A Plague Of Disillusionment

Fellow blogger Elroy Jones has a piece out today about being deceived — in this case, by President Obama.  She voted for him twice, and she’s feeling bamboozled.

I wonder how many other supporters of President Obama are feeling a similar, profound disillusionment.  I know many people — including members of my immediate family — voted for the President with great excitement because they expected a lot from him.  In fact, they expected a President who would realize dramatic change, turn around the world’s perception of our country, and achieve historic greatness.  In my view, at least, that hasn’t happened.

What must be even more galling is that many of the people who voted for President Obama did so largely because they wanted to reverse course from the Bush years.  That hasn’t happened, either.  More and more, it has developed that President Obama has adhered to the security policies established by the Bush Administration and, in some cases, expanded and amplified them.

When people criticize actions like the NSA’s routine collection of reams of data about ordinary Americans, and the Obama Administration’s defense is that the programs were begun under the Bush Administration, how is that received by Obama voters who hoped for change?  Do they suddenly develop a deeper respect for the policies of President George W. Bush, or do they scratch their heads and wonder why they voted for a guy who promised so much and seems to have delivered so little?

Secession Silliness And Voter Disinterest

The BBC reports that more than 100,000 Americans have posted petitions asking to secede from the union to a White House website.  The petitions apparently quote the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of when it “becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” and cite “blatant abuses” of citizen rights such as overly intrusive screening by the Transportation Security Administration.  The most popular petition, from Texas, has attracted more than 25,000 signatures.

I suppose the would-be secessionists recognize they can’t really secede — hundreds of thousands died in a bloody Civil War to establish that principle — and are merely hoping to make some kind of symbolic statement.  But for what purpose?  Saying that you want to secede because your candidate lost is as stupid and mindless as dim-witted celebrities like Cher threatening to leave the country if the Republican candidate wins.  In both cases, the sentiment expressed just reflects negatively on the speakers as juvenile sore losers who want to take their ball and go home.  What rational American is going to be persuaded by a petition that posits that overly aggressive TSA pat-downs justify secession from the United States?

Rather than submitting silly and counterproductive petitions, people who take their politics seriously would do well to consider the fact that voter turnout fell sharply from 2008 to 2012 and determine why that occurred.  I think the answer is simple:  Americans turned out to vote for change in 2008 and turned out again to vote for change in 2010 — and no change occurred.  They watched an endless Republican primary season that blended into an endless campaign.  They suffered through a barrage of negative ads and outright demonization and distortion of the opposing candidates, and they decided they had had enough and just weren’t going to waste their time any more in a process that seems to occupy huge amounts of time, attention, and money without achieving anything.

Thirteen million fewer Americans voted in 2012 than in 2008 — and voter turnoff affected both candidates.  President Obama won, but he received almost 10 million fewer votes in 2012 than in 2008 — and in fact received fewer votes in 2012 than John McCain received in 2008.

If our political leaders of both parties don’t figure out how to work together to address our looming problems, and we see only more years of pointless partisan bickering, don’t be surprised if the 2014 and 2016 turnouts continue the downward trend.  Americans not only won’t vote, they won’t care.

Enjoying Americana, And Savoring The Voting Experience

Even though my candidate of choice didn’t prevail yesterday, voting always makes me feel good — about myself, but especially about my country.  There is something deeply moving and profound, quiet but enormous, reaffirming and empowering, about going to the polls on Election Day and casting your ballot in this huge and diverse nation where we manage to settle disagreements by elections, not roadside bombs or terrorist attacks.

When I woke up this morning, I still felt good about our election.  On my walk through our quiet neighborhood, I wanted to listen to music that expresses, to my mind at least, a little bit of that uplifting mixture of emotions that I feel when I vote.  I donned my iPod and thumbed to my Americana playlist, which is a compilation of songs of every different category and classification, linked together only because they all — through message, or genre, or context, or something else — seem quintessentially American to me.  I listened as the dogs and I strolled along this morning, savoring an eclectic mix of music that reflects the broad, sweeping nature of this land and its people, and counted myself lucky that I was born an American.

