Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:34 AM
The comedian Rob Delaney has a an interesting piece on Vice’s Tumblr about his voting track record and what that means in the larger picture of American politics. That is, voting specifically, and more generally, having your voice heard.
People on the Internet tell me every day to “stick to the jokes, pal” and I wanted to outline why I will do no such thing, and why you shouldn’t either. If in fact I should “stick to the jokes” since I’m a comedian, that would suggest that politics should be left to politicians. And we know that many politicians (like large numbers of those who make up the United States Congress, for example) are very, very bad at politics. They quite literally NEED my help. And your help. And since we live in a Democratic republic, I will continue to share my opinion whenever I feel like it. And please feel free to disagree with me. Jesus, I hope you do, because there are many things I don’t know and many things I’m surely wrong about. I am a comedian. But a comedian’s opinion matters in the United States of America, as does a pipefitter’s, a truck driver’s, and a heart surgeon’s.
Delaney explains why he’s voted, in the last four presidential elections, for Bob Dole (1996), Ralph Nader (2000), John Kerry (2004), and Nader again (2008). His goal in telling readers this is laudable:
I told you who I’ve voted for over the years because I wanted to lay bare my thought process and show some things that I would change if I had a time machine. I wanted to show evidence of a person who believed one thing, gathered evidence, and then changed his mind. I wanted to do something that most politicians refuse to do, i.e. show some humility/teachability.
Again, he’s not claiming his voice is any more or less important than anyone else’s. And that’s exactly why it’s as important to hear from him as it would be to hear from anyone else. As I wrote yesterday, though, because of voter suppression laws sweeping this nation, we’re likely to hear fewer and fewer voices at the ballot box next year.
Image by April Sikorski, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011 4:49 PM
From new photo ID requirements to permanently disenfranchising citizens with past felony convictions to ending same-day registration, many states have introduced bills and passed legislation this year that will put in place obstacles that make it significantly harder for millions of people to vote in 2012. Five million, in fact, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, an institute that focuses on issues such as voting rights and campaign reform.
In a report on the voting law changes the authors, Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden, write:
Ahead of the 2012 elections, a wave of legislation tightening restrictions on voting has suddenly swept across the country. More than five million Americans could be affected by the new rules already put in place this year—a number larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
As writer Ari Berman points out in this video, these changes are coming “just in time for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.” While those leading the charge for voter suppression laws cry foul on charges of intentional disenfranchisement, claiming the moral high ground as warriors against voter fraud, Berman points out in a recent Rolling Stone article, “A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop.” He continues:
Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert.
Writing for Al Jazeera, Heather Digby Parton gives some historical context to this current state of affairs, arguing that, against the interests of the wealthy and privileged, voting rights for all Americans “was one of the great American democratic accomplishments of the 20th century.”
In the United States, there has always been tension about the franchise, going all the way back to the beginning of the Republic. Aristocrats were afraid of it for the simple reason that it would mean the government might have to represent and defend people whose interests interfere with their own interests: to maintain their wealth and pass it down to their heirs.
Whenever you give the vote to poor people and others who need government's protections against the predations of privilege, you are endangering that arrangement - and the privileged fight back. Conservatives are traditionally their soldiers in that battle….[Today] conservatives have been able to leverage racial resentment and a sort of perverted populism to help their wealthy benefactors keep their money.
The Brennan Center for Justice report looks to be “the first full accounting and analysis of this year's voting cutbacks” and seeing them all together—along with their possible consequences on future elections—is sobering, to say the least. It begs us to keep in mind what Utne Reader associate editor Danielle Magnuson wrote in an earlier post on this topic: “voting for our leaders is not a privilege but a sacred right. A disenfranchised person’s vote has the same weight as that of a wealthy and powerful person—and that’s the way it should remain.” Unfortunately, many in charge around the country seem to disagree.
Source: Brennan Center for Justice, Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera
Image by robertpalmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 4:44 PM
Political candidates of all stripes can gain votes by acknowledging that human-caused climate change is real and that we ought to do something about it, a new survey suggests.
The Daily Climate reports on the poll by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, which interviewed 1,000 people last November. They were asked how they would vote for a hypothetical Senate candidate based on various issues including climate change, and the results were striking:
In the full national sample, taking a green position on climate won votes for the Senate candidate, and taking a not-green position lost votes. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they would vote for the candidate who took a green position. Sixty-five percent said they would vote for the candidate who was silent on climate change, while 48 percent said they would vote for the candidate who took the not-green position.
“Essentially what we found in our admittedly very simplified study is that candidates have nothing to lose from taking a green position on climate change,” the study’s author, social psychologist Jon Krosnick, told the New York Times’Green blog.
In one sense, this is good news: The savvy politician facing a tight election race might see a self-serving reason to get on board with tackling climate change. But the realist in me posits that cynical, climate-change-denying politicians know they’re out of step with their constituents on this issue, yet they don’t care: They stake out their position to please wealthy business donors and Republican power brokers, not their workaday constituents.
