Voter intimidation is not a new tactic. It’s been employed everywhere sham democracies exist; every brutal dictator or Banana Republic autocrat who wants to add a thin veneer of what the naive or ignorant might consider “legitimacy” uses it. The goal is to usually intimidate voters into voting for a specific candidate; voter intimidation without a candidate is like a out-of-control wagon loaded with a 2-ton fertilizer bomb: it’s still a threat, but you have no idea which directly you need to go in order to stay safe.
Just such a wagon cropped up in South Florida when a political flyer appeared in mailboxes. While the flier doesn’t mention any candidates, it does have a list of names, addresses, and voting histories of people who live nearby.
The flier addresses the recipient by name and asks “why haven’t you voted yet?” It continues with the warning that “We are providing the names of your neighbors and their voting record. The next time we send this mailer we will include information on who voted in this upcoming November election.”
Miami resident Gail Baldwin was surprised to see his name on one of the eight fliers that landed in his neighborhood. It shows that he voted in 2012 and 2010 , but not in 2014. Baldwin told CBS4’s Maggie Newland that he understood “they’re trying to get people out to vote,” he didn’t “vote ahead of time.”
When asked about publishing the names of neighbors and their voting histories he noted that “it’s not a good tactic” and “they shouldn’t be doing this.”
He isn’t the only one who questioned the logic of getting people out to vote by revealing their voting history. Tonie Camp noted that “it’s everyone’s business if they vote or not” and “they shouldn’t be advertised of not voting.” A number of outraged individuals took to Twitter, calling the flier a “voter intimidation mailer” and slammed the organization responsible, Citizens for a Better Florida.
Citizens for a Better Florida is an Electioneering Communications Organization, and is affiliated with the Florida Association of Realtors. It seems to me like they’re stumbling a little bit on the “communications” thing, but it’s worth noting whether or not a person voted in a particular election is public record.
Your name, home address, and sometimes email are all public information because of the need for transparency, according to University of Miami law professor Donald Jones:
On the one hand we do keep who you vote for secret, but who votes, what party they have, even their home address – sometimes their email – all of that’s public information because we need that for the process of transparency.
Jones added that some voter information must be public for the political process to vote. The fliers are legal, but he understands why people are upset:
What they’re doing in my opinion is a mischievous use of information that’s provided for the purposes. The purpose for which it’s provided is to guarantee the integrity of the election. What they’re attempting to do is influence the election with information gained for other purposes.
Citizens for a Better Florida didn’t return any of CBS’ calls.
I’m sympathetic towards their goal; I want to see more people voting. Democracy requires everyone’s voice, not just the voice of the wealthy and the elite (that’s called an “oligarchy,” which is pretty much synonymous with “United States” at this point). This is the wrong way to go about doing it; you can’t motivate people with the threat of punishment. You’ll only make them angry and more recalcitrant.
Here are a few things that could be done to get more people involved:
- Make November 4 a national holiday
- Apply a tax credit to all individuals who can prove they voted — since it’s a matter of public record, the IRS can double-check anyway
- Keep the polls open for a full week, and don’t tally until the end of the week
- Extend the early voting period
- Publicize, publicize, publicize; fliers announcing election day with the closest voting location for individuals in the area, or detailing their district, how to get their voter’s ID, all of that, every year
That there will almost certainly be people who disagree with this, claiming it’s “bribery” or somehow mitigates the “personal responsibility” of voting “on time” shows how little we actually care about whether or not democracy actually works.
You can watch the report below: