Shaming Non-Voters Has No Place In a Free Society

People have the right to troop to the polls, or not, as they please.

“The privacy of the ballot booth is a core American value,” declared James Valvo, director of government affairs for Americans for Prosperity, two years ago. “Allowing individuals to make their own decisions about their government … free from coercion from either side, is paramount.”

Valvo was criticizing “card-check” legislation to let unions organize through other than secret ballots—and he wasn’t alone. Ballot secrecy, declared AFP Virginia’s Ben Marchi, was “the bedrock of our democracy.” AFP waged a loud and sustained campaign on behalf of the secret ballot in union fights.

Too bad AFP doesn’t practice what it preaches. If it did, then it would not have sent out “voter audits” tattling on people who, AFP believes, do not vote with sufficient regularity.

As the Chesterfield Observer reported last week, county resident Steve Serrao got one such report card in June. It listed him as a non-voter. His wife, Renee, who teaches government, strenuously disputes that. “We’re contacting you and your neighbors today to let folks know who does and who doesn’t vote,” the report card says. “As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?”

Nancy Meacham of Roanoke got a similarly ominous audit from the group in November—as did others around the state. Many of them felt, quite rightly, that the mailings amounted to rank voter intimidation.

AFP wasn’t the only group this year to employ such tactics. So did the Democratic Party of Virginia. “The chart below shows your household’s public voting record in past elections as well as an empty space which we will fill to indicate if you vote in this year’s election on Tuesday, November 5th,” reads that party’s mau-mauing missive. “We intend to mail you an updated chart after the election that will show whether or not you voted. We will leave the space blank if you do not vote.”

According to state officials, the left-wing Voter Participation Center likewise sent out similar letters to citizens it deemed “BELOW AVERAGE.” “After the election,” the VPC wrote, “we will re-evaluate your voting record and hope to share it with your neighbors to see if there is improvement.”

The VPC gained notoriety last summer when, as The Times-Dispatch reported, it sent 200,000 voter registration forms, many to “already registered voters, as well as to children, non-citizens, the deceased and family pets.”

This was not fraud itself, but it was a long way from seemly. In 2008, a felon used a form sent by the VPC to vote illegally, for which she received a (suspended) 10-year sentence. Is AFP proud to emulate the tactics of the VPC? For that matter, is the liberal group proud to emulate the tactics of the conservative one?

None of the senders should be proud of invading other people’s privacy and harassing them to do something they are under no obligation to do: The right to vote also entails the right not to vote.

No one should have to justify exercising a right; rights, by definition, justify themselves. Nevertheless, for many people, not voting is an entirely rational choice: The cost of learning about the candidates and the issues often outweighs the benefit to be had from casting a ballot whose odds of making a significant difference in the outcome are infinitesimal.

Many people make a much bigger difference through other means—mentoring kids, volunteering, charity and civic groups. Government is far from the only avenue for doing good.

Yet the threatening tenor of the mailings suggests there is something shameful about exercising such a right. Public shaming of this sort is nothing new; it has been used often throughout history — usually by exceedingly undemocratic and illiberal regimes, such as ancient Rome, Puritan America, contemporary Iran and 20th century communism.

It is the communist culture—citizens informing upon citizens, show trials for dissidents and backsliders—that echoes most loudly in the letters: “Comrade Jones has squandered the opportunity he has been provided to strive for the betterment of the People. The People have a right to expect that Comrade Jones will direct his every effort to the class struggle. By setting his own ego and contentment above the interests of the proletariat, Comrade Jones has demonstrated behavior unworthy of a Bolshevik. He has betrayed his fellow citizens, who have committed themselves completely to the collective good.. . .”

Many people—harried single mothers, fathers working two jobs, adult children caring for sick parents — simply have more pressing things to do on Election Day than vote. AFP and Co. might think otherwise. If so, too bad: It’s not their call to make—and none of their business in the first place.

