A Pre-Marked Voter Registration Card? It's All in the Overrated Tradition of Democracy.


Pre-marked voter registration

It's fair to say that never has an ambitious government program been passed without an eye to buying votes or even—what the hell—buying voters outright. From a politicians' perspective, what's the point of expending time and effort on legislation if it's not going to win a little ballot box love? So it's little surprise that a couple in La Mesa, California, not only received a voter registration packet from Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange charged with implementing Obamacare in California, but that the form was helpfully pre-marked for the Democratic Party.

From ABC10 News:

A local couple called 10News concerned after they received an envelope from the state's Obamacare website, Covered California. Inside was a letter discussing voter registration and a registration card pre-marked with an "x" in the box next to Democratic Party.

The couple–who did not want their identity revealed–received the letter and voter registration card from their health insurance provider Covered California, the state-run agency that implements President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

They have lived in La Mesa for years and they have always been registered to vote Republican. Now, they are perplexed as to how the voter registration card pre-marked Democrat ended up in their mailbox.

Why is Covered California sending out voter registration forms to nearly four million enrollees? Well, it has a big database, and voter rights groups threatened legal action unless that database was put to good use.

It's not a terrible stretch to assume that a health program closely associated with a Democratic president and his political party might attract more potential donkey voters than fans of the competition, but pre-marking the registration card with that choice is a tad presumptuous. Even so, Covered California claims astonishment, and refers inquiries to the Secretary of State's office. The San Diego County Registrar of Voters sends people with questions to Covered California.

It's a mystery!

Assuming the worst (and not an unfortunate error on some low-level somebody's part), this is small potatoes compared to how voting used to be handled. Writing for The New Yorker a few years ago, Jill Lepore told the tale of a somewhat vigorous election day in 1859:

On the morning of November 2, 1859—Election Day—George Kyle, a merchant with the Baltimore firm of Dinsmore & Kyle, left his house with a bundle of ballots tucked under his arm. Kyle was a Democrat. As he neared the polls in the city's Fifteenth Ward, which was heavily dominated by the American Party, a ruffian tried to snatch his ballots. Kyle dodged and wheeled, and heard a cry: his brother, just behind him, had been struck. Next, someone clobbered Kyle, who drew a knife, but didn't have a chance to use it. "I felt a pistol put to my head," he said. Grazed by a bullet, he fell. When he rose, he drew his own pistol, hidden in his pocket. He spied his brother lying in the street. Someone else fired a shot, hitting Kyle in the arm. A man carrying a musket rushed at him. Another threw a brick, knocking him off his feet. George Kyle picked himself up and ran. He never did cast his vote. Nor did his brother, who died of his wounds. The Democratic candidate for Congress, William Harrison, lost to the American Party's Henry Winter Davis. Three months later, when the House of Representatives convened hearings into the election, whose result Harrison contested, Davis's victory was upheld on the ground that any "man of ordinary courage" could have made his way to the polls.

Political factions have always tried to put as much pressure on the voting process as possible and, in the process, render the whole thing as bogus as can be imagined (assuming that you think 50 percent plus one has some special significance to begin with). Compared to a bloody gauntlet, pre-marked voter registration cards are mild stuff.

But we can use an occasional reminder that politicians expect a return for their efforts, and they're willing to put a thumb on the scale to get it.