Well, voting booths are a lot like closets

I don't know whether this is a barometer of anything, but a front page headline in today's Inquirer proclaims that "Distrust of voting machines is running high," and "activists" are described as "particularly suspicious" of computerized voting machines:

In about 20 precincts in the Philadelphia suburbs, teams from a group called Election Integrity are preparing to conduct exit polls in precincts with the machines. If there is a significant variance between the official results and the polls, they'll demand investigations. Voterstory.org is distributing Web-based software nationwide that allows voters to document problems they encounter. And "Video the Vote" is sending out volunteers with video cameras to record problems or alleged attempts at voter suppression in cities.
The Inquirer is absolutely right in calling these people "activists." And like most activists, they're hardly non-partisan.

Election Integrity is run by people like Steven F. Freeman devoted to the cause that the 2004 election was "stolen" -- and that exit polls reflect the real intent of the voters.

As to voterstory.org, it's run by Evolve Strategies, described as:

a full-service communications firm serving issue advocacy, nonprofit, and political clients. Our integrated strategies enable organizations to reach supporters in the media they prefer, new technology or old: websites, internet ads and ad words, dynamic email messaging, SMS campaigns, viral content, video, Flash -- as well as paper flyers, posters, banners, and radio and television spots. Our insight and experience are relied on by the UN Millennium Campaign, the ACLU, the Sierra Club, MoveOn, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other candidates and organizations working for the common good.
The organization's website proudly proclaims that it is relied on by (among others) GeorgeSoros.com and HandgunSanity.org.

I see a major logical error in the central idea of the voting activists. There are a lot of people who don't like being asked how they voted, and the more polarized these things become, the less likely they are to speak honestly, if at all.

What is being forgotten is that ordinary voters are not activists. Many of them strongly dislike activists.

Activists and partisan ideologues, however, tend to surround themselves with like minded people, and they think that the world consists of activists -- those who agree with them, and maybe their counterparts on the other side. Because of this, they have a bit of a blind spot where it comes to dealing with people unlike themselves. They tend to see politics as something you wear on your sleeve, and those who wear their politics on their sleeves don't understand or identify with those who don't. Thus, writer Pauline Kael was genuinely baffled over how Richard Nixon won a presidential landslide in 1972:

I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know....
Where they are now I don't know. (I voted for McGovern!) But I suspect that only Republican activists would talk loudly and publicly about voting for Richard Nixon.

Or, for that matter, George W. Bush.

Ordinary people, well, most activists might not understand them, but Nixon (himself an activist by definition) coined a term for them: "the great, silent majority." For a variety of reasons, they voted for him in overwhelming numbers. This is not to defend Nixon, but activists at the time hated the great silent majority and regarded them with angry, bitter contempt. Had they been sent to conduct "exit polls" I strongly suspect that they'd have come up with a very different result than a pro-Nixon landslide. The reason is that ordinary people tend to be private people. They don't want to talk about private matters to people they don't know -- especially those they might perceive as activists who'd pigeonhole them as being on the "problem" side of the (activist) equation that "you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem."

This whole thing reminds me a bit of workplace partisans who ask their co-workers who they're going to vote for. (Co-workers who don't want to talk about it can be hounded mercilessly.) Thinking back to the 2004 election, I recall that it was more often the Bush voters who were the evasive ones. They just plain didn't want to talk about it, because if they did, they'd have trouble with the Kerry voters. Depending on the workplace, I'm sure this happened on the other side too, but I think that in general, the silent, non-activist types tended to favor Bush. (No doubt the activists would equate their silence with mindlessness, sneakiness, or cowardliness, but that's another topic.)

Voting is of course still conducted in secret. ("Your vote is secret!" was a winning slogan in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas were turned out of office, and while I'm not comparing American activists to Sandinistas, I don't doubt that had the Sandinistas conducted exit polls, they'd have been happy with the results.)

What I can't figure out is why the activists are already worrying about a possible conflict between the exit polls and the election results in advance of the election itself.

You'd think the masses were refusing to tell them how they're going to vote.

(How "undemocratic" those masses can be!)


