Russia, Russia’s misinformation campaign and threats to voting machinery in the 50 states. Better late than never, as the saying goes.
What was sorely missing, however, is how to bring on board a president who undermines all such efforts by continuing to conflate Russian meddling in our election with Russian collusion with his campaign. As a result, he deliberately places doubt in the minds of voters about the validity of each. Then again, maybe he knows something we don’t about the connection between the two.
With the midterm elections just a few weeks away, voter turnout in the wake of voter suppression efforts is a clear challenge to our democratic ideals.