Halloween approaches and, as always, we’re found waiting for the Great Pumpkin, er, Election.
Immediately following the broadcast Tuesday of the Peanuts classic that tells the story of the mythical Great Pumpkin that Linus van Pelt waits for year after year, amid endless mocking from the Peanuts Gang, was an airing of You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. In this semi-satirical piece from 1972 (originally aired just days before the 1972 presidential elections ), Linus, after being convinced by his sister Lucy, decides to run for student council president, against a relative unknown, Russell Anderson.
But after Lucy, as campaign manager, sets up what I’ll call an “exploratory committee” to dial test Linus’ viability as a candidate, she canvasses potential voters asking them if they would vote for Linus.
When they show indecision, Lucy waves a fist, and they concede. One vote for Linus in the bag. Lucy practices voter intimidation and gets when she wants.
It can (fairly easily) be argued that casting a vote, the very essence of a democracy, is the most important civic act someone living in a democratic society can do. Aside from those unalienable rights, a vote is the one thing we, as Americans, have in common. A vote, we’re to understand, is the one thing we’re given equally.
Then why, we should ask, do elections — the venue for that democratic essence — almost always place our vision of democracy in danger? Amid everything, an election should be the one event where we contribute to the growth of our democracy. It certainly shouldn’t be the place where we have to vigilantly defend it.
OK. Enough with the high school paper thesis stuff and with the naive sentiment. Of course an election is going to attract those who want to suppress the voices of some; those who want to change the outcome in a most undemocratic way. But without letting cynicism takeover, we should always be astounded that elections, including long campaigns leading up to elections, in bringing out the best in a nation, often bring out the very worst.
This is why we’re astounded, but not surprised when we hear that there are myriad efforts to suppress and/or alter the vote this year.
Thanks to an comprehensive report released October 27 by NYU Law School’s Brennen Center for Justice. we can look at the most recent suppression tactics that have garnered some attention outside their localities:
Clerical errors, resulting in mismatches in maiden names, addresses, typos, and other “no match” scenarios have been documented. The Brennan Center says that between 15 and 30 percent of all match attempts fail because of these aforementioned scenarios. On October 22, The New York Times published an editorial documenting the accidental, improper removal of roughly 8,000 registered voters from the voter rolls in Mississippi prior to that state’s March 2008 primary. While that case was accidental, the Times says it could have just as easily been partisan, calling “voting rolls, which are maintained by local election officials,” one of the “weakest links in American democracy :
Some of these problems are no doubt the result of honest mistakes, but in far too many cases they appear to be driven by partisanship. While there are almost no examples in recent memory of serious fraud at the polls, Republicans have been pressing for sweeping voter purges in many states. They have also fought to make it harder to enroll new voters. Voting experts say there could be serious problems at the polls on November 4.
When voters die or move to a new address, or when duplicate registrations are found, a purge is necessary to uphold the integrity of the rolls. New registrations must also be properly screened so only eligible voters get added. The trouble is that these tasks generally occur in secret, with no chance for voters or their advocates to observe or protest when mistakes are made.
And Mississippi is not the only one. Florida has a no match, no vote rule as well. According to the St. Petersburg Times, more than 2,000 newly-registered voters in Tampa Bay alone fail to “match.” Florida has 12,000 voters statewide on the no-match list.
These are not the “Mickey Mouses” and “Tony Romos” of the voter registration fraud fame. These are honest-to-God people who want to vote.
No Match, No Vote policies are also in place in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa, and Louisiana, according to the Brennan Center report.
Voter purging, as reported by The New York Times, has impacted “Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security.”
While voter purging is used to be kept voter rolls up to date, the Times article does not report foul play, but that, again, clerical errors stemming from attempted compliance with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which would, in part, remove the names of voters who are no longer supposed to be listed, have led to deletion of names from the rolls.
For every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows.
Those states potentially impacted? Michigan, Colorado, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Nevada. All battlegrounds. All crucial this year. If only those errors were prominent in Utah and California instead.
Of course, we also have voter challenges, intimidation, registration access, and student voter barriers. Just read the Brennan Center for Justice report.
Oh, and Linus wins by one vote because his opponent voted for him. Democracy prevails because the vote is fair and no hanky-panky occurs. Now THAT’S an election, Charlie Brown (until the Supreme Court intervenes, Russell Anderson “wins” the election, and leads the Peanuts gang into a campaign against a faceless enemy, the Great Pumpkin).