Election 2014

Vote-Shaming: Reminding You the Parties Think You Owe Them, Not the Other Way Around

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"… So please don't hurt me!"
Credit: Daniel Morrison / photo on flickr

If you're in New York or North Carolina, your state Democratic Party is watching you. They want you to vote, and they're not above threatening to out you for either your apathy or your ambivalence to your neighbors. Talking Points Memo explains the rather disturbing behavior:

New York voters have been receiving very sinister letters from their state's Democratic Party. The tone is vaguely Orwellian: We'll be watching whether you go to the ballot box.

"Who you vote for is your secret," the letter, posted by some recipients on Twitter, says. "But whether or not you vote is public record. Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors."

It then provides a quick reminder of when and where one can vote.

"We will be reviewing … official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014," the mailer concludes. "If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not."

They verified that these letters did indeed come from the Democratic parties, so it's not like somebody is trying to make them look bad. They're also not the only ones doing it. According to Talking Points Memo, similar efforts by apparent third-party groups took place in Alaska, Ohio, and Florida.

As much as I would like to dismiss this effort as a tone-deaf response to voter apathy at a particularly blah-inspiring field, TPM spoke to academics who say this sort of social pressure actually works:

In a paper published in 2008, researchers from Yale University and the University of Northern Iowa reported that they had sent letters to voters with a variety of messages—voting is public record, your neighbors will know if you don't vote, etc.—and what they found is that among people who received the mailers "substantially higher turnout was observed."

"These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation," the researchers wrote. In other words, nobody wants to be embarrassed in front of their neighbors.

It's a sad reminder, though, that this vote-shaming results in these political parties coming to believe that they are entitled to our votes and that the voters serve them, not the other way around. It absolves the parties of responsibility for fielding terrible candidates that fail to inspire. Perhaps such repulsive treatment of the voting public will encourage more of them to drop their parties entirely and join the trend toward independent affiliation.

For the record, I did cast my ballot in the 2014 election here in California through the mail, but I didn't vote for a single candidate, just on the ballot initiatives. I thought my choices were all pretty awful. and thanks to California's open primary, top-two final vote, I had only the choice between two Democrats to represent me in the state Assembly.

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  1. Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

    1. Why not Cthulthu?

      1. Why not Cthulthu?

        Working for MSNBC….going to take Chris Hayes spot.

        1. ….going to take Chris Hayes spot.

          I thought that was Kaci Hickox….

      2. He didn’t make the top two in the primary.

  2. It’s a sad reminder, though, that this vote-shaming results in these political parties coming to believe that they are entitled to our votes and that the voters serve them, not the other way around.

    This is ultimately the voter’s fault.

    1. A sad truth. I wish we could start a movement for radical electoral reform. I’m not a fan of the duopoly/first past the post.

      1. It is an interesting subject. It’s hard to say how alternative systems would work out in practice, but I do enjoy of thinking of other ways it could be done.

        I’m a fan of negative voting and a “none of the above” option.

        1. I remember reading that rank-order voting (ranking the candidates 1,2,3 etc) was shown mathematically to give the ‘most desirable outcome’ for the most people. I’m not sure how it would work in reality, however.

          1. BigT|10.31.14 @ 7:13PM|#
            …”I’m not sure how it would work in reality, however.”

            The people of Oakland would like to introduce you to Ms. Jean Quan:
            “Oakland Mayor Jean Quan needs to get facts straight”
            http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/…..662142.php

          2. Every voting system has something wrong with it, because the features we expect a voting system to have are mutually contradictory:

            Arrow’s impossibility theorem

            1. But Arrow’s theorem does not prove that all are equally bad. To some people, some systems are ‘better’ in that they are less easy to manipulate either through tactical voting or fraud. Other than being easy to use, First-past-the-post has a lot of faults to me.

              There are alternative systems in use now in the US: Single transferable voting(a form of preference voting) is still used in Cambridge Mass. and was used widely in Ohio local elections up until the late 1950s.

      2. Well, runoff-between-top-2, aforementioned, is one alternative to 1st-past-the-post. Not that you’ll necessarily like the results of that one any more than Mr. Shackford did, though.

        1. Yes, it is one alternative among many. I may not like first-past-the-post, but it doesn’t mean I think all alternatives are better.

      3. I think we need to move to a “one person, one veto” system. Each registered voter gets a veto they can cast for one candidate. Whichever candidate has the fewest vetoes wins.

        Or what about a system where each person has a positive vote AND a negative vote. Give the positive vote to your favorite candidate. Give the negative one to your least favorite candidate. Whoever has the highest net vote count wins.

  3. I remember the local party chairman pressuring the student group I was involved in to support an “acceptable” candidate in the primary. It has left a bad taste in my mouth ever since.

    I also recall an experience where a current Governor’s campaign aide was upset because I wasn’t excited about volunteering for his boss.

    1. Shit, I had this experience with a *Libertarian* operative.

      1. That surprises me even more

        1. I think that a lot of capitol “L” Libertarians are as nuts as regular political operatives.

          1. It’s surprising because you’d think they would want to differentiate themselves from the practices of Tweedeledee and Tweedledum

            1. Some of them used to work for Tweedledee and Tweedledum…it’s all they know.

  4. With California’s Top 2 primaries, there’s no reason to vote in the general election anymore.

  5. I don’t get why people hate the ‘top two’ system. It’s a great way to vote for a third party candidate in the first round without ‘vote splitting’.

