ShareThis Page
News Columnists

'Hey, dolt -- yes, you!'

| Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004

The campaign is culminating with reckless charges about the possibility -- actually, the certainty; such is life -- that there will be imperfections in recording perhaps 110 million votes. The charges are couched in the language of liberalism: much talk about voters' rights, no talk about voters' responsibilities, and dark warnings of victimization -- "disenfranchisement" and "intimidation."

Consider punch-card voting systems, and "overvotes" and "undervotes." Overvoting occurs when voters mark their ballots for two candidates for a single office. Undervoting occurs when voters do not mark a choice among the candidates for an office.

Only 12.4 percent of America's registered voters live in jurisdictions that use punch-card systems of the sort that Florida made infamous in 2000. But 72 percent of Ohioans do. Last Sunday The Columbus Dispatch reported, beneath the headline "Punch Cards May Hurt Blacks," that such ballots cast with no vote recorded for president were in 2000 a higher percentage in black communities (5 percent) than in other communities (under 2 percent).

The state is being sued about "racial disparities" resulting from punch-card voting in three counties. However, The Dispatch reports several scholars' assertions that race is not the salient variable. Higher levels of unrecorded presidential preferences supposedly correlate with low levels of income and education, appearing also in the predominantly white Appalachian counties of Southeastern Ohio.

Punch cards, The Dispatch says, are "prone" to overvotes and undervotes "because so many things can go wrong." For example, if "voters do not correctly insert the card into the voting device, the wrong holes can be punched."

But is it unreasonable to expect voters to perform those simple manipulations• Are they victims -- disenfranchised -- if they do not• Surely not in Ohio, where printed guides to punch-card voting are supplemented by instructional videos on the Internet, and where instructions and instructors will be available at polling places.

Granted, punch-card systems, like everything else in life, are not infallible. They can -- remember Florida's hanging and dimpled (aka pregnant) chads• -- inadequately record the intent of a voter, particularly one who is careless about the task of handling the simple punch-card mechanism. But how can punch cards be blamed for overvotes?

And how does invalidating such a vote constitute, as is now commonly said, "disenfranchisement"• When poll taxes, meretricious literacy tests, hostile sheriffs and mobs stood between blacks and ballots, blacks were disenfranchised. To be disenfranchised is to have something done to you, not to do something to yourself.

Regarding undervotes, voters can always check to make sure they have clearly punched holes. Furthermore, they have a right -- and are often right to exercise the right -- to undervote by skipping certain choices on the ballot.

In some Florida jurisdictions this year, electronic touch-screen voting machines will react irritably to undervotes. If a voter skips a choice on the ballot, a message -- e.g., "You have not made a choice on this race" -- appears on the screen three times . What more must be done to deal with the undervote problem -- which often is not a problem but a sensible preference?

Should there be more severe prompts• The first might be: "I'm just a machine, but shouldn't you be marking more boxes?" The second might be: "Hey, dolt -- yes, you: The right to vote is precious, so even though you neither know nor care about a particular contest on the ballot, vote for someone -- anyone -- even if your vote is random." Finally, the machine could threaten: "Cast more votes or you will wake up with a horse's head in your bed."

Would such growls from voting machines satisfy liberals that an undervote need not represent either a remediable flaw in the voter or in the technology• Can liberals accept that an undervote usually reflects either voter carelessness, for which the voter suffers the condign punishment of an unrecorded preference, or it reflects the voter's choice not to express a preference• No, otherwise they would not be liberals, obsessive about rights, blind to responsibilities.

On Monday a Colorado judge upheld a new requirement that voters are responsible for producing identification before being allowed to vote. And Florida's Supreme Court rejected the argument that voters are disenfranchised by not counting provisional ballots they cast in the wrong precincts.

Imagine that: Voters are responsible for proving who they are and knowing where they are supposed to vote. There will be charges that both rulings permit "intimidation," which in today's liberal lexicon is a synonym for linking rights to responsibilities.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me