The first 20 songs on my Americana playlist are:

Ashokan Farewell   (The Civil War soundtrack)
Sweet Georgia Brown    (Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli)
Air Mail Special    (Benny Goodman And His Orchestra)
Over The Rainbow    (Judy Garland, The Wizard Of Oz Soundtrack)
Polly Wolly Doodle   (Leon Redbone)
Dipper Mouth Blues    (Arturo Sandoval)
My Girl    (The Temptations )
Someone To Watch Over Me    (Frank Sinatra)
No More    (The Blind Boys Of Alabama)
Dig My Grave Both Long And Narrow (Amasong)
Summertime    (Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong)
Blowin’ In The Wind    (Bob Dylan)
Goodnight Louise    (Boz Scaggs)
When The Saints Go Marching In    (Dr. John)
50,000 Names    (George Jones)
Anything Goes    (Helen Merrill)
Calling My Children Home    (Emmylou Harris)
Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) (Natalie Cole, Live)
They’re Red Hot    (Robert Johnson)
The Cascades    (Scott Joplin)

Ohio Goes To The Polls

I arrived at the New Albany, Ohio church where we vote a few minutes before 6:30, when the the polls officially opened.  I walked past the American flags and the signs marking the outer boundary for any campaigning, but there were no campaign workers or pamphleteers to be seen.

The parking lot was already almost full and more than 100 people were waiting in line, stamping their feet against the below-freezing temperatures on a bright, clear morning.  It was the largest crowd I’ve seen at my polling place in New Albany.  Some people said they had tried to vote early, but the polling stations were just too crowded.

We waited patiently to get inside, found the correct alphabetical lines for our last names, and waited again.  We chatted about how glad we were that the campaign was finally ending and watched the “Youth at the Booth” kids working to get the voting machines up and running.  The line moved slowly up to the registration table, where we received our vote authorization slips and then we moved to another line for the voting machines.  From beginning to end, the wait was about 45 minutes — well worth it for the opportunity to exercise our most important civic right and duty.

When I left, one of the kids gave me my “I [heart/Ohio] Voting” sticker.  I got in my car, turned on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and resolved not to listen to any pundits on my drive in to work.

A Song For The Blue-Haired Ladies At My Polling Place

Every Election Day, the same blue-haired ladies staff the registration tables at our precinct.  They’re as much a part of the voting experience as the “I Voted Today” stickers.  In their honor I wrote this song, sung to the tune of Lady of Spain:

Blue-Haired Ladies
We see you again, blue-haired ladies,
We see you, this Election Day;
For campaigns have ended, and it’s time to vote
With you whose hair once was gray
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu
What do you all do, we wonder
When your Election Day work is done
For you never grow older or bluer
Can you suspend animation?
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu
You’re always here when we arrive,
Though we’ve voted here for years long since;
We don’t know what a vote would be like
Without the blue in your rinse
We’ll tell you our names, and you’ll check them
While your hair shines that bright blue;
Then the book we’ll sign and go stand in line
And ’til next year we’ll bid you adieu

As We Reach The Finish Line, Time To Get Out And Vote!

To every American — Democrat, Republican, or Independent, Romney supporters or Obama boosters, male or female, Red Stater or Blue Stater, regardless of your ethnic or demographic group — here’s your chance to ignore the media, the polls, the pundits, the yammering talking heads, and the incessant horse race prognostications that we’ve been hearing for months.

Today, on Election Day, let your voice be heard!  Exercise the most important right we have!  Confirm that you care about your country enough to go to your local polling place if you haven’t voted already, spend however long it takes to wait in line with your fellow citizens, give your information to the blue-haired ladies behind the registration table, and push the screen, pull the levers, or fill out the ballot for the candidates of your choice.

I’ve got my preferences in this election, as we all do — but I also think we would all be much better off if more Americans were involved the process, paying attention, and holding our political leaders of both parties accountable for the course of our country.  The first step toward doing that is to vote.  — and that’s what I’m going to be doing today when the polls open here in Ohio at 6:30 a.m.

A Modest Proposal From Ohio

An Ohioan’s vote is worth more than a Californian’s, or a Mississipian’s, or a Rhode Islander’s.  The objective facts prove it.  Every presidential election, the candidates visit daily and their campaigns spend like drunken sailors trying to win our vote.  In the Other America, the campaigns aren’t spending bupkis.

Ohio isn’t just the Mother of Presidents, it’s the Chooser of Presidents.  We’re the swingingest of the “Swing States” — the Don Draper on that blue field of 50 stars.  Every presidential election, we tip the balance.  We know it, you know it, and the candidates know it.

