Monday, August 23, 2004

Vote. By absentee ballot. 

Jeb Bush pushed Florida Republicans to do it in 2000. (Read this mind-blower.) And the Florida Republicans are driving their people to do it again in 2004.

But AmCoppers and Democrats there, here, and everywhere should send away now for their absentee ballots. Anyone can vote absentee. Tell your friends and family to vote absentee. Make sure they do it.

In New York City, for example, to qualify for an absentee ballot, all you need is to "expect in good faith to be absent from the City of New York on such Election Day because my duties, occupation, business, or studies or vacation require me to be elsewhere." That pretty much covers it for everyone.

If you live in New York City, click here. For New York State, click here.

Most any excuse is valid for obtaining an absentee ballot. And if you’re still concerned that voting by absentee ballot somehow won’t work -- that they’ll reject your application, that your ballot won’t arrive in the mail -- there’s nothing to worry about. If you’re not able to successfully vote absentee, you simply get up on November 2 as you ordinarily would and vote at the polls, and if they say you already voted absentee (when you haven’t), you cast a provisional ballot.

So why should you vote by absentee ballot?

I attended a campaign organizing workshop a few weeks ago in New York City hosted by Democracy for America (the new embodiment of the Dean campaign) and a new Dean-oriented group called Latinos for America. Several seminars were led by a veteran political consultant and vote counter who was director for absentee operations for the Oregon Democratic coordinated campaign in 2000 and director of voter operations for Pueblo, Colorado for Al Gore in 2000. He was also the director of get out the vote operations for Mark Warner’s winning 2001 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.

His message is simple: vote by absentee ballot.

Here are some of his reasons, along with the insights I derived from hearing him speak.

1. It’s easy and safe and guarantees a vote for Kerry.

Assume you live in New York, where your vote "won’t matter" on November 2. If you send in your absentee ballot request now, your ballot will soon be waiting at the post office. (We’re 61 days out from the election now.) You’ll get your ballot about 30 days out from the election and have nearly 30 days to get it back in. That’s 30 days to vote, rather than an hour, or maybe a half hour on November 2.

And you get to vote from the privacy of your own home.

And you don’t have to skip work or school on November 2 to do it.

And you run no risk of having your vote go uncounted because of a broken punch card-, lever-, or optical scan-machine, or a Diebold touch screen voting machine that will be broken, at best, and rigged to count only Republican votes, at worst, on election day.

And you run no risk of encountering Republican thugs who will be out in force all over the country on November 2 trying to intimidate Democratic voters into not voting, whether by setting up phony police checkpoints (as they did in Florida in 2000), phony police investigations (as they’re doing now in Florida) illegally closing the polling places for lunch or early at the end of the day (as they did in Missouri, among other places), or illegally demanding that voters furnish one, two, three, or even four pieces of identification to prove citizenship or residency (as they did in Florida, and elsewhere).

[For example, did you know that the (ironically-named) Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002, defers the passing of voting requirements to localities, enabling some areas require that voters provide identification in order to vote. This requirement, of course, can be enforced selectively, and unequally, and at the whim of local partisan voting officials.]

Plus, if you vote by absentee ballot, rather than being locked into your home city on November 2, you can be free to be anywhere, such as in a battleground state (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania) where hopefully, you’ll have been spending the previous month working to get out the vote for Kerry.

Plus (this applies mostly to swing state voters), if you vote absentee, you can save the Kerry campaign time, money, and resources:

Once you’ve submitted your absentee ballot some 30 days before the election, when the Kerry campaign (which will have registered Democrats on its call lists) calls you to ask who you’ll vote for, you can say you already voted, and they can take you off their list, which saves them the time and hassle of calling you 10 or 12 times up to election day to make sure that you vote, so they can instead harangue independents and undecideds to get them to vote for Kerry.

2. You should do it even if you live in a "safe" state.

Is there any doubt that you should vote, even in New York, even in California, even in Massachusetts, where Kerry is very likely to win the electoral tally?

Think about the rhetorical power of the more than half a million votes Gore won by in the popular vote in 2000. Obviously, this wasn’t powerful enough to overturn the corrupt result from Florida, but imagine if that popular vote margin had been 200,000, or 100,000 or zero? Imagine if 500,000 New York Democrats had simply decided not to vote in 2000. Surely, Gore still would have won the state by a wide margin, but his victory in the popular vote would have been zero.

Now assuming that Kerry is going to win on November 2, we need to run up the score in the popular vote as much as possible to give him the biggest perceived mandate as possible, and to this end, every vote in New York counts toward this margin.

No throwing away your vote for Nader this time. Not even in safe states. Kerry needs every vote in every swing state, and every vote in every state, period.

3. Surprising facts about absentee voting:

Think of it this way. In the 2000 election, of all 156,421,311 registered voters (Democrat and Republican) throughout the country, 67.5 percent of them actually voted.

But, as I learned at the Latinos for America seminar, 78 percent of those registered voters who vote by absentee ballot actually vote. In Oregon, for example, where 100 percent of voting is done by mail, 87.3 percent of Democratic voters voted.

Simply put, voters who vote absentee actually vote.

Imagine if 87.3 percent, or even 83 percent, or even 75 percent of the 3,803,081 registered Democrats in Florida had voted in 2000, rather than the roughly 60-70 percent who actually voted?

Gore would be president now.

And even assuming that absentee ballot voters vote at the same rate as election day voters, if Florida Democrats in large numbers had voted by absentee ballot in 2000, that many fewer Floridians would have been disenfranchised by being met with intimidation at polling places. That many fewer Floridians would have avoided police roadblocks on election day. That many fewer Floridians would have been asked, illegally, to furnish identification and proof of citizenship to vote. Plus, had the lion’s share of Democratic votes in Florida been cast in September or October, the 57,700 voters who were incorrectly listed as felons and who ought to have been reinstated to the rolls but had been unlawfully "scrubbed" from the rolls would have confronted that problem months before the election, rather than the day of the election, and the problem could have been rectified in time to allow them to vote by election day.

Now think about this year in Florida, and Ohio, and the other battleground states, where Republican efforts to defraud voters will be in high gear.

By casting their votes by absentee ballot, Democratic voters will avoid the police blockades and polling station intimidation, not to mention the corrupt touch-screen voting machines, they would inevitably face with an in-person vote on November 2. Think about having a huge of stack of Democratic votes, locked down, in the bank, well before November 2.

As with everything in politics these days, the Republicans are already doing this, they have been doing this for years, and they do this better than we do. It’s time for us to catch up, and time for us to start voting absentee.


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