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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Election Protection: Avoiding the "F" Word

Next year there will be a presidential election, and even though it's over a year away, things are already heating up.  It's going to be an interesting year.  (Is that old Chinese saw "may you live in interesting times" wishing one well, or is it a curse?)  Already people are saying, "Enough!  Can we go just one day without any political news?"


No.  We can't.  These are serious times, and they require both serious thoughts and serious actions.  The news cycle is rampant with reports that seem ridiculous, and of course it's the job of the news media to stir things up, but there is an underlying threat that we can't afford to ignore.


One of the things we have to start working on NOW is electoral fraud.  This is illegal interference with the process of an election, also known as voter fraud. This kind of deception is used to bring about a desired election result by increasing the votes of a favored candidate or oppressing the votes of an opponent.  Typically it is done by illegal voter registration, improper counting, or intimidation at polls. But there are other ways to influence the vote.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electorate boundaries in order to produce the desired result.  This may result in a candidate getting the most votes overall, but still losing the election.  Because this redrawing of boundaries is not illegal, thus technically not electoral fraud, it is considered to be a violation of the principles of democracy.  This has been recently proposed in Ohio, among other places in the U.S.

Voter misinformation is also common.  If voters are given the wrong information about time or place of polls, they will miss their chance to vote.  This past August the Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing political advocacy group funded by the infamous Koch brothers, distributed flyers in Democratic areas of Wisconsin districts advising voters to send in their votes two days after the deadline.

Wisconsin voters, image courtesy of AP.

Also in Wisconsin earlier this month, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation sent an internal memo instructing personnel to not tell residents about the free ID that is now required to vote.  The ID costs $28 if people don't specifically ask for the free one.  This would be a deterrent to voting, especially for voters who are having a hard time financially.

Image courtesy of this site.

U.S. citizens are familiar with confusing ballots.  That's how Dubya was elected in 2000.  There are instances of ballot stuffing, miscounting, vote buying, and other dubious manipulations, but one that is being addressed is voter intimidation. Although this includes threats, violent or economic ones, it also means making it difficult to get into a polling place, or being told that it is the wrong place.  There is a group that focuses on this.

Image courtesy of this site

The Election Protection coalition was formed to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to vote.  This is a non-partisan group that works to see that all can vote, regardless of which party they choose.  Staffed by thousands of volunteers who are trained to be on the lookout for voter intimidation and to help people find the right polling places, it partners with a wide variety of organizations also bent on seeing democracy done right, such as the Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the American Bar Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to name just a few.

Right now they are in need of attorneys, paralegals, and law students to answer hotlines, and serve on legal field deployments on Election Day.  Check back with their website to see what other needs crop up, and to contact your local group.

But the main thing is to vote.  Yes, it can be discouraging and tiring to hear all the political ranting and raving.  There may not be a candidate that you can really get behind - often times it's just a matter of picking the lesser of two evils.  But vote! You have one voice; use it.  Otherwise, don't complain, don't joke, don't comment, just keep your voice locked up with your refusal to take part in democracy.  And know that you are part of the problem.

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