Source: The Daily Climate, New York Times Green
Image by americaspower, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 3:29 PM
Imagine if your actions made the difference in electing a senator, governor, or congressional representative. Suppose the phone calls you made, money you donated, doors you knocked on, and conversations you initiated helped swing a critically close race, or two or three. Suppose the friends you dragged to the polls helped America reject the anonymous corporate dollars that threaten to drown our democracy.
You’d feel pretty good, I believe, at least about your own efforts. So why aren’t more of us doing everything we can from now through the election to ensure the best possible outcome? In 2008, millions of people reached deep and then deeper to stake our time, money, and hearts on the possibility of change. We knew it was a critical election, and helped carry Obama and the Democrats to victory. Now, too many of us feel burned and disillusioned, with dashed hopes. We’ve lost the habit of being engaged. The election seems someone else’s problem. We doubt what we do will matter—for this round or in general.
Think about what you and your friends did during the election of two years ago compared with what you’re doing now. Then think of some ways to make an impact in the remaining days. November’s results will hinge on which side turns out its peripheral voters, those most overloaded, distracted, torn in their sentiments, and distrustful of politics. They’re at risk of succumbing to the deluge of paid lies, voting for candidates who don’t represent their values or staying home in cynical resignation. But with enough person-to-person conversations we can reach them.
So why aren’t most of us doing more? We may be disappointed at the past two years, but as I’ve written, we need to act, broken hearts and all, because to hand power over to those who represent America’s most predatory corporate interests will make change harder on every conceivable front. For instance, if the Republicans gain a congressional majority and John Boehner becomes Speaker of the House, he’ll be able to do more than just hand out tobacco lobbyist checks on the House floor, as he gleefully did in the 1990s. Because he’ll control legislation, next to nothing will pass without his consent, leaving an incredibly difficult road to addressing any of our most critical problems. When those who’d normally vote Democrat stay home in anger or spite, it’s time and again moved this country to the political right, as Robert Parry, who broke the original Iran-Contra stories, has brilliantly explored. Getting past our disappointment gives us a chance to remember that change is a long-haul process, with inevitable frustrations and setbacks.
But broken hearts aren’t the only reason for our inaction. There’s also inertia, distraction, and overload—the weight of our day to day routine. Following the 2008 election, too many of us stepped back from actively working to change our society and switched instead to morosely watching our hopes get frustrated, doing little beyond signing the occasional online petition or letter. Like most other activities, political volunteering is a habit, and we’ve let that habit atrophy. We need to once again start doing whatever we can, even if that requires shaking off some rust.
We also need to remember the power of our actions. In 2008, we took it on faith that the election could hinge on what we did, and then saw that faith confirmed. We need to regain at least some part of that sense, even with more chastened hopes. If we talk with a dozen people door to door or make 20 phone calls, we will yield one or two more votes, as studies have repeatedly shown. A hundred people each spending a day of volunteering can bring in a couple hundred votes. A thousand can produce a couple thousand. If just a tenth of us who were on Obama’s 13 million name email list spent two days on the phones, we’d be talking over a million votes, or enough to swing state after state.
Right now, much of the volunteer energy has been with the Tea Party members, who seek a return to the Bush policies or worse. But what about the rest of us? We need to do more than just vote, but get others to vote as well. TheNew York Times currently lists eight Senate races as toss-ups, with three or four others still in play. Key congressional races are equally tight, which means our willingness to get on the phones or drive an hour to a swing district could easily shift the results. With upcoming congressional redistricting dependent on who controls the state legislatures, even our local races could determine 15-30 congressional seats for the next ten years. So our individual volunteering is critical.
I’ve experienced the power of this volunteering directly. On Election Day of 2004, I was knocking on doors in Washington state and turned out three additional voters. One had forgotten about the election. Another needed a ride. A third didn’t know how to submit his absentee ballot. My candidate won the governor’s race by 133 votes, over a right-wing Republican who’s now running neck and neck with the once seemingly unbeatable Senator Patty Murray. I didn’t get those votes by any particular eloquence or skill, just by showing up. Any other volunteer would have had the same results. But had I and 50 other volunteers stayed home that day, we’d have lost.
Volunteer outreach made a similarly critical difference when Al Franken won his Minnesota Senate seat by 225 votes. Or in 2006, when Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney won by 83 votes before being reelected overwhelmingly two years later. In 2008, four House races were decided by less than one percent. I once interviewed a young woman who registered 300 voters on her campus, helping her strongly progressive congressman win by 27 votes. Given the volatility of the current electorate, our efforts could easily make the difference in race after neck-and-neck race.
You don’t even have to be bound by geography when you act. Groups like MoveOn have been steadily perfecting their remote voter calling efforts, which studies have found can matter immensely. You log in, get a series of numbers and a sample script that you use or not as you choose. You call and tally the responses. You convince people to vote and sometimes change their minds. MoveOn is doing this again, as are other progressive groups like Democracy in America. So are individual campaigns and Obama’s Organizing For America network. If you want to focus on local races, progressive groups are developing powerful tailored ballot guides that we can draw from and hand out. Whether or not there’s a critical race nearby, you can still do your part.
