Tuesday, October 19, 2004

From the Buzzword File: "Disenfranchise"

There was an interesting discussion on Special Report tonight about "counting every vote" versus "counting every legally cast vote." I'm of course in favor of the latter, but being Fox News, they considered both issues equally, tossing various forms of the word "disenfranchise" around a lot. So, this seems like as good as time as any to quote this passage from Peace Kills by PJ O'Rourke.
On page 116, O'Rourke is in the midst of fisking a statement by a group of Nobel Laureates:
Why do political bien-pensants roll "dispossessed," "poor," and "disenfranchised" together, as if they have a natural correlation...? The Dalai Lama [Peace Prize 1989] is dispossessed. Your parish priest is poor. And Alan Greenspan, as a resident of the District of Columbia, is ineligible to vote in congressional elections.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but when people say that ineligible voters are "disenfranchised," I don't think they have Alan Greenspan in mind. But they should. People that are disenfranchised because they are legally made ineligible to vote, such as felons in states like Florida, should not garner our compassion and concern. They should either move to states where felons are eligible to vote, or stop complaining as if the government is doing something to hurt them personally.

I am willing to conceded that many voters are incorrectly "disenfranchised" every year due to legitimate mistakes. For example, while answering phones at the Republican HQ this week, a Florida resident, currently visiting Ohio, but about to depart for Europe, called to say that he never received the absentee ballot he requested from his local Board of Elections in Florida. He said that after several weeks went by and he did not receive the ballot, he actually took time to return to Florida and physically visit the Board of Elections to ask about the ballot. The B of E refused to give him another ballot, since their records showed that he was sent one in the mail.

Consequently, this man may not be able to cast his vote for the President. He told me that he is "sick about it" and quite frankly, I am too. There is no question that this man has been disenfranchised, as it looks like he will be prevented from voting. But, do I think it was deliberately done? No. Mistakes happen and this, regrettably, is one of them. I am sure there are other cases like this and surely it is cause for some reasonable level of concern. I also think there probably have always been mistakes of this nature.
However I do not think that this man's situation is part of an organized effort to disenfranchise Republican voters in Florida. Moreover, I think that claims of disenfranchisement on either side based on incidents like this one are out of line. Such claims serve only to foster small seeds of doubt already lurking in the minds of voters. It's like self-fulfilling prophecy and the power of suggestion.

Mort Kondracke had it right tonight when he said that the Bush Lawyers and the Kerry Lawyers need to sit down in a room agree to act responsibly rather than stage a war over ballots in 10 to 20 states that will make election night 2004 last until election night 2006. Brit Hume seemed skeptical that this would happen, and understandably so. But I think the first Lawyer team to publicly suggest this may gain some ground in the area of "voter confidence."