exercises in compound storytelling

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

phone polls and second messages

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...Image via WikipediaMy wife still has a land line at her house; I do everything via my cell phone. A couple of weeks ago she got a call from the New Mexico Democratic Party and said she was an undecided voter. Subsequently she got a call from the Republican party (which I already mentioned), a visit from a canvasser wearing an Obama sticker, and last night another phone call asking if she were still undecided. I fielded this call, just like I do most of the calls during the dinner hour.

We've also encountered a voter registration table at our local library. I might gently suggest that it was manned by Obama supporters, not just because in Santa Fe the Greens outnumber the Republicans, but also because as I spoke to the women manning the table they touched on what appears to be the "second message" of the local Democrats: vote early.

Last night's caller was calling explicitly on behalf of the Obama campaign (why not on behalf of the New Mexico Democratic Party? I wouldn't dare guess) but he wanted to know if she's still an undecided voter and he wanted to remind her that she could vote early.

I'm puzzled by this, because I still believe that the best way to get my vote counted is to vote on election day and make it indistinguishable from thousands of others: early voting puts my vote in a small stream of paper coming into the appropriate office and puts it in the custody of someone I don't know. Perhaps I'm being cynical, but suspect there's as much incentive for one party or the other to cheat this year as any other.

The woman at the library suggested that early votes are in fact safer than election day votes, suggesting that all the voting machines had somehow been fixed to guarantee that one side or the other will win. While I realize this is a possibility, and I've seen the crucial scenes of one of the anti-voting-machine documentaries (Stealing America? I don't exactly recall.), I didn't find that it suggested anything new or unusual: ballots are always in the custody of elections officials, and they're always susceptible to tampering. Paper trails have the problem that either they compromise the secrecy of the ballot or they can be tainted.

All that being said, I don't blame the Obama campiagn workers for suggesting that people vote early: if I were a candidate I'd want to lock in as many votes as possible as soon as possible, to avoid any possibility that a late gaffe would cost me the election. That's called "pressing an advantage," and it's perfectly legitimate. I just don't buy the idea that early votes are better for the voter than those cast on election day.

For the record: I'm registered DTS (no party), and I have no land line.

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