Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Vote Letter

Today is the first Tuesday in November, also known as election day.  We learn from a very young age that the right to vote is a very important right, and one that we should cherish.  People have fought for this right - they've fought hard, and it's something that shouldn't be taken for granted.
In 1870,  Congress passed the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that one could not be denied the right to vote, based on color or race.
In 1920, Congress passed the 23rd Amendment to the US Constitution, providing that one could not be denied the right to vote, based on sex.
Women  in Europe began to acquire the right to vote  in the early - mid 1900s,  but it didn't happen quickly, it didn't happen all at once.  Women in France couldn't vote until 1944; women in Switzerland couldn't vote until 1971.

Note that we are talking about the RIGHT to vote, not the OBLIGATION to vote.  For those who aren't clear on the distinction, an obligation is something you MUST do; a right is something you CAN do - but you don't have to do.

Over the past week or so, I've been seeing a growing number of reports of a letter being received by registered voters in a number of states.   For simplicity, I'll call it the Vote letter.  The last time I checked, some registered voters in at least parts of Virginia, North Carolina, New York and Alabama have received this letter.

In case you haven't heard about it, I'll explain.  The Vote letter tells the recipient that their voting record is public.  In some cases, the letter even lists the voting history of the recipient.  But it's not the history of their actual votes, merely the history of when they appeared at a polling location and either received/turned in a ballot, or completed a transaction at a polling machine, or submitted an absentee voter ballot.

So what? you say.  And you're right.  I think that most of us are aware that whether or not we show up to vote is public record.  The letter isn't saying anything that hasn't been true for many years.

The letter then goes on to say something to the effect of  'If you don't vote, we'd like to know why.'

Again, so what?  I would expect that every single politician would like to know why people who didn't vote.. didn't vote.  Over the years, laws have been put in place requiring employers to give employees time off to vote, and I would imagine we're all in support of the programs that provide transportation to those who have transportation issues.  The only reason why those laws and programs are in effect, is because someone figured out that some people who wanted to vote, weren't able to get to the polling areas because of their work schedule, and some people who wanted to vote had transportation or mobility issues and needed assistance to get to the polls.

So there's nothing wrong with the Vote letter.


The tone of the Vote letter could be viewed as somewhat threatening, especially if you didn't realize that anyone could find out who voted.  Perhaps whoever wrote the letter should have said something like - 'as everyone knows, cities and towns keep records of who votes.'  Maybe the letter should have emphasized that HOW you vote, is private. Maybe the letter should have said 'if you don't vote but you would like to, we'd like to know why'.  It could even say something like - 'we would like to encourage everyone to vote, and if you choose not to vote, we would be interested in hearing why you made that choice'.

I always show up on election day -- that's no secret, you can check the town records.  I show up, not because I have to, but because I want to.  But I'll be honest with you, I don't always vote for every office or position that is on the ballot; I don't always vote on every issue that is on the ballot.  There are a variety of reasons -- but none of them matter here.  For that matter, the fact that I show up doesn't matter; the right to vote includes the right to not vote.

Having said that, I like the idea of political parties and other entities encouraging people to vote.  But come on, you have to be smart about it.  I'm no happier with the idea of people showing up out of fear, than I am with the idea of people staying away from the polls out of fear.  What could/should have been a positive, educational, encouraging communication, has ended up sounding like a threat.  I'm even seeing reports of people announcing that - although they were going to vote, now they're not going to.... Although I fail to see whatever point they're trying to make.

No, this is not a case of Big Brother watching you, it's just a matter of poor choice of words.

I hope you either voted today, or you made a specific decision to not vote.   You don't have to exercise your right to vote, but I hope you appreciate your right to vote.

And of course you don't have to drink tea.  But if you don't mind, I will.