A Day At the Races | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

A Day At the Races 

Taking a Gander: When winning by a nose isn't enough

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Last summer, for our first time ever, we drove to Wyoming Downs in Evanston for a day at the racetrack. Frankly, it was pretty boring—lots of sitting around and snacking, but only a few minutes of excitement.

You know how it works: bettors read the detailed program containing each horse's racing history; they pour over the odds; they place their bets; and they yell expletives when their nag is dead last.

Of course, there are a few spectators jumping up and down, ecstatically, over their good fortune. Winners head to the cashier.

Oh, but wait a minute. When I present my winning bet for payment, the cashier in the cage has some bad news. "Sorry, pal," he apologizes, "Pharaoh's Staff came in first, but it was only by a half-length. It's only a win if it's a full length; they're going to do that race over again at 2:00. I hope to see you back with a smile on your face, but you'll just have to wait and see."

I am surrounded by angry bettors, protesting that "a win is a win, even if it's a photo-finish, only by a nose. When, the hell, did they come up with that rule?"

It doesn't sound fair to you, does it? And yet, that's exactly what's happening in the State of Georgia in the Herschel Walker vs. Rev. Raphael Warnock senate race. Warnock won the election, fair and square, by more than 37,000 votes. That's the size of a small city, and yet Georgia law mandates that a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to win.

It was the Libertarian votes—more than 81,000 of them—that messed up the election, people who had issues with both candidates and would vote for neither. The tally—Warnock 49.2%, Walker 48.7%—triggered a runoff, and that's been set for Dec. 6. The absentee and mail-in votes are already being counted.

The way I see it, this wasn't a case of a slim victory for Warnock. It was decisive and, in the absence of any substantiated voting fraud, he was the one elected by the people. What this current scenario amounts to is a violation of individual voting rights and an opportunity for Georgia's heavyweight Republicans to have another bite of the apple. Historically dominated by a Red state legislature and governor, this voting rule is a strangely-familiar mirror of Trump-style politics that has been popping up all over our nation. (If we don't like the election results, let's change it.)

I don't know about you, folks, but I'm a bit confused. There were lots of things I was taught about my country while growing up. From kindergarten to high school graduation, I was given every reason to believe that the individual and collective rights of all Americans were sacred and inviolable, and that each heir to the legacy—whether living in the hinterlands of the Alaskan wilderness, the bayous of Louisiana or the palatial homes of the Hamptons—had the very same rights. One basic assumption was that each qualified voter casts one ballot, and that everyone's vote carries the same weight.

Think again. When I look at our country today, I see many failures of our federal government to protect our democratic rights. Instead of a bill of rights, we've been tossed a bill of goods. There's been a twisting and distortion of the basics of the American democratic experiment, and what's happening today is downright scary.

Somewhere along the way, something went amok. The notion of whether one is a fully enfranchised citizen or merely a marginalized discard, is no longer guaranteed. That's an outgrowth of the sales pitch of the Founding Fathers, who understood that the concept of a heavy-handed federal government was an impediment to creating a new nation. Allowing states to make their own choices brought cooperation in forming the new, sacred union, but it also left many individual rights to the whim of their state and local governments.

Some essential matters—simple as whether men had the right to buy, sell, and own other human beings—were originally given to the individual states. That would eventually pitch the country into a tragic and costly war, a war fought over states' rights and ending with the acknowledgement that inalienable rights—the ones described by the Founding Fathers as God-given—were not to be determined by state legislators or local officials.

Although slavery had been the issue over which the Civil War was so tragically fought, there are many other issues and policies that should not be left to each state's individual laws. The way I see it: Voting is one of them.

The United States of America. That's what the Founding Fathers called it, and each of us who understands the heart of our existence as a country must be firm in holding to that definition. That's what they intended our country to be. They didn't create it as a loose organization of European Union-type, separate countries, each of which could determine the fundamental rights or retraction of those rights for their citizens. They didn't intend that each of those affiliated-but-separate countries could curtail, at will, the most essential gifts of freedom and a democratic form of government. We have a Constitution, and it's supplemented by the express privileges of each individual citizen in the form of a Bill of Rights.

I am glad that my state is one that supports the one-person-one-vote standard, but the mandated curtailments of other pseudo-democratic-state outliers should be of great concern to us all. If the rights of all Americans are to be protected, it can't be left to individual states. It's high-time for our federal government to step in and ensure the rights of all Americans, by codifying and memorializing our precious freedoms.

The author is a retired novelist, columnist and former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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