So . . . why not let us capitalize on it?  After all, capitalism is the American Way.  Our Ohio votes are like rich mineral rights or another valuable form of property.  We therefore propose that any Ohio citizen who wishes to do so be allowed to sell their suffrage.  The Ohio Secretary of State would establish an eBay-like website where willing Ohio voters would auction the ability to determine the presidential vote on their early voting ballot to the highest bidder during the bidding period.  Some voters won’t want to participate.  Others will want to sell early and get whatever they can for their previously inalienable right.  Still others will want to hold out until the end, taking the risk that their vote might be worth a lot more — or, if the election is by then in the bag for one candidate or another, worth nothing at all.  All sales would be final and the ballots completed according to the terms of the sale and certified as such by the Secretary of State.

Many strong public policy considerations support this modest proposal.

First, this proposal would teach every American that voting has value.  Americans who live in those boring states where the outcomes of elections are foregone conclusions can, for once, know the heady rush of participating in an election where their specially acquired vote will count and might actually be decisive.  We Ohioans are proud people, but we generously are willing to peddle our franchises and allow our fellow Americans to have that experience — for a price.

Second, this proposal would introduce more certainty in the process.  Ardent supporters of candidates who happen to live in other states will no longer need to fret about which way Ohio is heading, or try to make sense of competing polling data.  Instead, they can just visit the Secretary of State website, check out the “votes for sale” section, and get a running tabulation of the current sold vote totals.

Third, this proposal would eliminate the unseemly spectacle of candidates flipping burgers, bagging groceries, and engaging in other demeaning conduct to win votes.  It would end the inefficient, indirect route of enticing votes, through vicious attack ads, cloying TV commercials, and paid campaign staff, and allow for more direct transactions between motivated buyers and willing sellers.  And, in the process, the reduction in negative ads and harsh mischaracterization of opposing positions might actually increase the chance for productive compromise after the election is over.

Fourth, this proposal would increase the percentage of Americans who actually vote.  In Ohio, the percentage of voters likely would approach 100 percent as even politically disinterested people decide to cash in on their votes.  The increased percentages would please those foreign observers who are monitoring our elections and are accustomed to the free elections in their country, where prevailing candidates routinely receive more than 95% of the vote.

Fifth, this proposal would provide a needed stimulus for Battleground Buckeyes and thereby help our economy.  Why should automakers, “green energy” companies, and asphalt manufacturers hog all the money?  Ohio voters who receive thousands of dollars for their swing votes will put that money right back into the marketplace.

Finally, voters in other states will look at the Ohio experience, see how much their vote can be worth, and perhaps reconsider their hard and fast, down-the-ballot support for one party or another.  New Yorkers, Texans, and South Carolinians might decide that there is value to listening to other viewpoints and letting their votes swing, every once in a while.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

On Early Voting In Ohio

In Ohio, early voting already is in full swing.  Voters here will have more than a month before Election Day to cast their ballots.  It’s one of the reasons why the Obama and Romney campaigns have been so active here recently, with visits from the candidates and their surrogates, lots of TV ads, and extensive “ground games” and door-knocking efforts.  (For an interesting Cleveland Plain Dealer article that attempts to assess the relative strength of the Romney and Obama “ground games” in Ohio, see here.)

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, in 2008, more than 1.7 million Ohioans cases either early “in person” ballots or traditional mail-in absentee ballots.  That’s about 30 percent of the 5.77 million votes cast overall in Ohio in 2008.  The conventional wisdom is that early voting favors Democratic candidates, because Democrats tend to have jobs that cause them to work odd hours.  (How would anyone test that little bit of CW, by the way?)  Given the size of the “early voting” bloc, is there any wonder that the campaigns are trying to make sure that they maintain a strong presence in Ohio throughout the early voting period, in hopes of catching wavering undecided voters who can be persuaded by the dedicated campaign volunteers at their doors to fill out and send in their ballots?

I like voting in person on Election Day.  It’s one of the true common communal experiences we have in our diverse and sprawling nation, and the quiet act of voting with my fellow citizens always makes me feel good about living in a democracy.  But I also think that early voting is curious, because it means that citizens are voting on the basis of different sets of information.  People who vote on October 7 obviously can’t consider what happens in the remaining month before Election Day.  What if there were some huge scandal, or game-changing incident during that intervening period?  Wouldn’t you want to wait until you have all of the relevant information before you cast your ballot?

This year, I wonder how many people have cast their ballots on the basis of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  If you’re President Obama, aren’t you hoping that early voters at least hold off until after the second debate, when you have a chance to improve upon your initial performance?

