Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wake me when it's over

I have been trying to wait a decent interval -- say, until after the election -- to complain about how much I hate the mail-in ballot for the municipal election, but I can't hold back any longer. I hate it.

Here it is, a week or two before the actual election -- whenever it actually is -- and I am just about to the point where I normally would begin to take interest. But quite likely, it's already all over. My mailed ballot sits along with the bills and credit card scams in a pile in the foyer. Voting used to be a pleasure; now it's just another form to fill out. Maybe I will bother; maybe I won't.

Is it really just me, or is there less excitement, anticipation and general all around interest in this election than in any election we've had since the last mail-in ballot? Elections used to be one event that pulled people out of their thick shells for at least an hour or so a year of civic activity. Now we shrink ever deeper into our tiny domains, lost to the world and to public discourse.

The only real argument I have heard for mail-in ballots is that they increase turnout. For most people, that seems to settle the matter. But it isn't clear to me how adding up the opinions of a bunch of people too lazy to drive a few blocks to a polling place strengthens democracy.

Yes, I know, I'm old and grumpy and helplessly stuck in the past. But you've got to say one thing for us geezers: We vote. And we don't need a mailed invitation to do it.


pjfinn said...

Yeah. Me too.

Ed Kemmick said...

David: I'd probably agree with you in regard to a "real" election, but in off years like this, when there is one City Council race on each ballot, and one small item from the school district, driving a few blocks to the polling booth might be seen as not worth the trouble. And what if you're in Ward 5, with no one running against the incumbent council member? I guess I'd still like to know how those folks feel about spending money on a school site, and if mail-in ballots are how you reach them, so be it.

tjg said...

Well put. Those lacking transportation already can get automatic absentee ballots. Oddly, the election "reforms" passed in reaction to the Folordia ascam that gave us Bush II meant that election judges had to ask for ID even from their nexxt-door- neighbors to prevent election "fraud." Now a nursing-home operator or apartment manager could effectively vote a block for a particular candidate or issue. The system has more holes than Albert Hall.
As for increasing participation (especially among the lazy or unmotivated), who cares? Sure, it's a disgrace that our voter turnouts are so low. It's a disgrace that we're so slothful we don't research candidates and issues, let alone set aside an hour every couple of years to exercise the right millions have fought for.
What's the next step? Blogging in our votes?

Montana Headlines said...

I'm with you on this one. When I go out to vote, I'm reminded of that great scene in "Northern Exposure" where Cicely, Alaska is having its first mayoral election in a long time.

To the sounds of Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," (if I recall correctly,) there is a prolonged scene of the whole town turning out to vote -- a community civic ritual that in an unspoken way plays a role in uniting a community that was divided during the campaign.

Can't you just imagine how moving a "vote by mail" scene would be? And can't you feel the stirrings of civic pride as you lick the stamp?

Anyway, I'm glad you wrote about this. I didn't dare, since the only reason we hard-core Republicans don't like the whole vote-by-mail and absentee voting thing is that we want to disenfranchise the downtrodden.

Forty Seven said...

Preach, brother! Amen! It's not enough that mail ballots increase turnout. It's not even enough that mail ballots are cheaper and easier for county governments. It's not right for the Government to change the very foundation of democracy just to make life more convenient for the rulers. That is not democracy. Democracy is about what works for the people, not the government.

Sarah said...

Where's the special pencil?

Chuck Rightmire said...

What a bunch of grumps. I like the mail in idea. I can sit in the privacy of my own home and cast my ballot instead of having to go to the polls, walk in and waste my time waiting in line while other people try to find my name on the pollings lists and get me to sign that I am Me. The only thing easier would be to enable us to vote by mail or to do it on a website. That's probably coming if they figure out how to block the hackers. Remember, the good old days don't exist; we were just younger then and vigorous.

Ed Kemmick said...

