Rise To Vote, Sir!

OK, I’m going to the well yet again over NOW — but this time, only tangentially.

The issue of election fraud is a convoluted one. I’m going to simplify it a bit (probably too much) and bring one aspect of it down to the least complicated level I can.

To win an election, one must win more votes than one’s opposition. All issues aside, it boils down to two principles: get people who support you to vote, discourage those who oppose you from voting. Nearly every electoral tactic can be reduced to those two principles.

Where it gets tricky is where to draw the line. What is “right” and what is “wrong?” What is ethical, and what is not?

I find it simpler to think of it in black and white terms: is it legal or not?

Sometimes it’s simple. If the action you are taking is in and of itself illegal, then doing it for political gain doesn’t sanctify it. If anything, it makes it worse.

A few examples: the phone jamming scandal around the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race. Some high-ranking Republicans hired a telemarketing company to make automated hang-up calls to the Democrats’ phone bank on election day, preventing them from calling out to remind people to vote and offering them rides. Under any other circumstances, this would be harassment and the responsible parties would be in trouble with the law.

Since the crux of the matter here was a United States Senate seat, that did NOT excuse the act as a “political action.” It made it worse. A couple of the responsible parties got sent to prison, and the state GOP had to pay a hefty fine.

(A brief aside: I thought the GOP got off easy. In the settlement, they ended up paying about one-sixteenth of the fine I thought was appropriate, and the convicted cretins got shorter sentences than I thought was fair. But the Democrats, as the aggrieved party, accepted the settlement, so my opinion really doesn’t count for much.)

Another example: during the 2004 presidential election, a bunch of Kerry campaign staffers, some with ties to Democratic leaders in Milwaukee (not Detroit, as I said previously) found where the Republicans were keeping the vehicles they had rented for their own “get out the vote” plans. They slashed the tires on them, rendering them useless for the day. They ended up also spending time as guests of the government. Again, not nearly enough for me.

Voter intimidation is another gray area. Informing people of the penalty for casting fraudulent votes can be scary, but I don’t have too much of a problem with that. Anyone who is involved enough in the electoral process to be registered to vote ought to be willing to stand up for themselves enough to secure that franchise, and that’s one of the reaons for bipartisan poll watching: if one side gets too aggressive, they can observe and document it to later challenge the election.

Which, I suspect, is why Carlos Mantos of Philadelphia was so staunch about keeping duly authorized Republican poll watchers out of the polls in his district. And why these “election officials” did precisely the same thing in 2006.

Then there’s the not-quite-so-flagrantly illegal moves. Spurious voter challenges, for one. Finding people who are unlikely to support you and challenging their right to vote, accusing them of committing some form of fraud. (Residency is the big one here.) Individually, these challenges are not wrong, but when conducted as a systemic campaign, they can be a wrongdoing in and of themselves.

And then there’s ACORN. I’ve lost count of how many of their employees have been arrested for voter fraud — collecting and submitting fraudulent voter registration cards.

This is a more subtle form of disenfranchisement, one that many people do not see — either through ignorance or political bent.

“Sorry, Biff, you’re not voting this year.” That’s fairly clear. But what ACORN’s stooges are pulling is a bit more subtle:

“OK, Biff, you can vote. But Skip behind you? You know, the guy who disagrees with you on everything? He’s gonna vote twice.”

There’s a phrase that sums it up: “a distinction without a difference.” I’ve always preferred the somewhat more verbose version: “a difference that makes no difference is no difference.” It’s like trying to explain the difference between cyan and cerulean to someone like — well, me. To me, they’re both blue.

It’s a principle I’ve found useful in other areas. For example, affirmative action. Most of those programs are set up to give “bonus” points to people based on their status. In the infamous college admission case, blacks were given extra points based solely on their race.

I thought it would be an interesting experiment to change the rules a little. Instead of giving blacks 25 points and making 100 points the threshold, why not penalize non-blacks 25 points and lower the threshold to 75? The results would be precisely the same — the applicants would still line up in precisely the same order, but with 25 fewer points across the board. But that smacked too much of “punishment” or “discrimination,” and we couldn’t have that.

Then we have the tactics that are loathesome, despicable, contemptible, and unspeakably vile, but fall within the letter of the law. I refer, of course, to the Gore campaign’s efforts to disqualify the absentee ballots of active-duty service members. They found legal loopholes that they could exploit to discard these votes that they believed would break heavily towards Bush. This was perfectly legal, but forever tainted Al Gore in my eyes as scum.

In the end, vote fraud is part of the dark side of both parties. The techniques differ, but the goal remains the same: power over principle, victory at any price, the sacrifice of integrity and the electoral process for “the greater good.”

To argue which side does it more — or uses the more despicable tactics — is not only irrelevant, but ultimately unethical itself — by seeking to say that “the other side is worse” is to give tacit endorsement to one’s own side.

Vote fraud ought to be a truly non-partisan issue. Everyone has a stake in the elections, and we should all do all we can to root out and eliminate it as best we can. And those who want to turn it into a partisan issue are almost as dangerous to our Democratic Republic as those who commit the fraud.

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