Saturday, October 11, 2008

Faust, Pandora, John McCain and us

I watched last night as John McCain publicly confronted the hatred unleashed by his campaign. He seemedly like a solitary, tragic figure trying to hold back a flood.

And it was tragic — not just for him and his beleaguered, conflicted campaign but for us.

Isn’t this the stuff of the Greek legend of Pandora and the tragedy of Faust?

Pandora’s box, once opened, loosed upon the world the furies of evil. Sarah Palin doesn’t fit the role of Pandora in the legend, but certainly her elevation to vice presidential candidate has opened a box of anger, racism, hypocrisy, deceit, ignorance and lust for power at any cost.

In these times, it may help us to know that Pandora managed to close the box at last and save a single human quality — hope.

In the medieval version of the Faust legend made famous by Christopher Marlowe’s play, Faust forms his infamous compact with the devil and in so doing condemns himself. At one point, a good and evil angel battle for Faust’s soul. Each vies to win him over, but he is too far gone to save himself.

Cut to a Faustian McCain, pacing on stage, surrounded by angry, agitated, hateful supporters. Clutching the microphone, a magical wand of power if wisely used, McCain clenches his teeth and brings himself to describe his opponent, not as a terrorist or evil incarnate, but as a good and admirable man.

No longer is Barack Obama an objectified alien, the “that one” of the last debate.

But the furies in the crowd have none of it. They will not return to the box. They boo and hiss McCain’s attempts to contain their gall.

As detached viewers, we witness McCain, a seemingly decent, though deeply flawed, man, and wonder whether he can save his soul and those of his supporters, even if he and they lose this election — and especially if they win.

It makes for remarkable theater, but politics is not the stage the media have made it seem. It is not a performance to witness. It is not “other;” it is us.

It defines and informs who we are. It is our mirror, our window, our door and even our path.

With our own good and evil angels on our shoulders, we are linked to John McCain, and we must ask whether we can save ourselves.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

The final word (I hope) on voter registration SNAFUs

It's been a long day of chasing down the story about folks who get registered without using their driver's license numbers (or DMV IDs). See my earlier posts over the last four days.

Tim Scott, the Multnomah County elections supervisor, got right back to me after I left a phone message seeking clarification. (Thanks, Tim.)

The bottom line is that to comply with HAVA, the "Help America Vote Act of 2002", you MUST provide your driver's license number if you have one. (If you don't have one or a DMV ID, use the last four digits of your social security number).

If you haven't provided the proper HAVA verification, the elections office will notify you that while you can vote and will receive a ballot, the federal portion of your ballot won't be counted until you provide your driver's license number or DMV ID number.

You have until 8 p.m. on elections day to get the number to local elections officials.

So just how widespread is the problem (confusion?) about proper identification and verification? In September, 2800 letters were sent out to those who incorrectly registered in Multnomah County. (Tim said some forms provided no verifying information whatsoever) Seven hundred of those contacted responded with the necessary information. A new mailing will go out next week to reach 2900 whose registrations are incomplete.

While the numbers seem relatively small — 420,000 voters are registered in the county — in a close race (think of the U.S. Senate match-up), a small number could make a big difference.)

I hope this is the last post on this subject, but don't count on it.

We only come this way once. Let's get this election done right.

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New voter registrants: Driver's license number needed if you have one

I now have my answer regarding the voters I registered who didn’t have their driver’s license numbers with them. You will recall from earlier posts that I jumped immediately to having them provide the last four digits of their social security number for verification.

As it turns out, relying on social security information is causing havoc with voter registration here and elsewhere. See today’s New York Times story.

Don Hamilton is an old friend and is now in charge of media for the Oregon Secretary of State, who oversees elections. Don says that if a would-be voter has a driver’s license, its number MUST be provided. The last four digits of the social security number won’t do as a substitute.

So what about all those people (there must be 10 to 15 of them) whom I registered with only the social security numbers, even though they had (but left at home) their driver’s licenses?

Hamilton says not to worry; they will be notified by mail (they provided their addresses on the forms) and asked to provide the missing DL information. The requests, he assured me, will go out in time for them to respond, be registered and receive the ballots.

I’m relieved. I just hope he’s right.

So am I the only one confused by the instructions on the registration form?

Hamilton didn’t know. I was the only volunteer registrar he’d heard from. To find out if incorrectly filled out forms are a common problem, I’ve put out a call to Tim Scott at the Multnomah Elections Office. Given that this must be a crazy time for him, I doubt I’ll hear back from him soon.

I’ll let you know when and if I do.

Meanwhile, flaws in the process or not, registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by a remarkable 220,000 in the state, says Hamilton. That’s up from 166,000 a year ago.

And just think, that doesn’t even count those thrown into electoral limbo by my false interpretation of the fuzzy registration procedure. And yes, the large, large majority of those I’ve registered in our Hillsdale Farmers Market are indeed Democrats.

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Update on Voter Registration problem

I'm going to check with the Oregon Secretary of State's office today to get the official word on how would-be voters registering (or re-registering) with only their social security information are being treated. Are they being purged or allowed to go on the election rolls?

Stay tuned.

The links to my earlier posts on this issue are here and here. Today's New York Times story is here.