I don't buy this business about an apartment manager or nursing home operator stealing a bunch of votes. You've got to sign the envelope the ballot is sealed in, and those signatures are checked against the ones on file at the courthouse. Even if you had access to the signatures, how many people can do even a half-decent forgery? And if one person who wanted to vote didn't get a ballot and went down to the courthouse with questions, that dastardly manager or operator would probably be found out, and in a hell of a lot of trouble, no matter how much some dastardly political bagman paid him for the deed.

And Montana Headlines, I find it amusing that you had to turn to a television show to find your ideal. In real life, we don't get to select a sound track or round up a bunch of Norman Rockwell extras. I love the voting ritual, too, but the only truly important things are making voting accessible and keeping it honest. If all the folks who object to mail-in ballots would rise up and denounce touch-screen, no-paper-trail voting, I'd be with them. But on this ... things change, people.

Dave said...

At least when people actually have to get up and go somewhere to vote (put SOME effort into it), there's the hope that they put some thought into it, too. With a mail-in ballot, not so much...

Montana Headlines said...

Ed, I guess I should have painted my own picture, rather than using one from pop culture. I used it because more people have seen that television episode than what I would describe.

For me, voting will always be going into the corner of our local rural schoolhouse when I was 5 years old and sitting on my dad's lap while he marked beside all of the "R's" (probably not always, but this is my story, so I'll tell it the way I want to remember it) on the crisp paper ballots.

Men didn't show up in their dirty work clothes -- they cleaned up, shaved, and put on "town clothes" and clean boots.

They and their wives went together to the polling place, voted, made quiet small talk with the election officials(our neighbors) while getting and returning their ballots, and chatted outside for a short time with whomever else happened to be there at the moment.

Chatted about the weather or commodity prices or something besides politics, that is.

And then they went home and went to work, again. That evening, the phone would ring as precinct totals and results of local elections were passed around from person to person (there was obviously no internet, and the radio station was already off the air at sundown.)

I don't have a practical reason that I don't like voting by mail anymore than I have a practical reason why I don't like the New York Yankees. And I don't need one.

I've personally come to the conclusion that Republicans need to get with the times, maximize absentee voting, figure out the tricks to the trade of getting out a mail-in vote, and drive every last unregistered potential voter who might agree with us to the polls to register on election day down until the time the polls close.

And when we're voting by internet, we'll need to figure out how to get out the vote on that one, too.

But that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to grump about it all and reminisce about the old days when more informed and motivated voters really did, as Dave put it, come "out of their thick shells for at least an hour or so a year of civic activity."

I think it was better, and the fact that it's disappearing for good in favor of anything that promotes the panacea of higher voter turnout doesn't change my opinion.

Anonymous said...

If we designed our voting system now, would we really decide to cram everyone into a school cafeteria on a weeknight? If you can't handle mail-in at least support extending voting time over three days, preferably a weekend.

Anyway, mail-in ballots might circumvent electronic voting machines, though not tabulators, which could still be rigged.

Chuck Rightmire said...

All this talk about "more informed voters" is similar to what comes out of the south end of a north bound bull. Most of those who tend to vote in some of the less popular elections, such as the city, county and school elections, are, from the results about as informed as that bull stuff. They have an ax to grind. They don't care about the issue but that their taxes are less or the person someone has labeled offensively doesn't get in. They don't understand the issues any better than those who don't vote because they don't have the time or the drive. Anyone who thinks our electorate is informed needs to read the comments on Blogs. Those who tend to comment, tend to vote and most of them are dreaming about good ol' days that never existed.

Anonymous said...

As a former candidate for office I can say with certainty as I went door to door that the blue light emanating from the family rooms was the determining factor in elections. Attitudes at the door were parallel to the ads being run on TV. There was very damned little independent thinking going on, and I include my supporters in this.

The idea of informed voter is a myth - it's the way we like to think of ourselves, and the way candidates have to address us (they know better). Many are truly informed and thoughtful, certainly of the people who habituate the blogs, but Joe voter is shaped and formed by slogans and emotions. There ain't a whole lot of there there. I agree with Chuck.