Speling Countz

Well, the recount in Alaska for the Senate seat currently held by Lisa Murkowski (kinda-Republican) is going on, and there’s a bit of a fight about how lenient to be about how the voters spell her name. Murkowski’s supporters say that if it’s obvious that the voter intended to vote for her, misspelled variants of her name should be counted. Supporters of Joe Miller (the official Republican nominee, who clobbered Murkowski in the GOP primary) say that if it doesn’t say “Lisa Murkowski” spelled precisely, then toss it.

Nitpicking, fussy, and downright anal. But legally solid.

Some time ago, Alaska formalized its rules for write-in candidates. Just having your name written on the ballots isn’t enough in the Last Frontier; the candidate has to file with the state, and the name on the ballot has to match the name written in precisely. If I were to run as a write-in in Alaska under my nom de blog, votes for “Jay Tee” or “JayTea” would not count.

That’s the law. And under the Constitution, the states have the rights to set the rules for their own elections. The federal government can intervene if the way they run their elections violates the Constitution (such as depriving women of the right to vote, or disallowing people from being on the ballot based on race, or some such), but otherwise what the state says goes.

Murkowski knew what the law said. It’s obvious that she took that into account during her campaign for re-election. Several of her ads emphasized how to properly spell her name. She gave out bracelets and other knickknacks with her name spelled out on them. And, in an utterly unprecedented move, she got a judge (appointed by her late father) to order the state to hand out lists of write-in candidates at the polls, spelled properly and everything.

But some people just can’t spell properly. Or they have messy handwriting. (Guilty on that one — my standard line is “I almost made it into med school on a handwriting scholarship.”) Shouldn’t their votes be counted? Aren’t they being disenfranchised?

In a word, no. They chose to disenfranchise themselves.

Voting is a very important and very serious thing. And you have to take that seriously.

There’s a common bumper sticker I’ve seen many a time. “STUPID PEOPLE SHOULDN’T BREED.” Likewise, stupid people shouldn’t vote.

No, I’m not saying “stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to vote. I’m saying that people who don’t know or care enough about what they’re voting for, then they should exercise a certain amount of self-restraint and not vote.

When I was in college, I was part of student government. On a few occasions, I chastised my peers for abstaining from voting on a matter because they didn’t understand it. I told them that it was their job to understand and vote, or they were ripping off the people who’d elected them.

And yeah, a couple of times I did just that. In my defense, I was ashamed of those times, and still am.

But that’s an elected representative, someone who’s chosen to seek that office. There’s no such burden on a voter. There’s no shame (well, damned little) in admitting that you don’t know enough about a candidate or an issue, and stay silent. I’ve done that, too — some elections, I leave certain races blank because I simply don’t know enough (OK, anything) about the candidates.

In Alaska, the state has chosen to regulate how to deal with write-in candidates. In this case, the state has practically bent over backwards to assist those candidates and those voters who wish to vote for them.

If a Murkowski supporter can’t be bothered to memorize how to spell her name before going to the polls, write it down on a piece of paper, clip it out of an article or an ad using her name, or even copy it, letter for letter, off the piece of paper they were given with their ballot, then screw them. They don’t care enough about their vote to get it right, then it shouldn’t count.

Perhaps the Alaskan law goes too far. Perhaps it needs to be amended to allow for misspellings, and open up the whole can of worms of deciphering the intent of an anonymous voter from the cryptic scribbles they chose to invest the full power of their ballot into.

I don’t think so, but my opinion’s irrelevant. I’m not an Alaskan. I’m a couple of thousand miles from Alaska. (But I share a climate that’s a hell of a lot closer to Alaska’s than most other states, for what that’s worth.) And thanks to the Constitution (Article I, Section 4 — “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”), it’s their elections and their rules. Congress has NEVER even come close to exercising their theoretical right to micromanage elections to this degree, and should not.

It’s worth noting that Senator Murkowski didn’t think of questioning this law until she realized that for once, Daddy’s name was going to be a hindrance instead of a benefit.

I happen to dislike Senator Murkowski, and hope she loses this race. (That doesn’t look real likely at this point, but hope springs eternal.) But setting my prejudice aside, my policy is to side with the law: it says the ballot has to have her name spelled right, or the vote goes into the trash. And that is the principle that should prevail in this case.

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