8:15a.m., Pacific Standard Time on November 6, and it feels like this election started two decades ago. Finally we’re arrived at Election Day. Tomorrow we won’t have to sit through more attack ads blowing up our enjoyment of The Walking Dead or Leverage. I will deeply appreciate Wednesday for that, even if the country isn’t in agreement on who won or if the news cycle leads with which candidates are suing which other candidates for a recount. The dust won’t have settled on much of what Americans will vote for today, but even now, with the polls open and people queuing up for their moment with a ballot, there are a few issues brought up by the 2012 election. And some of them are disturbing. In no particular order:
The absence of medical expertise to inform laws that affect reproductive health, women’s health, and abortion—From Representative Steve King, candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, and carved into the Republican Party Platform came many moments of presumption and imagination about how human bodies function and what role God plays in conception or the biological prevention of conception. Sure, pro-choice advocates have fumed at disingenuous statements around medical care before and it’s not new that anyone would worry that conservative, ill-informed men feel free to write laws with no or misleading medical evidence taken into account. But this election cycle from the primary through the general election, and woven through many of the state races for Congress we saw wave after wave of misogyny and hate, directed at anyone with a uterus. The fight against women was multi-faceted, repeatedly hitting on access to contraception, defunding the “antiChrist” that is Planned Parenthood, attempts to install “personhood” legislation, demonizing rape survivors who chose to terminate a resulting pregnancy, inventing new restrictions on abortion—even to save the life of the mother—and on and on. That the rhetoric around these issues was so extreme and so consistently present throughout the range of races across the country speaks to a concerted effort to find new ways to control the domain of debate and the outcome.
The obsession with individual voter fraud—Since the 2010 midterm elections, several states have drafted new laws to require a photo ID as a barrier against voter fraud, and despite evidence that individuals pretending to be a valid voter almost never occurs in America. This focus on “anti-fraud” legislation has all but pushed out conversations about making voting more fair or more consistent—consider that each state and the District of Columbia create their own ballots, instead of us all using a federal ballot for the President and Congress races—or on validating electronic votes to make sure the counting software is working correctly and accurately. There also are several states in which mass voter disenfranchisement has occurred in past elections and those places deserve further reflection, but for the 2012 election cycle, the news is focused mainly on whether these new voter ID laws are working and what effect they may have on the results. Immigrant voters, the elderly who sometimes have trouble accessing the supporting documents that they need to get a photo ID, transfolk who don’t look like their ID anymore or who may have changed their legal name, all face new barriers to voting, and active harrassment from groups organized for such a purpose.
The trouble with Facebook—To prepare for their initial public offering, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a shift in users’ profiles, a.k.a. the timeline profile. During the summer changes were also made to the news feed, filtering out some friends whose statuses no longer popped up and relaying others with more frequency. This has had the effect of artificially removing the diversity of opinions present among any one account’s friend set, leading to a kind of virtual confirmation bias. Why see the nuances in the position of the other side when you can scroll through miles of Willy Wonka memes that reinforce your own beliefs? By hiding friends or relatives we disagree with we each can create a universe that simply echoes our vision, in effect continuing the political polarization that has grown in strength since the fight in 2000 over the Florida recount and the Supreme Court ruling. This is repeated on other social networking sites like Twitter but no service has as many users as Facebook and no other site takes the pains FB does to manipulate what content is delivered to which profile accounts.
The piles of SuperPAC money that distract from issues—It’s been repeated these last few presidential election cycles that more money was spent in “this” election than in any previous, but 2012 is notable because the gloves have come off of election funding regulations with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. Now advocacy groups as well as corporations are allowed to spend unparalleled money schlocking misinformation about the candidates that would be pulled from the air were these ads regulated by the laws for advertising. Not only do many of the SuperPAC groups obfuscate where their money comes from, with little accountability for their content they have largely been devoid of substance and heavy on negative baiting or name-calling. But there is one thin silver lining, in that there is evidence to show that most Americans didn’t vote based on negative ads they saw, and they largely tuned them out. Of the nearly 65,000 political ads shown in Ohio this election season human beings can’t have watched each time with careful attention. But election results will serve as data for political operatives to mine until the next set of midterm elections in 2014; if campaign managers believe SuperPAC groups help them, we will see more flashy commercials about corruption, unpaid parking bills, bad budget plans, and the like, instead of a discussion about issues of economy, job growth, healthcare, and support for seniors and immigrants.
Nate Silver’s very popular blog for The New York Times has Obama an almost sure win in the Electoral College tonight, even though the popular vote is the closest since political operatives counted such things. Whatever the outcome the spin makers will descend on the results almost immediately, and the invective about socialists, rednecks, gun lovers, hurricane-watchers, know-nothings, and elitists will continue. At some point Congress will return to the Hill and need to hash out a federal budget. No matter what was said or done in this election—binders full of women, fears about Mexicans stealing jobs nobody else wants, insistence that the US is becoming a secret Muslim nation—at some point we need to come together as Americans, unless we want to begin the next election cycle on November 8, 2012.
I can’t be the only one here who needs a break from the campaigning.