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  • The Late P Brooks||

    As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?

    The lesser of two evils is still evil.

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I think Penn Jillette once said "voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil".

    I always go to the polling place and turn in a ballot. I leave lots and lots of races unmarked though. My dream is to have a race where "unmarked" scores more than either candidate.

  • Rufus J. Fisk||

    I always write in "non of the above/non of the choices" and walk out with my chest sticking out laughing to myself at the assholes handing out flyers for their party or candidate on the way in. Or walking by them as they try to give me flyers and stating "fuck off, slaver"

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I once voted in only 1 race in an off year election.

    The poll watchers were upset because I didn't bother to even go to the booth to mark the one race. I just inked in the one guy as I walked to the vote counting machine.

    The biddies running the polling precinct kept telling me to go to a booth. Then they tried to tell me that I should vote in all the races. Totally flummoxed them with my one man - one vote (literally) take on it.

  • ||

    Now that would be an interesting twist on elections.

    You can vote for whoever you want in whatever race you want but you can only vote for one person total.

  • Christophe||

    Oh god yes. Low information voters pick the president. We get our choice on everything else.

    Make it happen.

  • Spartacus||

    Time to re-propose the Spartacus Amendment...

    "None of the above" shall be an option on every ballot for any office. If "None of the above" receives a plurality of votes, the office shall remain vacant until the next regularly scheduled election.

  • CE||

    How about leave it vacant forever?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?

    Yes, I'm very concerned about the community's well-being. That's why I didn't vote.

  • Almanian!||

    Oh, YOU voted? Then I suppose those of us don't know whom to hold accountable for the idiots you all put into office, right, collectivists.

    Fuck off, slaver. Also, suck my motherfuckin' dick.

  • ||

    Exactly. I shame the voters. Thanks for going out to oppress your neighbors today, bitches!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    Weird. I feel ashamed because I DO vote. I try to rationalize it -- you know, choosing to hand the robber a $20 instead of a $100 blah blah blah -- but it still feel dirty when I come out of that booth.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    But let me add -- again -- that I've never voted for a winning candidate above the level of township trustee, so I got THAT goin' for me.

  • sarcasmic||

    I vote against all bonds, and against all incumbents. Sure, the outcome is almost always the exact opposite of my ballot, but at least I don't feel dirty.

  • Mr. Soul||

    The one voting law I wish we had is: for issues YES=spend more NO=Spend less. These yes-I-am-against-it or No-I-am-for-it ballot constructs are as confusing as a buchanan-butterfly-ballot.

    I also wish there was a HELL-NO=refund to the taxpayers the same amount you have asked for.

  • Andrew S.||

    That's my ballot as well.

    I've been known to vote Green Party when there's no Libertarian available as well.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I do that too. If there is an LP candidate I vote for them. If no LP candidate then any third party or independent. If none of these I skip, unless I have some equivalent of Rand Paul or Ron Wyden from the big two.

  • Almanian!||

    ^^ I do vote in the Michigan State University regents elections, selecting every Not-Big-Two-TEAMS person I can, up to the number allowed.

    So I've voted for Greens, Libertarians, Commies, Earth, Martians - I don't know what all. It makes me feel so....skullduggerous, or subversive or something...

  • ||

    When I do get up the energy to vote, I only vote on local (i.e. county) issues. Nothing more than that - no commonwealth or national issues will get my vote anymore.

  • Art Vandelay||

    So sad. Another victim of The War on [Libertarian] Women....

  • CE||

    No, you're telling the robber it's okay to take $106 instead of $108.

  • Tak Kak||

    I kind of like it, publish the voters and non-voters. It'll be clear who's responsible.

  • Almanian!||

    Also:

    Many people—harried single mothers, fathers working two jobs, adult children caring for sick parents — simply have more pressing things to do on Election Day than vote.

    Or even, "Just cause." Or, "No reason, really."

