Thursday, March 10, 2016

Give People A Lottery Ticket For Voting And Other Ideas For Thwarting Voter Suppression

I don't usually listen to the Marketplace Morning Report that interrupts the pathetic excuse for "public broadcasting" the merely least bad broadcasting that is NPR.   But this morning they had on the great Mary Frances Berry to talk about her latest book,  Five Dollars And A Pork Chop Sandwich, about real and blatant voting fraud, not the imaginary stuff that Republicans have been using to suppress the votes of Black people, members of other minority groups, poor people and both the young and old.   Here, from the publisher's website:

Though voting rights are fundamental to American democracy, felon disfranchisement, voter identification laws, and hard-to-access polling locations with limited hours are a few of the ways voter turnout is suppressed. These methods of voter suppression are pernicious, but in Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich, Dr. Mary Frances Berry focuses on forms of corruption including vote buying, vote hauling, the abuse of absentee ballots, and other illegal practices by candidates and their middlemen, often in collusion with local election officials.

Vote buying—whether it’s for a few dollars, a beer, or a pack of cigarettes—is offered to individual citizens in order to ensure votes for a particular candidate, and Dr. Berry notes it occurs across party lines, with Republicans, Democrats, and independents all participating.

Dr. Berry shares the compelling story of Greg Malveaux, former director of Louisiana’s Vote Fraud Division, and how this “everyman” tried to clean up elections in a state notorious for corruption. Malveaux discovered virtually every type of electoral fraud during his tenure and saw firsthand how abuses occurred in local communities—from city councils to coroners’ offices. In spite of Sisyphean persistence, he found it virtually impossible to challenge the status quo. Dr. Berry reveals how this type of electoral abuse is rampant across the country and includes myriad examples from other states, including Illinois, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Voter manipulation is rarely exposed and may be perceived as relatively innocuous, however; Dr. Berry observes that in addition to undermining basic democracy, it also leads to a profound lack of accountability and a total disconnect between politicians and their constituents, and that those in poor and minority communities are the most vulnerable. While reforming campaign finance laws are undeniably important to our democracy, being attuned to issues of structural powerlessness and poverty, and to the cycles that perpetuate them, is no less crucial.

In Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich, Dr. Berry shares specific successful voting strategies that other countries have adopted and urges creativity in rewarding people for voting. She also underscores the continued importance of grassroots education, so that citizens see voting as desirable and empowering—as a tool to help create the kind of environment they deserve.

It being the great Mary Frances Berry who is saying this, I especially liked what she said about this kind of vote fraud on the cheap, buying the votes of people who, otherwise, get absolutely nothing out of the political process other than that.  Blaming the victims of this corruption instead of the system under which it flourishes is as unrealistic as it is wrong.  Why should they care enough about voting when what it produces so demonstrably doesn't work for them?  We have never fixed the most glaring problems of voter corruption after more than two centuries of it being a feature of our politics, if someone tries to the perfumed, soft-handed, product of our elite law schools can be counted on to sue and their colleagues on the Supreme Court will knock down any attempt to fix it.  That is where the stink you smell in our politics comes from, not those who are victimized by the legal industry. 

What got my attention and what I thought was worth thinking about was her idea that if you can't stop them you can beat them at their own game by making voting, itself, attractive, by the government Of the People being the one to entice people to vote.   I thought her idea of giving people who vote a lottery ticket, instead of being vulgar and corrupt was realistic.  Imagine if there were state lotteries in which you could get one ticket to win if you voted, they could fund them with proceeds of the gambling that goes on, anyway.  I will bet if people thought they could win one of a hundred ten-thousand dollar prizes in such a lottery it would make voting a lot more popular, if they thought they stood a chance of winning one million dollar prize - in addition - I'll bet the polls would be swamped. 

And that wasn't the only way in which Mary Frances Berry pointed out that voting could be encouraged.  In the few minutes she was allowed to plug her book she mentioned serving food and drink at polling places - maybe the way to combat the private interests who buy votes with such things is for government of, by and for The People beating them at their own game.  

Of course none of that fixes the problem of people who are fed lies by the media, but it is an idea for fixing what's wrong with voter discouragement.  The bet is that if more poor people, more members of minority groups, more young and old people voted enough of them would know who was going to serve their interests that the government would be more of, by and for them instead of the rich people who are the source of this corruption. 


  1. The fact that doesn't happen is a feature, not a bug. But if we started educating people about what voting could actually do, that could be problematic, eh? I assume they still teaching something about civics and democracy in public schools. Is it an accident they don't teach anything that in anyway could be considered "voter empowerment"? Or do they just continue to preach the claptrap they spouted when I was in public schools almost 50 years ago, about how "great" America was and how great our "democracy" is?

    So great you don't really need to bother with it; just keep the status quo, and all will be well. After all, when you're number one, the only way to go is down.

    Don't wanna rock the boat, do ya?

  2. I want to rock it like the first scene in The Tempest.

    I really like the idea of a hundred ten-thousand dollar prizes, it would have to be substantial enough to make it exciting and with enough winners so people would think they had a significant chance of winning. If they threw in one big prize I'll bet the participation rate would reach into the 90 or higher percentage rate.

    It could make off-year elections stop being the disasters those have been.

    Taking the money from legalized gambling proceeds would make state lotteries and casinos less of an abomination than they generally are.