I'd hate to think American democracy is degenerating into a form of "don't ask, don't tell," but there are distinct similarities between voting booths and closets.

And (at least from the perspective of activists conducting left wing exit polls) those who vote Republican really ought to be ashamed of themselves.

There might even be an odd sort of consensus that Republican voters have much to hide.

MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds (and Michael Graham's link to the Boston Globe), I'm quite taken by Robert Kuttner's pre post mortem election disorder:

....we're also primed for the worst. Why is Karl Rove smiling? How much better is the Republican turnout machine? How many votes will they hide, deter, or steal? The season of the October Surprise is over, but what late-breaking stunts might yet emerge?


November 2006 will be remembered either as the time American democracy was stolen again, maybe forever, or began a brighter day.

How many votes will they hide, deter, or steal? Well, Philadelphia (which voted 81% for Kerry in '04) has 80,000 fraudulent voter registrations:
The Philadelphia Inquirer has noted that the city has just over one million registered voters. Since that's just about the number of eligible voters the U.S. census estimates live in the city, experts believe there are upward of 80,000 fraudulent registrations.
More at NewsBusters and at the Philadelphia City Paper.

What I'd like to know is how Rove and the Republicans will ever be able to "disenfranchise" voters who don't exist.

posted by Eric on 11.03.06 at 06:58 AM


Also consider that most "activists" aggitate in big city areas, no in little midwest towns.

About the only place the hapless D Phil Angelides is leading the CA is in a small area of Los Angeles (it's about dead even in Frisco)... In such areas, where "personal is political" and liberalism is indistinguishable from leftism, Repubs, conservatives, libertarians, et al, have learned discretion is the better part of avoiding ugliness from "shocked, shocked!" lefties.

Darleen   ·  November 3, 2006 10:08 AM

No exit polling in my polling place in lil old Maryland.

'course, if they exit polled my county, they would be sore afraid.

Who I vote for is my business. That's why I don't feel afraid to vote. If some activist doesn't like that, too bad.

But I will tell you this, I'm votin' straight republican. And I have good reasons, too. I can explain them in detail to anyone who asks. But I'm just a rare beast in this wilderness... not that nobody has good reasons, but because I'm willing to talk about them.

They should consider it a diplomatic act.


RiverCocytus   ·  November 3, 2006 10:27 AM

Actually, I just sent the ip address of voterstory.org to Focus on the Family, who is a decidedly un-lefty organization. Further, we plan on giving it to the RNC. Just wanted to let you know.

rebecca   ·  November 3, 2006 12:25 PM

Actually, if memory serves, they did do a completely wrong exit poll in the election that ousted the Sandinistas.

Jon Thompson   ·  November 3, 2006 2:28 PM

Glad you're doing that Rebecca, and your organization may be providing a helpful public service. My point, though is that I don't think exit polls will necessarily or accurately reflect the vote.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 3, 2006 2:38 PM

One of the other problems with exit polls is that they are self-selecting.

Lots of people (I'm one of them) refuse to participate in polls. I see it as a bit of an invasion of my privacy.

(my home phone has been ringing off the hook for the last few weeks... we just don't answer it ... family and friends have our cell #'s.)

Darleen   ·  November 3, 2006 4:01 PM

I think the issue is that if there are inconsistencies between the exit polls and tallies from the new electronic machines it will demonstrate problems, and tools such as the voterstory.org widget can help document the problems. This is not partisan, it's about Democracy. Do you want your vote to count or not?

Rebecca Cesarz   ·  November 3, 2006 10:09 PM

I don't think exit polls are of much value, because they are public, and voting is private.

I think the best way to make each vote count would be to focus on preventing voter fraud by requiring ID from each voter, and purging the rolls of non-voters.

(As my vote can be nullified by a single fraudulent voter, I think preventing voter fraud is a good way to make my vote count.)

Eric Scheie   ·  November 3, 2006 10:31 PM

This whole thing smacks of the ravings of a bunch of luddites. Why do we assume electronic voting machines are actually easier to tamper with than paper ballots, or almost any other system?

Jon Thompson   ·  November 4, 2006 1:08 PM

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