    Doesn't matter "why". Fuck OFF, slavers.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I guess it's my turn to say FYTW. Who opens junk mail anyways?

  • tarran||

    It encourages voter fraud.

    If your neighbors know you don't vote, they can cast ballots on your behalf without risking any jail time.

  • Zeb||

    As long as they coordinate anyway. It might look a little suspicious when the second or third neighbor tries to vote in your name.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -If your neighbors know you don't vote, they can cast ballots on your behalf without risking any jail time.

    What is funny is that this is actually one of the rationales for making the information public (if you see that you voted in the last election when you did not you know fraud has occurred). Those looking (needing?) to find fraud under ever bed will find it either way!

  • tarran||

    Bo, on important national elections the local Democratic machine calls my mom (a registered Republican) early in the day and asks if she needs a lift to the polls. On other elections nada.

    I doubt they are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. It may be a very widely aimed get the elderly to the polls campaign that doesn't take registration into account.

    Or, it could be an attempt to monitor who is going to go to the polls.

    And given the second-only-to-chicago corruption of the Dem machine in the Boston area, and the fact that they don't check ID (you tell your name and street and they hand you a ballot), I strongly suspect that they are casting ballots on behalf of people whom they know won't be showing up. And it's not a Democrat/Republican thing.

  • CE||

    You're not thinking outside the box. It's an attempt to make elderly Republican voters think they have a ride to the polls lined up, then no one shows.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Isn't Americans for Prosperity funded by the Koch Bros, just like the Reason Foundation? Why are two arms of the Kochtopus wrestling with each other?

    /sarc

    Also, I read that voter-shaming was a key tactic of the Democrats last year. Their research showed that people in their base were, let us say, unmotivated to go off and re-elect Democrats, so they had to use pressure to guilt-trip them into turning up at the ballot box.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    -I read that voter-shaming was a key tactic of the Democrats last year

    You may have read that if you read the entire article here.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I thought the article said Va Democrats and the Voter Participation Center, not that it was a key campaign strategy of the national democrats, but thank you anyway for the quibbling, it was totally necessary and contributed to the discussion.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    If I didn't know the candidates, I'd just vote a blank ballot so that it looks like I'm Exercising my Civil Responsibility. Usually, tho, I check to see who the progs are endorsing and vote for their opponents.

  • Kid Xenocles||

    I often do this, though I never actually leave it blank. I don't like to leave blanks that can be filled in so I spoil it with a None of These.

  • Almanian!||

    I like to take a dump on my ballot, and then turn it in.

    Talk about a "spoiled ballot"...

  • The Last American Hero||

    The directions say use a number two PENCIL, not use NUMBER TWO.

    Also, that's a soiled ballot, not a spoiled ballot.

  • Almanian!||

    nit picker

  • tarran||

    I don't like to leave blanks that can be filled in so I spoil it with a None of These.

    Brother!

  • JW||

    Many of them felt, quite rightly, that the mailings amounted to rank voter intimidation.

    I'm trying to think how this could possibly intimidate me in any way to vote. What it does tell me is that we live in a creepy fucking surveillance state that is always watching what you do and don't do.

    In that case, can you see me flipping you off waving my dick at you?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I vote in every election. That way I can look down on everyone else as part of the problem and everyone else can look down on me as part of the problem. Everybody wins.

  • JW||

    THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    It's high time to end the experiment of the Australian ballot. First it's Australian and therefore unAmerican. Second, people should have the courage to stand behind their choices in public as Scalia said once (more or less).

  • Andrew S.||

    Besides, why should we trust anything coming from Hitler's birthplace?

  • NealAppeal||

    Heil Joey!?

  • Juice||

    This is like Lysander Spooner calling the people who vote in secret ballots invisible bands of robbers and murderers.

  • CE||

    Spooner was right. At least with the +200 dollar donor lists, we know who to blame for Obama, Bush, etc.