Think again about the stakes. Do we care about climate change, an equitable tax system, access to education, decent health care, and judges who aren’t the paid creatures of Exxon and the Koch brothers? Do we care about the poor and unemployed, or rebuilding America’s economic base instead of strip-mining the future for greed? Do we care about reclaiming our democracy from those who believe that their wealth entitles them to buy and sell the rest of us for their narrow self-interest?
We can never predict the impact of our actions. But suppose you did all you could from now through the election, while assuming that others would do the same. Suppose you once again vested your time, money, and yes, your battered hopes, and then helped elect some good people and stop some blindly destructive ones. If you did, and enough others did as well, we’d have an infinitely more hospitable political landscape going forward while we continue to work for the changes our country needs. That would indeed be something to be proud of.
Paul Loeb is the author of the wholly updated new edition of
Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in Challenging Times
(St Martin’s Press, April 2010), now with 120,000 copies in print, and
The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear
, which the History Channel and the American Book Association named the #3 political book of 2004. See
Paul Loeb is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Image courtesy of Paul Loeb.
Monday, December 08, 2008 9:01 AM
Zoinks! Until recently, it’s been all too easy to dismiss cryptographic voting technology—i.e. systems where voters reveal hidden codes that enable them to confirm their votes—as a wonky pipe dream, reports Technology Review. But now, there’s a new system designed to work with the optical ballot-counting scanners already in use.
This is how it works: I go to my neighborhood polling place and fill out a ballot per usual. But I use a special pen, which reveals a secret code inside of any bubble I mark. I think, “Damn. This is just like something Q would’ve dreamed up for James Bond.” My ballot has a number, so I make a note of these codes for myself—and then later, go online and make sure that my ballot number and confidential codes match up. Voila!
Imagine what such a system would have done in Minnesota, where the Norm Coleman vs. Al Franken Senate race recount, flush with contested ballots, is still pending a month after votes were cast. Minnesota Public Radio has been posting a sample of the contested ballots online; some of the votes seem so clearly intended for a particular candidate that it’s left me wondering just how many mistakes do slip through. With a cryptographic system, voters could be their own election judges.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008 12:47 PM
It’s hallelujah-worthy: a thoughtful argument for abandoning single-issue voting. Catholics should examine all of a candidate’s stances regarding “intrinsic evils,” writes theology professor Gerald J. Beyer for Commonweal, not simply his or her voting record on abortion. “In the U.S. political context, where no candidate perfectly mirrors Catholic teaching on issues such as abortion, war, stem-cell research, poverty, discrimination, gay marriage, and immigration, voting should be a difficult matter of conscience for Catholics,” writes Beyer.
Instead of automatically supporting John McCain as the stronger anti-abortion candidate, Beyer advises Catholics to look at a range of domestic and foreign policy issues before deciding which candidate acts more in accordance with Catholic values. “Not only is Obama’s position on the war and his strategy to end it more consonant with Catholic teaching,” writes Beyer, “but his vision for the place of the United States in the international community much more closely resembles modern papal teaching on international relations.”
Beyer urges Catholics to consider supporting Obama, even though he doesn't encourage them to accept Obama’s pro-choice position. Instead, Beyer writes that Catholic Obama endorsers “should strongly encourage him to take steps to limit the evil of abortion.”
Friday, March 28, 2008 9:38 AM
Should journalists vote? The debate may be “one of the most tedious subjects in journalism,” writes Politico editor John Harris, but it’s one he recently hashed out with two of his colleagues anyway. Mike Allen, the newspaper’s chief political correspondent and a non-voter, kicks things off:
I’m part of a minority school of thought among journalists that we owe it to the people we cover, and to our readers, to remain agnostic about elections, even in private. I figure that if the news media serve as an (imperfect) umpire, neither team wants us taking a few swings.
Harris, an unashamed exerciser of his franchise, responds by disentangling the sacred ideal of journalistic objectivity from everyday fairness.
A journalist can cast votes and have opinions, even strong ones, and still be fair. We do it by letting people have their say, by not putting our thumb on the scale with loaded language, and by having the modesty as reporters to admit that information is always fragmentary and it is our role to tell stories but not to pretend that we are society’s High Court of Truth.
Image by billaday, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008 11:24 AM
Committed citizens vote. But what about Peace Corps volunteers and embassy employees? Finding a polling place or postage for an absentee ballot can prove challenging in Cambodia or Cologne, even for Americans who have a personal stake in our international image. To ease that burden, the overseas branch of the Democratic Party instituted a new online voting system with this month’s Global Primary reports Adriane Quinlan in the New Republic. With an estimated 20,000 members casting ballots, Democrats Abroad will send 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, just one less than the state of North Dakota. Voting ended February 12, and, after a technical glitch, the group announced on Friday that three delegate votes are pledged to Obama, one and a half to Clinton, and another two and a half to be determined at the Democrats Abroad Global Convention in April.
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