What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio–especially Ohio!–and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31–do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

14 thoughts on “What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over–*”

  1. Why isn’t intentional voter suppression – the willful act of trying to deny someone their vote through fraud or subterfuge – a felony? Just wondering since so many are concerned with making sure the vote is true.

    Keep the faith and the good work going! Thanks

    1. Well, actually, I think it *is* a felony. The thing is that we have to distinguish between vote suppression and ‘vote suppression’; Send out a mass mailing telling people they can vote by phone, vote suppression. (Identifying who mailed it might be a challenge, though.) Put up billboards accurately describing ballot fraud as a felony? ‘Vote suppression’.

      A lot of the things Democrats are calling ‘vote suppression’ are not only legal, but necessarily so in any moderately free society. What country with freedom of speech is going to legally prohibit accurately publicizing what the law is?

      1. One might contrast the attitude of several Republican governments whose principle seems to be that it is worth preventing thousands of people from voting (especially if they are the type who might be expected to vote Democrat) in order to prevent a handful of people voting who are not entitled to (the actual evidence of fraud being minuscule or non-existent) with the principle of the Supreme Court of Canada that last week allowed an election result in last year’s federal election to stand despite voting irregularities. Said the court, the current system “is not designed to achieve perfection” but should come close to enfranchising as many voters as possible. So: err on the side of letting people vote.

        But of course that’s Canada, where instead of barring convicted felons from voting for life, the Court required election officials to bring the vote into the prisons and let prisoners’ votes be counted in the districts where they usually lived.

        Good luck, Kelly and your ilk – especially in Ohio, it would seem!

      2. So let’s say Republican officials put in place a program to prevent voter fraud, and that program has the following characteristics:

        1. It’s impact, as a matter of plain fact, is greatest on voters who are likely to vote Democratic.
        2. It prevents, or seriously hinders, voting by many legal voters.
        3. It prevents a tiny number of illegal votes, perhaps none.

        Is that voter suppression, or “voter suppression” in your book?

        1. I use the “gun control” standard for judging these things, given that most of the complaints about voter suppression come from people who support gun control; Gun ownership is a civil liberty, too, and such people are demonstrating what they regard as an acceptable degree to which exercise of a civil liberty may be burdened.

          Does the law (Or action) in question make it harder to vote than to buy a gun? If the answer is yes, it’s suppression. By this standard, I’m not seeing a lot of voter suppression. Does this standard seem excessively strict to you? If you’d care to admit the country suffers from rampant gun owner suppression, I might listen.

          Snark aside, there’s a continuum here. It ranges from surrounding polling places with machine gun nests at the one end, to the failure to use psychics to fill out the ballots for voters, to save them the effort of lifting a finger. Given that you’re not complaining about that latter, and nobody is doing the former, this is an exercise in arbitrary line drawing.

          People do not have a right “to vote”. They have a right to cast a specific person’s vote, their own. This makes requiring people to prove who they are entirely appropriate. Showing picture ID is a perfectly standard way of proving your identity, routinely in use for all sorts of activities, such as entering Democratic conventions. I think you’d have a case if they were requiring finger prints, retinal scans, tissue samples for gene sequencing, or something else out of the ordinary in the way of identification.

          But they’re not, so you don’t have a case. Perhaps you should direct your energies towards helping people without ID obtain it? This would help them outside the voting booth, too.

          The second issue is disparate impact. I’m not a great fan of disparate impact. By disparate impact standards, putting salt on the table at a restaurant is a racist act, because blacks have a higher rate of hypertension than whites. Disenfranchising murderers is suspect under your formulation, as blacks have a higher murder rate than whites.

          My standard for discrimination is, does the decision actually hinge on the characteristic it’s claimed to discriminate on the basis of? “You can’t vote if you’re a Democrat!” is discrimination. “You can’t vote on Sunday!” is not.

          It’s widely believed, across the width of the political spectrum, that a large part of the Democratic party’s base consists of marginally motivated voters, who will not bother to vote if they encounter some minor obstacle, like having to arrive at the right location on a specific day, actually following directions for filling out ballots, opening their wallet or purse to display ID, registering at some point in advance of the election… The list of trivial matters which both Republicans and Democrats agree will cause a lot of Democrats to not bother voting is remarkably long. Yes, even the fact that people must lift a finger to fill out the ballot, rather than having a psychic fill it out for them, probably cuts more into Democratic turnout than Republican.

          The fact that a lot of Democrats aren’t enthusiastic about voting doesn’t make the lack of free taxi rides to the polls voter suppression.

          Back in the day, “voter suppression” meant things like guys in white hoods riding out to attack blacks who registered to vote. Literacy tests that you couldn’t pass if you were a college graduate, but black.

          Now, if somebody puts up billboards accurately stating that ballot fraud is a felony, you call that “vote suppression”.

          You’d be embarrassed to call such trivial matters vote suppression, if you were capable of embarrassment. Stop whining about vote suppression, and accept that the fact that a lot of Democrats just don’t bother voting in the face of obstacles Republicans don’t even notice isn’t voter suppression, it’s just your own party’s base being lazy.

  2. I know–Guys and Dolls was the first musical I ever saw (spoiling me for all future musicals), so you’d think I could remember the difference between its title song and its opening number. But I’m suffering from that dreaded disease of middle age CRS (Can’t Remember S**t). My apologies for the error. And thank you for doing those outbound calls–I’d answer a million incoming ones but calling out is just torture, and therefore really the Lord’s work.

    1. Actually, it’s pretty boring. About 90% of the time you get no answer. At first I was recruiting volunteers to go canvass in NH. This is probably a lot easier here in Cambridge than most other places. I only got one nasty response, “I don’t vote for socialists – take me off the list.” The rest were supportive, at least. Then I called Iowa voters. Only one nasty response. I didn’t count – careless – but it seemed like a small majority of the very few I reached were for Obama. Very scientific.

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