Meanwhile, our Red Electric Berlin correspondent, Lizi Zach, who has been registering Americans living in German, writes to report similar problems:

Just read the latest post on your blog - the same experience over here in registering voters, but greater in that we see Americans from all over the U.S. We use a thick book of instructions with voter registration forms from every state and the addresses of the voter registrars for every county in the U.S. What surprised me when I started this is, as you describe, the issue with the drivers licenses. Some forms imply that that is required to register, which is not true, obviously. You really do have to read the fine print. I was also stumped recently by a friend from Washington (Mike has lived in Berlin a little longer than I have) - he told me that on his form, it states that if he votes absentee in the general election, it disqualifies him from voting on local measures in Kirkland, where his parents and siblings live. He wants to vote on those measures because it affects his family and also he says he might return to live there some day. The form and restrictions were so confusing that he ended up calling his local registar office to get a straight answer. He was told his local voting rights wouldn't be affected, but had he not called, I would have ventured to guess, based on the form, that he would have been forfeiting his rights. I've become convinced these last few months of volunteering that the next big cause needs to be voter registration reform - to make the process more uniform. Even those of us who have been volunteering to register voters for weeks now are confused by the rules - how, then, can we expect Joe Sixpack (sorry, couldn't resist) to figure out what is allowed and what not.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

New Oregon voters may be disenfranchised by flawed registration procedure

The New York Times is reporting on exactly the voter registration problem I wrote about here the other day.

In a story running Thursday, the Times says a flawed registration procedure relying on social security information is a problem in swing states, but, based on my own experience registering Oregon voters, I believe it is also a problem here.

If would-be registrants (or those re-registering to change their addresses) don't have their driver's license or driver's license number with them, the default seems to be to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Turns out the default is causing all kinds of problems because social security records aren't matching with new addresses, resulting in disqualifications.

The vague language on the Oregon registration form is likely causing the same kind of problems. I know it confused me as a volunteer registrar, until I had a heart to heart with the clerk at the Multnomah County Elections office. Now I am not using the Social Security default with people I register who don't have their driver's license numbers with them. Instead, I'm sending them home with blank forms to fill out when they can include the license numbers.

Meanwhile, I strongly urge those who have registered or re-registered recently to check to make sure their new registrations are valid. The number to call in Multnomah County is (503) 988-3720. To check on-line to see whether you are registered go here.

Spread the word!

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Palin pick sorely missing from debate

As I listened to John McCain sounding more or less presidential in tonight's debate, I wondered how on earth this guy, who proclaims his devotion to this country, could have chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate?

Why didn't someone among the panel of undecided voters call him his choice. Ask him how he squares the value he places on his own depth of experience with his politically driven but dangerous choice of the grossly inexperienced. cartoonish Palin.

And why didn't Obama invoke the name of Joe Biden as a tacit reminder of McCain's recklessness?

In this campaign, the wildly different choices of vice presidential candidates should be made exhibit A in any debate. The contrast says volumes about who has a "firm hand on the tiller, " as McCain put it, and who has the wisdom to do what is best for this country.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Vulnerable Voting

In their desperation, McCain and Palin are following the Karl Rove playbook of turning to fear, smear and lies.

If, as the economy crumbles around them, they are left to hammer away at Obama’s passing relationship to a reformed ‘60s radical, what else might their campaign be prepared to do to seize power?

The obvious answer is the proven Rovian ace-in-the-hole of rigging the election results.

Listening to the latest raving of Palin and McCain got me to sit down with Black Box Voting’s “Tool Kit 2008, “ a little 72-page booklet that tells how we can help ensure a fair election. Many of the problems cited in the Tool Kit don’t apply in Oregon because of our mail-in voting.

Then again, just enough do to give me the creeps.

And then, of course, even if Oregon can conduct a clean election, what we do here doesn’t matter if other states scam the results. Significantly, the book lists several “swing states” that also happen to be “problem states” when it comes to voting irregularities and abuses.

Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire and Indiana are notable among them.

Here in Oregon, our own Multnomah County is singled out as a “watch county.”

As it turns out, I’ve been registering voters in Multnomah County at our Hillsdale Farmers Market. Over the past four weeks we have registered more than 100 and sent dozens of others off with registration forms to be filled out later or by others.

Most of those we have registered have actually re-registered, having changed addresses since the last election. That said, quite a few are new to the state. One couple from California didn’t know that they don’t report to a polling place on election day, that the ballots are mailed.

The spooky part of our experience is that even the seemingly simple registration process can get murky.

For instance, the registration form asks for a driver’s license number as a form of verification. At the market this past Sunday, someone raised the question about what they should do if they left their driver’s license at home. I cited the form, which states that if the registrant has no driver’s license they should mark a box stating that. Instead they should use the last four digits of their social security number.

But that doesn’t precisely address the situation of the person who HAS a driver’s license but simply doesn’t have it (and hence the number) with them.

I replied that I’d check with the elections office but directed the person to provide the last four digits of the social security number and simply not blacken the box indicating that they don’t have a driver’s license.

When I turned in the forms today at the elections office, the clerk said they preferred that the person take the form home and fill in the driver’s license number.


Nothing in the directions to amateur registrars indicates this “preference.”

So, somewhat unnerved, I asked, what about those who filled out the form using the SS# because they didn’t have their driver’s license with them?

I was assured they’d be OK.

After reading the “Tool Kit” and the various ways elections administrators screw up registrations, I have my doubts.

Any Oregonian reading this might sleep better tonight after a visit to the Secretary of State’s web site to check on your status.

After you’ve done that, you can make yourself wobbly again by going here to look at Black Box Voting’s 2008 Tool Kit.

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