Voting In The Courts

More and more, it seems, every decision affecting voting ends up in the courts.  How are congressional districts configured?  How can people register?  Are petition signatures valid?  Should people have to show photo ID to vote?  Is ballot language unclear?  When can people vote?  Must the polls stay open late on Election Day because of machine malfunctions?  Often it seems there are as many stories about court rulings as about candidates.

In Ohio, the latest judicial decision addressed the issue of early voting, which started this past week.  Ohio’s Secretary of State had ordered county boards of elections to stop early voting the Friday before Election Day, except for members of the military.  The Obama campaign challenged that decision, and on Friday a federal court of appeals ruled that the Secretary of State’s decision was invalid.  As a result, individual county boards themselves will decide whether to be open on those days.

As a lawyer, I obviously don’t object to people seeking judicial recourse when they believe their rights have been violated.  The big issue, to my mind, is confusion on the part of voters about what the rules are — confusion that may cause them to inadvertently lose their right to vote.  I hope that we are done with court rulings affecting Ohio this election cycle, so that information about the actual rules can be disseminated to all voters before November 6.  I also hope that the state and local officials who address voting recognize that it might be helpful to simply leave the rules that have been vetted and approved by courts unchanged for a few elections, so that every voter knows when, where, and how they can exercise one of the most important rights afforded to any American citizen.

Badge Of Honor

I voted this morning at one of the churches in our neighborhood.  Voting at a church seems appropriate because voting, too, is a ritualized, communal experience.

I like to vote early.  In Ohio the polls open at 6:30 a.m., and I was there at 6:45.  There’s a certain comforting sameness about always voting at that time of day.  The church has a bake sale with an honor basket where voters are expected to pay for any purchases.  The tureen of coffee isn’t quite fully brewed.  The seniors manning the registration table, and the high school kids who take your voting ticket and walk you to the machines in order to get “service hours” credit, are fresh-faced and upbeat.  I get in and out quickly, and walk back to my car with a whistle and a spring in my step.

I always wear my “I Voted Today” sticker with pride.  Unfortunately, this year the sticky stuff on the back was cheaper than usual, and my sticker fell off before I even made it to work.  Inside me, though, it was as if the sticker were still there.

Yes ! No (?) and No !

In November Ohio voters will be asked to vote on three issues – here are my thoughts on all three.

Issue 1 – Amend the Ohio Constitution to increase judicial candidate age to 75 from current age from 70 – I tend to have a problem with telling people they can’t do something because of their age – if a judge is in good health and they want to continue serving and there is no good reason for them not to serve then why not let them serve. If this issue goes down to defeat 71 of Ohio’s 718 judges will not have the option to seek a new term. If your wondering about a judges mental acuity – the Ohio Bar says that there are procedures in place to remove a judge if his or her mental status is in question. VOTE YES

Issue 2 – Will change which public employees would be able to bargain collectively and over what issues – Here’s my brother Bob’s post in favor of Senate Bill 5 for my friends on Facebook who don’t access our family blog on a regular basis.

Bob makes a point that he doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask public employees to contribute more towards their health insurance and their pensions. I would agree, but according to an Associated Press review of State Employee Relations Board data which shows public employees already pay more than the 15%. If pensions are not funded by public employees because they opted not to take a pay cut for this to be the case shouldn’t we honor that agreement ?

I disagree with Bob’s comment that public employees have more job security than private sector employees based on recent federal job’s reports that show a significant number of public sector workers losing their jobs because of state budget shortages. There is a way to address Bob’s concern about all teachers being essential, vote down the school levy in your particular area. For the first time in my lifetime I will be voting against my local school levy because it doesn’t seem to me that the money we are throwing at education is getting the required results. I am still of the fence on this one, but I will probably VOTE NO.

Issue 3 – Amend the Ohio Constitution to say that no law shall compel a person to participate in a healthcare system – in essence opt out of the affordable healthcare act individual mandate. I’m a proponent of the individual mandate because people who don’t have insurance affect the premiums that we all pay when they need treatment, but a vote one way or the other on this issue will probably be moot as the Supreme Court will most likely take up this issue in 2012. VOTE NO.

Voting Makes Me Feel Good

In a few minutes Richard and I will go to our polling place and cast our ballots on Election Day 2010.  I’m looking forward to the experience, because voting always makes me feel good.

We will drive down Route 62 to the All Saints Episcopal Church.  We will wait in line with our fellow New Albany residents and prove our identities to the kindly senior citizens who always staff the registration table, then we will sign in, get our voting registration slips, and be escorted to the voting booths.  We will work the touch screens, choose our candidates, and push the green “Vote” button.  Afterward, we will get our “I Voted Today” stickers, and I will feel the familiar, warm feelings I always feel when I have voted.

