Friday, October 29, 2010

Early Voting

Two years ago, Marc Fisher, who used to write a regular Metro column in The Washington Post, wrote an interesting commentary about the dark underbelly of the world of early voting.  What's that?  You hadn't known that there was a seedy side of early voting town?  That's because you've probably only seen the sunny promotion materials coming from the early voting board of tourism (unrelated but true fact about that board's members: they tend to stretch their metaphors to the breaking point).

I first read that column several days after voting two weeks early in the 2008 election, and I remember feeling that Fisher had it totally wrong in his contention that early voting was ultimately detrimental to the cause of a representative democracy.  As a columnist, he regularly made the contrarian argument -- sometimes because he was expressing his honest opinion and other times simply to stir up some needed debate within the metro area -- and on this particular column, I felt like he pressed the case for the latter reason.  Granted, Fisher took great pleasure in discussing his negative view of dogs; still, how could anybody really be against even the general concept of early voting? 

(As a quick aside, his hope that Maryland voters would refuse the temptation of early voting in their state proved to be every bit as unlikely as he undoubtedly understood: the measure passed with more than 70% support.  The 2010 election is the state's unveiling of the new option.)

But I soon came to believe that the man was right.  Days after it was published, incumbent Senator Elizabeth Dole released a series of the most ridiculous and desperate negative campaign ads I've ever seen in which she accused her challenger and eventual successor, Kay Hagan, of being "godless."  This came a week or so after I'd already voted, and my initial reaction as it related to my vote was a sense of relief that I hadn't chosen to support Dole.  My next thought was to wonder how many early voters who had cast their ballots for Dole -- citizens whose support of Dole had been shaky or independent voters who may have been on the fence until marking their ballots -- suddenly regretted their vote because of that ad campaign.

My third thought was along the lines of, "Hm, Fisher might have made one good point, at least."  He still hadn't won me over to side, but...

What finally changed my mind was Election Day itself.  I felt no excitement nor any pride as a participating citizen, and that was in stark contrast to my usual attitude about Election Days past.  I missed my ritual of arriving at the polling station early with a cup of coffee to stand amid a small to medium sized crowd of fellow voters, most of whom seemed just as elated to fulfill their roles and do their duty (I fear that I may be starting to sound a bit like Binx Bolling here: "I am a model tenant and a model citizen and take pleasure in doing all that is expected of me.”).  Instead, I went straight to the office that morning, went straight home that evening, and felt a tremendous sense of letdown, despite (or possibly, to some degree, in reaction to) the excitement of some around me and even in the face of most polls that indicated most of my candidates were going to win.

And again, I couldn't help thinking back to the Fisher piece.  I'd already been surprised to discover that he'd made what turned out to be a nearly prescient argument that two different voters in the same precinct in the same election -- one voting early, the other on Election Day -- can be said to have voted in election environments made so completely different by intervening events as to nearly suggest that they actually participated to two entirely different elections.  The Elizabeth Dole ad controversy may not have risen to quite that level, but the point had been made for me.  And now, I'd realized that he'd also been right about the possibility of further loss of community that can result from early voting.

Whether those arguments outweigh the benefits, especially the suggestion that early voting can allow more people to vote -- although there has been at least one well-researched study that has found the opposite to be true -- can still be debated, but I switched sides in that debate back in 2008 (doing so after my Election Day but likely before your Election Day).  I even wrote to Fisher a week or two after the election to thank him for putting the issue on my radar so that I'd been better prepared to consider the matter as I reacted to the Dole ad and my feelings of let-down come the election and as I stopped to wonder what it all meant.


So what did I do on this fine autumn morning for which I've taken off work?  I just voted in the 2010 election, four days before official Election Day.  At this point, Fisher almost certainly doesn't want me on his side of the debate any longer now that I've shown myself to be such a lying, hypocritical s.o.b.  But, in my defense, I have some very important appointments next Tuesday, among them a meeting with someone to discuss housecleaning services: I had to prioritize!

I got to the Board of Elections office 20 minutes early, coffee in hand, and waited with a group of nearly 100 people and a slew of election volunteers, nearly all of us in great moods and not the least bit upset at having to wait on line for something so important and exciting.  Now I just have to hope that I don't find out in the next four days that my vote for Candidate X went to support a Lincolnesque figure who's sold poison milk to school children.  And I'll just have to see how I feel come election Day.

But now that I've admitted to going back on my word concerning early voting, I'll revisit a near-threat I made last month regarding this election's race for Richard Burr's U.S. Senate seat.  In a blog post from five weeks ago, I'd expressed tremendous disappointment with Democratic candidate Elaine Marshall's refusal to take a position on the so-called Ground Zero mosque controversy and wrote that I would likely not give her my vote as a result.  True to form, I failed to live up to my word.  At this point, it's anybody's guess what dastardly effect my treachery might next take.

But back on the matter of Marshall's invisible stand on the mosque controversy.  Her argument that the issue was local for NYC and therefore of no concern for North Carolinians would have been the proper tack four to six months ago, but the debate has since evolved well beyond local zoning issues and has grown (ridiculously, I'll grant) into a national debate which centers on tolerance and some of the basic freedoms most of us thought had been secured 219 years ago.  Refusing to enter into that debate should not be an option for a serious candidate for such a high office, so Marshall's decision to go that route was deeply disappointing.

However, with the benefit of additional time to consider the matter (were he reading this, Marc Fisher would now be saying aloud, "Aha!!"), I decided to give Marshall my support despite my frustration over her refusal to speak up for what is right.  It seems that there is too much at stake right now, and while Marshall appears to have little chance go unseating Burr, I realized that a protest vote for Michael Beitler or a refusal to cast a vote for any candidate in that race ultimately amounted to a vote for Burr, and I just could not do that.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Teachable Moment Regarding Irony

This story on how CNN anchor Rick Sanchez managed to get himself fired today following a radio interview he gave this morning is nearly killing me, it's so good.  In addition to the pathetic hilarity, there is the fact that this represents a true teachable moment for Farkers (since they're the ones who put me onto the story this evening), specifically those who for years have proven unable to understand the meaning of irony.

Really, how much more ironic can you get than this?  Sanchez goes on a radio show to complain about Stewart & Colbert making fun of him.  And why do they make fun of him?  Because they say he's a dimwit.  But in defending himself, he says such unbelievably stupid things (not to mention hateful & hurtful) that he gets himself fired for being so incredibly dimwitted.  Irony seldom reaches this level of perfection.