Thursday, October 23, 2008

Elections and Decent People

This opinion appeared in the Townsman, October 16 edition

Perhaps you've heard the uproar over the quadrupled costs of maintaining the Ulster County Board of Elections ($442,000 in 2005, proposed $1,677.000 for 2009). You will if you haven't; every town supervisor and mayor in the county is outraged since he or she is expected to add an incredibly spiked figure to his or her respective municipal budget.

Background: In 2002, in response to the "hanging chad" attack that occurred in the state of Florida, which lifted the 2000 presidential election from the polling place to the private confines of the United States Supreme Court, the United States congress passed the so-called Help America Vote Act ("the Act"). The Act was intended;

_To establish a program to provide funds to States to replace punch card voting systems,
_To establish the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of Federal elections and
_To otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws and programs,
_To establish minimum election administration standards for States and units of local government with responsibility for the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes.

Gee, that sounds nice. How did it translate into a $1,255,904 increase in cost of conducting elections around the county, $114,287 of that increase to be paid by Woodstock, Olive and Shandaken taxpayers? Especially when you consider that the feds paid for the new voting machines.

If you talk to County officials they point to state officials. If you talk to state officials they tell you the darn gum'int in Washington made them do it.

Okay, so if it's the feds stuffing this turkey down our throats because some idiots in Florida were too lackadaisical in the voting booth (haven't we already paid dearly for that?), let me point out from the so-called Help America Vomit - oops, I mean Vote - Act the following provision:


Subtitle A-Requirements
(b) Voting System Defined.--In this section, the term ``voting
system'' means--
(1) the total combination of mechanical, electromechanical,
or electronic equipment (including the software, firmware, and
documentation required to program, control, and support the
equipment) that is used--
(A) to define ballots;
(B) to cast and count votes;
(C) to report or display election results; and
(D) to maintain and produce any audit trail
information; and
(2) the practices and associated documentation used--
(A) to identify system components and versions of
such components;
(B) to test the system during its development and
(C) to maintain records of system errors and
(D) to determine specific system changes to be made
to a system after the initial qualification of the
system; and
(E) to make available any materials to the voter
(such as notices, instructions, forms, or paper

(c) Construction.-[I italicize the following for emphasis]
(1) In general.--Nothing in this section shall be construed
to prohibit a State or jurisdiction which used a particular type
of voting system in the elections for Federal office held in
November 2000 from using the same type of system after the
effective date of this section, so long as the system meets or
is modified to meet the requirements of this section.

Get that? If you ask me, bring back the lever machines and tinker with them if necessary, although I think shrewd interpretation of the law would deem them as meeting all the above requirements just as they are. Either that or buy some ballot boxes, print up ballots, hire the same election inspectors that have done a fine job all along, and give them an extra thermos of coffee to drink while counting the votes one by one. Heck, it was good enough to elect Washington and Lincoln.

The saddest thing about this whole mess is that it gives more credence to those who maintain the darn gum'int never gets it right.

* * *

This has been bugging my wife and me for the last week.

I'm sure by now you all saw the clip of the lady complaining to John McCain that Obama is "an Arab."

"No," said McCain. "He is a decent man who I happen to have profound differences with…" etc. etc.

Okay, I think I understand the sentiment, and good for McCain for not getting into the nonsense. But his answer contained the elision "He is not an Arab," as in "No [he is not an Arab], he is a decent man who…"

We do this all the time. Someone asks, "Are you sick?" and we may answer, "No [I'm not sick], I'm okay."

I think what McCain meant to say was, "Mr. Obama is not an Arab. And by the way, I happen to think he is a decent man who…"

Because the way McCain said it, "No [He is not an Arab], he is a decent man" is like saying "He's decent, not an Arab."

This is the same as saying "Arabs aren't decent."

I don't fault McCain; grammar and logic can be tricky and we all say stupid things from time to time without intending to. But we have watched this clip being replayed for us at least a dozen times, and not ONE commentator so far has pointed out the pernicious construction of that answer to the woman concerned with Arabs.

I am not a member of the Arab Antidefamation League (AAL), but I am a card-carrying member of the Don't Paint Whole Groups With The Same Brush Committee (DPWGWSBC). Yes, we got beefs with some people who happen to be Arab. I recall hearing about similar (and even bloodier) beefs with British, Confederate, Japanese and German people in our past.

Just imagine; "He's not British, he's a decent man."

"He's not Jewish, he's a decent man…" Get the picture?

Wake up, commentators.

[Update: Jon Stewart picked up on this and on his broadcast riffed terrifically on the issue with an Arab-American.]

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