  • John||

    If people in this country are shamed by a letter from some do gooder group, then they don't deserve their freedoms. Why can't I ever get these types of letters? I can think of a lot worse ways to spend an afternoon that crafting an obscenity filled rant telling them fuck off and how it is none of theirs' or any of my neighbors' business whether I vote.

    Come on people. Standing up for privacy and freedom and such is usually really hard. It takes a lot of balls to go out and film some flat foot seeing if he will arrest you illegally. But telling these assholes to go fuck themselves? That is doing God's work. And it is easy too. We should thank these people for sending out such letters and giving people the opportunity to stand up for themselves in a save, easy and fun manner.

  • ||

    I wish I got one of those letters, too. My god, I would have a field day.

  • John||

    I swear if I have kids, I will be tempted to send them to public schools so I can have the joy of fucking with the school officials for 12 years.

  • Almanian!||

    Be careful - we put three through pub schools. Youngest just started college this fall, and we're STILL washing off the stupid from dealing with the pubsec idiots.

    Don't say I didn't warn you...

  • John||

    I know. It would be very selfish of me to infect my kid with that much stupid just so I can have the joy of making those assholes' lives miserable and filing pro say lawsuits for 12 years.

  • Rufus J. Fisk||

    ^this

  • Aresen||

    Actually, I am appalled that anybody is allowed access to the record of who did and who did not vote.

    From my POV, this is personal information on a par with my medical records and should not be subject to FOI requests.

  • flye||

    "Dave! Dave! Come on with the voting! I'm trying to tell you about fucking my wife in the ass, and you're asking me all these personal questions."

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    I think making that information public is part of the 'let us stop voter fraud' efforts, right? If a person goes a certain amount of time without voting the election officials might need to check if they are still eligible to vote in the jurisdiction they are registered in and if not purge them. And it has to be public so that John Q. Public can check their status.

    Unintended consequences are always attendant to government schemes.

  • Aresen||

    I have the right to check my own voting status.

    Anyone else can shove it up their ballot box.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    You are asking the government to record this information and then only make it available to the party concerned upon request? This is the government, they can not do such complicated things!

  • Michael S. Langston||

    If they can tell whether I have health care insurance or not, and if so, what kind, and by virtue of that offer me tax breaks or tax penalties - I think it would be a snap to tell only the voter whether they "voted" upon request.

    I mean - not as easy as say systematically screwing with your political rivals through the IRS or FBI phone warrants or discrediting people by the NSA or muderdroning "threats", but it shouldn't be that hard.

  • CE||

    You know who else purged people?

  • Zeb||

    I'm surprised that such information is publicly available, but I think you are overstating the privacy aspects a bit. Polling places are in public and there is nothing to stop everyone finding out whether you did vote or not even without the records being made available.
    If they were giving out who everyone voted for, I'd agree with you.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Polling places are in public and there is nothing to stop everyone finding out whether you did vote or not

    True on an individual level in that someone could follow you that day, but you could still hide if through absentee ballot, and you can have someone questioned for just following you around all the time.

    But I would think any systematic tracking of a polling place and all who enter through video, or tracking license plates with pics or whatever means, if found (and how wouldn't it be as what would be the point if not to tell others about the information) would likely be deemed voter suppression.

    Though I'm not sure it should be - as I don't think whether one votes is really all that private (though if some think it is, I see no reason the information should be divulged necessarily) as I don't see a harm in it; whereas I can see potential harm if who you voted for were widely known.

    As while this piece talks about shaming people into voting - from the stats I recall, non-voters are still a larger percentage of the population than voters.

    So an employer who is fighting a union may hate you for voting for the union backed candidate, but even if the employer hated non-voters, I doubt most could survive on 1/2 staffs (with notable exceptions in non-productive industries such as lobbying, political advocacy, etc, etc).

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Speaking of non-productive - anyone seen the new Post Office commercials? Their ad speaks of "higher percentage delivery rate than ever" along with scanning at "up to 11 points between pickup and destination"...

