Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Day Democracy Died

This morning, while standing in line at the post office, I reduced an American woman to tears, and destroyed her faith in the democratic option of Absentee voting.

She had come to the post office in a panic, afraid that if she mailed her Absentee ballot today, it would not arrive in time for the American Presidential elections on November 4th. She had just spoken to the teller and decided to mail her ballot Express, in the vain hope - and considering how the current set of Jewish holidays slows down all the mail - that it would reach its destination within a week.

I politely tapped her on the shoulder and gave her a brief but succinct lesson in political science (may major in college); I spoke about the blue states and the red states, about the fact that Absentee ballots can arrive within a week after the election takes place officially, about the fact that these votes are only counted when the results are too close to call. I didn't even get into a discussion of the Electoral Colllege. I further pointed out that the both of us being absentee voters in Massachusetts, we could vote for G-d himself on the ballot and Barack Obama would still take the state.

She stamped her feet, shook her head violently, and tears welled up in her eyes. She started shouting idealistic statements like, "but I filled out all the boxes," and "you don't know what you are talking about," and "my vote counts, I know it does!" She called me a liar and refused to accept that all I was trying to do was save her some postage, as I stood there holding in my incredulous laughter.

This woman did indeed mail her ballot first class, Express mail, and firmly believes that her vote will make the difference in the American Presidential elections.

She also firmly maintains that I am mean and stupid and am the Judas of Democracy and all that is good in the world. Whatever helps her get through the day, though I personally hope that the results of the elections for Mayor of Jerusalem on November 11 have a better result than the American elections, with Nir Barkat coming out on top.


Asher said...

For those people who live in purple states, have close Congressional races, or just feel like spending extra money, FedEx is offering "special" rates to send ballots

Personally, I think that the $23.50 for sending a ballot from Israel could be better spent.

DYS said...

What about the statewide races? Can absentee nonresident voters still vote in them? In that case, her vote still counts. Don't forget that congress is still 2/3 of the American gov't, despite the focus on the presidency.

Doc said...

I used to be an idealistic believer in the principles of Democracy, until I worked in the United Nations, and realized that politics is dirty on every level. Some less and some more, but the average voter has much less say than we would wish. I did actually vote absentee this year, more for the Senatorial and Congressional races, but have very little hopes for the Presidential race.

Amy Charles said...

Actually, you were mean and stupid and the Judas of democracy, and you've been out of the country a while. And a polisci major does not a practical politician make. We have enough trouble with people shrugging and giving up on voting. Put more simply, you did a bad and uninformed thing. Please don't do it again.

I am speaking here as a former Congressional staffer in a large state and a caucuser in Iowa. Absentee ballots are in fact big political business, and not just in races that are close. Winners like to show mandates, and they'll count every vote they can to show one (sometimes twice). Enormous effort and money goes into absentee-vote recruitment, particularly on the Dem side, because Dem voters tend to be flaky about actually making it to the polls on voting day.

Is there a guarantee that a particular vote will count? In practice, no. And "no" generally has more to do with volunteer ineptitude than with scheming and backroom dealing. On the whole, though, the votes count.

DYS is also correct in saying that the local votes count. Not only that, the state-govt and local-govt votes count and are extremely important. State business, even local business, is big business.

Yes, politics is dirty. But a polity also relies on the belief that things can be other than corrupt. When people stop voting, when they shrug and say "they're all crooks" and give up, things get much worse. Compare Rhode Island and Iowa in that regard.