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November 3, 2008

The Big Non-Surprise

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Former Secretary of State and highly decorated U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, a registered Republican, rocked the political establishment recently. On NBC's Meet the Press, General Powell revealed that he is abandoning his political party and endorsing Sen. Barack Obama, for President of The United States.


The already much-maligned campaign of Sen. John McCain needed that little bit of news like they needed a second belly button!


General Powell has engendered so much admiration and respect that this news will dominate the last few days of the campaign. In a stunning twist of political irony, most traditional Republican conservatives wouldn't have wanted the Powell endorsement for Senator McCain. Colin Powell is a very moderate Republican, maybe even one of the most moderate.


Pro-choice, anti-gun, and fiercely protective of racial quotas, General Powell would have been a divisive choice had Senator McCain chosen him for the number two spot. That would never have happened. John McCain had to go with a choice that rallied his base. He did exactly that with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.


Some seemed genuinely surprised by Colin Powell's endorsement. Anyone truly surprised is missing the most compelling story of this election.


How many times this year have you heard this question: "Do you think that whites who say they support Senator Obama will actually be able to cast a vote for him when they get to the voting machine?"


Surely there will be cases like that all over the country. This phenomenon even has a name, The Bradley Effect. Named for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the name describes a white voter, who will tell a poll caller or media representative that they'll support a black candidate, then turn around and cast a different vote on Election Day.


It's an unfair characterization of those white Americans who seem drawn to the Obama message to suggest that their enthusiasm for their preferred candidate isn't as strong as their inherently racist or bigoted tendencies.


One of my younger brothers has been a socially conscious moderate for many years. I don't know for whom he voted in past presidential elections; he's kept those things to himself. He isn't so quiet when it comes to his support of Senator Obama, though. He has been an ardent supporter. He is proudly waiting for his chance to cast what he truly believes will be an historic vote, and I celebrate his enthusiasm. I disagree with the choice, but love his engagement in the process.


With that said, no one is foolish enough to suggest that race doesn't play a part in our electoral process. It does!


While it is certainly true that there are white voters who will refuse to vote for a black presidential candidate, why aren't we also talking about black voters who will vote for Senator Obama based primarily on his skin color?


A thoughtful analysis suggests that the race-based vote for Barack Obama will overwhelm the race-based vote against him. If one side of that equation is a problem worthy of our study and comment, why then isn't the other?


The simple fact is that race inevitably informs and influences our voting patterns, always has, and always will. Issues of race in politics are treated like so much dust that gets swept under our national rug.


This year, when an African-American looks to be the odds-on favorite to be elected president, the pile of dust under the rug has gotten so big that is has tripped up voters on their way to the polling place.


Speaking of polling places and being tripped up, don't let the media fixation on ballot referendum question #2 – our little video lottery terminal question – cause you to forget about Question #1, the matter of early voting.


Vote “NO” on Question #1 and send a signal to the state Democratic Party and progressives that we're not interested in helping them turn our elections into a partisan grab for more power.


We don't need polling places opened early, especially if the only locations that are open to early voting are in predominately Democratic voter-registered precincts.


All of the arguments offered supporting the need for early voting are myths, plain and simple. Here are some examples:


– Some voters are intimidated by crowded polling places. Aw, too bad. Suck it up and act like an adult. Remember that people have died to give you this right. A little crowd and a wait in line are really not all that big a deal!


– People have trouble getting off work on Election Day. This excuse is really weak. Polls open early in the morning, and remain open until 8 P.M. Anyone can make that work it if really matters.


– Some people have special needs. Again, an excuse, but far from a good one. Every single polling place in Frederick County has all of the accommodations necessary to allow anyone the extra help they'd need to vote.


Even if any of these lame excuses were valid (and they're not), every single one of them could be addressed with a common and well-used legal mechanism.


Our current election laws allow for an absentee ballot. If you can't make it to the polls, if you fear standing in line, or if you need some special accommodation you think doesn't exist, you can request an absentee ballot and cast your vote in advance.


Why alter a perfectly acceptable process? Why risk additional burden (and cost) for the local elections board when a reasonable and fully functional alternative already built-in?


The answer is simple: Democrats know that if they can keep the polls open up to six days before an election, and in mostly urban areas, they can drive up voter turnout and improve their chances.


Come to think of it, partisan interests employing deceptive practices and questionable arguments to influence an election is no more of a surprise than Colin Powell's non-surprise endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama!


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