    So basically they are marketing these two things as part of the reason to use them - yet in both cases, the "selling points" are sub-standard versions of what UPS & FedEx had in late 1990's (1998/1999), including real time scanning at each package change (from pickup, to first distro, to truck, to plane , to truck, to distro, to final truck, to delivery) and automatic insurance of up to $100 for lost packages.

    I'm sure they'll excel at health care though.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I thought voting was at least pseudo anonymous. Since when is whether one voted or not public record?

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    Who you voted for is anonymous, whether you voted is not, because we have to fight fraud and stuff. Of course, as noted several times here, those who cry fraud will find that either reporting or not reporting who votes lends itself to fraud.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Just because they collect the data doesn't mean it's not *private though - it only needs to be used in case of fraud, right?

    *Not that I think it should be private necessarily - just saying that their need to fight fraud is a need to collect the data - not a need to distribute it openly (though nominally I think the vast majority of data the government collects should be not just public, but easily accessible and digitized so searchable/filterable/etc - and don't yet see a reason I would think this should be exempt from that).

  • Nicholas Sarwark||

    As I recall from reading "The Victory Lab" by Sasha Issenberg, targeted non-voter shaming is effective at raising participation rates. The threat of publication is sufficient, even without actually publishing.

    If a campaign sends these postcards out to likely supporters, they can bump their vote numbers up by 2-5%, which can swing an election.

    In other words, the people sending these cards couldn't give a shit about the ethics of non-voting, only whether they can guilt that person into voting.

  • bassjoe||

    And only shaming them into voting for the "right side", of course. They don't believe it to actually be a civic duty; if you vote "wrong", they will lambaste you for abusing your precious God-given civic duty to make the country a better place or something.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Shaming though is an efficient long-term strategy - as after a while, those you shamed, won't care anymore.

    Which is when they'll increase the rhetoric, but it all has to be with diminishing returns.

    Or rather I should say - with a cognizant and critical population, those who cry wolf typically get ignored if they cry wolf constantly (even if it's true every time).

  • Zeb||

    For some reason I keep voting. I should really give it up. That and giving a fuck about politics. It can't be healthy.

  • CE||

    I still vote regularly, but I'm not sure why since the majority of the people in my district are incurable statists.

    My life has been immeasurably happier since I stopped watching the news on TV though.

  • GILMORE||

    ALLES KLAR, HERR KOMMISSAR?

  • Rufus J. Fisk||

    I really wish shit like this would happen to me, getting letters like this. I'd walk right to the little office they have and just berate them. God, I almost just want to get something like this!!! Just as much as I pray to get on a jury where I can utilize my jury nullification snark-dom.

  • ||

    My wife (the rara avis libertarian female) refuses to vote on the quite rational grounds that voter registration = jury duty = involuntary servitude and loss of privacy.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    My parents never claimed jury duty was involuntary servitude, but claimed not wanting to serve was their reason for not registering/voting.

    Not that I care whether they vote or not - like many of you, I think not voting is the only ethical choice given most choices given - but as soon as they became old enough to be an older voter (like many), they suddenly decided voting was necessity :)

  • Michael S. Langston||

    given...given... not grammatically incorrect, but demonstrates my lack of sleep :)

  • juliajuli145||

    until I looked at the check which was of $4814, I be certain that...my... mom in-law could actually bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there aunt started doing this for under 20 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a top of the range Ford Mustang. why not try this out

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  • Car Scanner||

    Good post.

  • Gary||

    Go to youtube and check out George Carlin on voting.

  • kristenkristen||


    until I looked at the check which was of $4814, I be certain that...my... mom in-law could actually bringing home money in there spare time on-line.. there aunt started doing this for under 20 months and at present cleared the debts on their appartment and got a top of the range Ford Mustang. why not try this out

    ==============================
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    ==============================

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