Why does voting make me feel good?  Part of it is just being proud to be a citizen, to be trusted with having a say in how our country, our state, and our district are governed.  Part of it is feeling personal satisfaction at fulfilling my civic duty.  But a significant part of it, too, is relishing my personal participation in the experience of a fundamental collective activity of the American people.  Today, across this magnificent country of ours, Americans will be quietly going to their neighborhood schools, libraries, and places of worship to exercise their franchise, choose their representatives, and decide whether to authorize taxes or change fundamental policies.  Democrat and Republican, self-proclaimed progressives and Tea Partiers, they all will make their decisions behind the voting booth curtain.

It is awesome and humbling to be a little part of that grand affirmation of the American idea.  That is why voting makes me feel good.

A Living Civics Lesson

We all remember high school civics, that dreaded class taught by an earnest yet numbingly boring guy who probably was the assistant wrestling coach.  He spoke of the balance of powers, the three branches of government, and how a bill becomes a law.  And, most of all, he talked about how important it is for each citizen to exercise their franchise.  “Every vote counts” and “every vote is meaningful” he would say, as most students rolled their eyes and some audibly snickered.

Well, yesterday voters in the primary election to select the Republican candidate for Congress in Michigan’s First Congressional District got a real-life civics lesson.  More than 99,000 voters cast their ballots in a multiple-candidate runoff, and according to the preliminary results on the Michigan Secretary of State website, top vote-getter Dan Benishek leads Jason Allen by exactly one vote.

No doubt there are ardent Jason Allen supporters in the District who, for whatever reason, just didn’t get around to voting, and now they are kicking themselves because they are personally responsible for their candidate’s loss.  And it is equally probable that somewhere a civics teacher is smiling, knocking together their chalk-covered hands, and saying:  “See?  I told you so!”

Paying Attention And Participating

Richard’s post below reminded me of a point that I wanted to make before the whole health care debate effectively ends, supposedly with a vote on Sunday in the House of Representatives.  Whether you support or oppose the “health care reform” legislation — and even a casual reader of the blog knows that Richard, UJ and I are on opposite sides of the fence on that point — I think we can all be proud of how politically engaged many Americans have been on the issues.  Although the media approach may be superficial, I think people are paying close attention to both the substance of the bill and to the process.  During the torturous path of the “health care reform” legislation, people have become knowledgeable about issues related to “the public option,” about certain insurance industry practices, about the role the CBO plays in estimating the budget and deficit impact of bills, about deals that have been cut to secure votes, about the Senate filibuster rules, the reconciliation procedure, and the role of the House Rules Committee, and about a number of other topics.

All of this is a good thing — a kind of civics refresher course that should make our body politic more attentive to important political issues and to the need for people to participate in the process.  We are already seeing this, through the various protests and the estimated 100,000 calls per hour that currently are overloading the congressional phone system capabilities.  I would guess that many of the people who are calling and advocating, pro and con, for the “health care reform” legislation didn’t vote in recent elections, or perhaps voted without a sufficient understanding of their candidate’s positions on issues like “health care reform.”

I expect that all of that will now change.  Although some pundits are predicting that the public interest in politics will wane, because some voters supposedly are disillusioned with President Obama, I think the opposite will be true.  If the “health care reform” legislation is enacted, the resulting law will have real consequences for people’s lives, their health care options, and their pocketbooks.  The impact of those real consequences will cause people to realize that, if they just sit on the sidelines, they have only themselves to blame if the consequences are not to their liking. 

American voters obviously disagree on “health care reform,” but I think we can all agree on one point — it is better to have our citizens  paying careful attention to what our elected representatives are doing and giving them an earful on what their constituents are thinking about the important issues of the day.  Democracy works best when voters are actively engaged in the process.

Youth At The Booth

When I went to vote this morning I was delighted to see a number of younger people manning the voting station. Normally our poll workers are senior citizens, but today there were some decidedly younger participants. It turns out that they are part of a program called Youth at the Booth, a program sponsored by Kids Voting Central Ohio which encourages high school seniors to work at the polls. The “Youth at the Booth” volunteer who showed me to my touch screen machine and gave me my “I voted today” sticker did a fine job, too.

What a great idea! That kind of experience is bound to make young adults more likely to vote themselves, and also to engage in civic activities.