Monday, March 10, 2008

Michigan Do-over, the Reason for the Mayhem

The weekend's networks news reports were all about "disenfranchised voters" in Florida and Michigan. There was little historical analysis; but there was plenty of speculation about how to "fix" the situation.

I think that any attempt to fix things will be like trying to keep finishing cement once it's set. you have a window of time to work it, and after that you're just messing it up. The focus has been on who would pay for a do-over, but I think there are much bigger logistical problems. How would you schedule another election? Our local polling place is Leland School's Performing Arts Center. The PAC is in almost constant use in May and June hosting the school musical, awards convocations, graduation events, choir concerts and rehearsals. To hold an election elsewhere means a separate mailing to announce the new location. It takes lead time to prepare ballots and to get absentee ballots out to voters.

Who would be eligible to vote in a Democratic do-over? Now that the Republican candidate has been decided, there will be Republican voters wanting to "crossover" and vote for the weakest Democratic candidate, just like some Democrats did back in January when a Democratic ticket offered only one choice.

I'm reminded of a Jack Lessenberry column, published back in November when it seemed that legal challenges would prevent Michigan from voting early. Lessenberry explained why both parties were so eager to hold this early primary with its archaic separate-ballot format:
Want outrage? This is how the Michigan primary was supposed to work. The state would pay $10 million or more to hold the election, but to the politicians, what really mattered was not who eventually wins.

What this really was about was using state money to create a gold mine of precious information for the parties. Voters in the primary would have to declare what party they wanted to play in, and the state would then make a list of them, sorted by party, name and addresses.

This list would then be kept secret ... from all of us.

But it would be turned over — for free — to the two political parties, who would not have to pay a dime for the expense of gathering it.

They would be able to use it for "supporting political activities." This means, in modern-day language, shaking down people for money. You might suppose, however, that any other citizen could get a copy of that list too.

Legally, how could it be otherwise? After all, taxpayer money paid for it.

You poor fools. How dare you think that the politicians want you to share in something they are spending your money on? Our job is only to fill their trough, and then stay the hell away while they eat. They made it illegal for anyone to have these lists — except them!
The parties got what they wanted -- priceless information -- and now they want the state to pay to "fix" the resulting mess.

I'm reading Bill Bradley's The New American Story. Bradley left politics after his 2000 presidential bid because he felt that the modern process demanded that candidates put the needs of their constituents a distant second behind the need for constant fundraising. Michigan's political parties (both of them) went further yet, presuming that the winners had already been decided, and changing the primary process to suit the needs of the fundraisers. The voters were disenfranchised from the beginning.

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