Salon readers cheer Rep. John Conyers' attempt to get to the bottom of 2004's voting problems, and debate Sen. Russ Feingold's take on why Democrats can't win in rural America.

Published December 22, 2004 10:50PM (EST)

[Read "Investigating Ohio," by Tim Grieve.]

A lot of questions have been raised about the motivation behind the Ohio investigation, and I'm glad that the congressman was able to explain what this is really all about: Prior to Nov. 2, polls clearly showed that African-American and other minority voters had a far lower confidence in the system than other demographics, and unfortunately for our democracy, they were right.

This investigation in Ohio isn't about trying to overturn the election or proving some grand conspiracy. It's about making sure that no American will ever have to stand in line for 12 hours on Election Day because of the color of their skin. It's about not only counting every vote, but making sure that the people counting them are unbiased and accurate. Conyers is trying to fix something integral to our way of life that is horribly broken, and I don't think his constituents should expect any less.

-- David Mershon

Detroiters have known for a long time what many Americans are finding out now -- John Conyers is the rarest of politicians, one who cares about democracy.

-- Barbara Ingalls

We should have a separate presidential Election Day. Perhaps the first Monday in November. The election should be run by a nonpartisan federal commission, and by law should provide a paper receipt to each voter. The counting should be strictly in the hands of federal election officials, and county and state officials should be entirely removed from the process.

It would cost something to overhaul the process, but we had better do something major beyond tweaking it here and there. We are heading down an ever steeper and more slippery slope, toward problems that no one would've imagined even eight years ago.

-- Ned Garrett

[Read "Goin' South," by Russ Feingold.]

I have to take issue with Russ Feingold's assertion that poor rural Americans are being manipulated by the Republican Party into focusing on "values" issues at the expense of their own health, safety and future.

The blame for this lies not in Machiavellian political operatives trotting out homosexuality and abortion every chance they get; it lies in the citizens who reward this subterfuge with a vote.

Instead of demanding affordable healthcare for their own family, they vote to deny other people the ability to share health benefits. Instead of demanding better education for their children, they vote to introduce superstition into science curricula. Instead of demanding fiscal responsibility, they vote to throw away trillions of dollars on tax cuts for the wealthy.

It is perfectly understandable that the Republican Party would want poor rural Americans to be more concerned about gay marriage than about the deficit, or abortion vs. healthcare, or terrorism vs. Iraq.

The Republican agenda is now all about scaring the little guy so much that he doesn't notice how badly he's being screwed. That's kind of a tough sell when you're courting said little guy's vote. When John and Jane Q. Public fall for this obvious and oft-repeated ruse, it's difficult to muster up any sympathy for them.

-- Jay Kincaid

So, Feingold is saying what Democrats have been saying for over two decades now: The only way to win the hearts and minds of the red states are to make the people vote in their own self-interest. When is the Democratic Party going to realize that this strategy does not work in the rural areas of this country?

Think of it this way. The platform Sen. Feingold is talking about addresses the self-interest of an individual. But what the Democrats need to do is address the self-interest of a culture.

If we take the "I leave you alone, you leave me alone" idea and map it onto the culture, it's easy to see why rural areas are fighting back against the metropolitan culture that is actively trying to impose its values on the country ("country" as opposed to "city").

The self-interest that Sen. Feingold and his Democratic compatriots need to address is the self-interest of the rural culture. Unfortunately, that culture seems to be antithetical to the hot buttons of the Democratic platform: pro-choice, gay rights, environmentalism, church/state separation, Democratic understandings of the United States' foreign responsibilities, etc.

Say what you will about the media overstatement of the importance of "moral values" in the past election, but the truth stands. The Democrats do not need to address the wallets of rural citizens. They need to address their hearts and minds.

-- Kyle Callahan

As a naturalized Southerner -- raised, but not born, here -- I was gratified to see my experience with the kind and giving folks of the South verified by another source.

I know these people are being manipulated into these radical positions by their pastors and representatives. Confrontation over political issues being absent, they will take a stranger off a dark road and care for them -- and this has happened to me several times.

There aren't too many gays in the rural South, or members of other urban demographics, so Southerners can't form their own opinions of "liberals." (I am working on changing that, one by one.) The problem is sheer inexperience, not ignorance, and it's targeted by the Republicans to distract them and create a scapegoat for the bad economy. The picture of an intolerant red-state mob is an illusion, while the truth is these small-town folks are deserving of our attention.

Race politics have scarred the South and the stress marks are still showing, but the slow integration of justice and fair representation into local governments is proceeding. Without the ability to divide white from black, the conservative power structure is now trying to vilify a new "other" -- urban, educated, tolerant. Don't let them do that. Please, brother and sister blue staters, take a drive through the back roads of the South and get to know us better before writing us off.

-- Leslie Owens

By Salon Staff

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