Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The vote's in the mail

This being the first national election I've participated in since moving to Portland two years ago, it' also just sinking in for me that Oregon is the only state in the union that requires a vote-by-mail system.

So I have no dramatic stories of waiting hours in line to cast my vote (good thing too, because it rained like a motherfucker yesterday). The whole process was about as humdrum and routine as you could imagine: you get a ballot delivered to you in the mail, you fill it in, and you mail it back (or drop it off, if you prefer). We were done with the whole thing last week.

Given Rachel Maddow's argument that the long lines at polling places amount to a new kind of poll tax, the rest of y'all might seriously consider following Oregon's lead on this.


Jeff said...

Funny you should mention your support of the mail-in ballot.

Rex's brother seems to go the other way:

"Also concerning to me is the loss of the guaranteed secret ballot in a mail-in election. With a mail-in ballot, you have the problem that an overbearing family member can dictate how the rest of the family shall vote, and can even oversee the process as the rest of the family members dutifully fill in the dots, then seal and sign the envelope. A family member wants to cast a vote differently really has no chance. But with an in-person election, the voter goes into a voting booth, and nobody is permitted to go in with that person (with a few exceptions). You know that the vote cast is the voter's true intentions. The overbearing family member has no way of confirming that the vote was cast according to his or her orders. "

It lightly rained yesterday, but when I waltzed into the polling place at 4:50PM, I was greeted with no lines at all. I had to interrupt the coffeklatsch of poll workers to sign the book and pull the lever...

I'm not sure I could get behind a mail-in system.

For some reason, it just feels waaay to easy to manipulate... not that me pressing buttons isn't any easier probably... at least not since I rewatched "Hacking Democracy" on HBO the other day...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Jeff --

Thanks for the comment!

I'm not sure I fully buy Ray's critique -- though I'm sure the mail-in system can be improved -- mostly because we leave voting to adults, who can theoretically sneak into a bathroom or a car or a closet (say) and fill out their ballot if they want to. No?

If your family dynamic is so fucked up that you literally can't get to your own private space, even for a few minutes -- if everything you do is determined by a familial dictator -- then I would be more concerned about your ability to think clearly about the election in the first place. How would you learn about the issues, for instance? Wouldn't everything be filtered through that overbearing person's lens? How would you learn of opposing points of view? And how do you know that any political choice you make isn't really (primarily) a reaction to your familial situation -- as opposed to a carefully considered, independent decision that really does reflect your "true intent"?

To the extent that these bad family situations exist, the people in them need to get help. There are all kinds of ways to report problems with voting and to get assistance -- voter intimidation, after all, is a federal crime.

We shouldn't lose sight of the number of people who are at risk of being disenfranchised because either they can't afford to take off half a day of work to stand in a freaking line to vote, or they suffer from some physical ailment that prevents them from standing in that line, etc. It's cool that things went so smoothly in northern Jersey, but there are many other places where the experience was a little more taxing. And we don't really have a clear way of measuring the negative impact that may have had. (And I'm pretty sure that if Obama hadn't been such an inspiring candidate, many more people would have decided not to go through the burden of waiting to vote.)

At the very least, I think it would be good to integrate an optional mail-in system with the already in-place traditional systems, so that people have a choice.

Jeff said...

I'm all for choice -- I don't think we should go all mail-in. I have no faith that my vote might actually get to where it's supposed to go; or if it does, if its actually counted....

I don't necessarily agree with Ray's notion either -- tho I suppose in some Asian families (how's that for an over-generalization?) it may be more of a case -- but I thought it was an interesting contrast to your "fun with mail" posting.

My big concern is the classic "who watches the watchmen" -- have you seen "Hacking Democracy?"

Scary stuff; tho it seems just as likely to be Heinlein's razor: "Don't attribute to malice which is attributable to stupidity." than not...