    1. Maybe if the mindset changes, but currently people still worry they’re helping the other side if they don’t vote for the most milquetoast candidate they can.

      I’ve spent years trying to convince my Republican parents to vote Constitution Party instead during the Presidential elections, but they’re afraid that if they don’t vote Obama will win more, or something.

    2. I like the principle of it. The guaranteed spot for the big parties on the ballot has always bothered me, as does having the state run party primaries.
      But when you do it in a preexisting two party system, places like CA seem likely to become even more one party dominated. I think putting the top 3 on the general ballot or having some sort of instant runoff system would be better. And don’t put party affiliation on the ballot.

      1. Also, weren’t third parties strongly opposed to this change?

        1. They were opposed because it hurt their interests as minor parties, even if it enhanced the possibility of a candidate of theirs getting elected. They wanted a lock on a line with a party name on the gen’l election ballot.

          That’s the problem with an organiz’n such as LP: After a while they’re no longer interested in getting anyone elected, only in sustaining themselves as a permanent opposition/whiner organiz’n.

          1. Perhaps, but I don’t really see the top-2 system as a an effective way to end the duopoly.

            1. I think a top 3 system with no mention of party on any ballots (so that people who vote mindlessly for their team would be confused) would be worth a try.
              But Democrats in CA couldn’t have that because you’d probably end up with two Democrats and a Republican on the ballot. So maybe it wouldn’t be such a great plan. You would often end up with the candidate from the less popular party winning. It would be amusing to see what strategies emerged in a system like that.

              1. *I think a top 3 system with no mention of party on any ballots (so that people who vote mindlessly for their team would be confused) would be worth a try.*

                So you want to trick people into voting for someone who doesn’t represent their interests. Nice.

    3. It strikes me that it violates freedom of association. But, then, personally, I think primaries ought to be a private affair of private political organizations, rather than a structural feature of the official election process.

  6. “These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation,” the researchers wrote. In other words, nobody wants to be embarrassed in front of their neighbors.

    The majority of Americans have a moral duty not to vote for the same reason they have a moral duty not to drive drunk, namely that their bad and uninformed decisions have a serious negative impact on others.

    Given that these GOTV initiatives are the political equivalent of encouraging drunk driving, maybe it’s time to shame the shamers into ceasing their harassment of those who do us all a favor by staying home on election night.

    1. Drunk driving is a sport reserved for professionals

      1. Have the Kennedys started a league? Awesome! Scans cable grid for coverage… ah shit, it’s pay per view.

    2. What do you know? Rock the Vote says I should punch that ballot.

  7. I got one of these things in the mail. Meh, they are more than welcome to come discuss this on the edge of my property.

  8. It’s really the yang to poll intimidation’s yin. They’re equally as nefarious, as the right to vote should be as sacred as the right not to vote. If I can’t stand in front of a polling place and scare away people who I think will vote differently than me, then I can’t invade someone’s mailbox to scare someone who I think will vote like me into voting.

  9. “Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.”

    WE FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING

  10. Fuck that noise, they better be glad they didn’t try and pull that shit with me.

    I would have written to the neighbors of the candidates these guys supported, and the neighbors of the party chairman, saying “this is the kind of neighbor you have – using threats to get you to vote for his retarded candidates. What would his kids think about their dad’s behavior? Write to them care of their school, East Side High at [address] – and don’t forget to write his mother at the Sunnyvale Rest Home at [address].”

    1. You want to climb into the sewer with me, big boy? Get ready to have a ton of shit stuffed up your nose.

      1. “Fuck that noise” and “a ton of shit stuffed up your nose.”

        Did you have a stroke or something? Should we call 911 for you?

      2. Eddie, is Matthew 15:11 or Ephesians 5:4 optional for Catholics?

        1. Your lips are moving, but all I hear is

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtQLIU4ze0g

          1. Luke 11:46-52

            1. (NASB)

            2. Are you accusing me of killing Zechariah?

          2. Fair enough. If your faith is OK with that kind of thing I guess that’s between you and it.

              1. I guess we understand who you think it’s important to impress and represent around here.

                1. The people who aren’t Bo?

                  1. If always heard you guys tend to be light on Scripture since you rely on your Clergy to read it and explain it to you, but sheesh

                    1. I found your banner:

                      http://ianwatsonblog.files.wor…..othing.jpg

              2. Come one Eddie, that’s just unfair.

                Those braying animals are way more entertaining than Bo. How dare you insult them.

        2. No Biblical scholar or even intelligent lay person thinks that Matthew 15:11 or Ephesians 5:4 has anything to do with foul language. In fact, the word for obscenity in Ephesians 5:4 is more appropriately translated to “evil talk”. Lots of aging church harridans and soccer moms do think it is talking about naughty words.

          It is good to see that the ardent pro-choicer is as good a Biblical exegete as he is a logical thinker in other areas.

          1. To revise: it does have to do with foul language, but not specific words like “shit” (a word which might be a better choice for some passages where “dung” is used in English translations) or “fuck”.

            1. Let me ask you this my Scriptural expert, do you think “You want to climb into the sewer with me, big boy? Get ready to have a ton of shit stuffed up your nose” might, just might, qualify as ‘evil talk’ apart from the profanity?

            2. I also love how you backpedal from the insultingly certain tone of your first post to your revised second. Pride goeth before the fall indeed.

              1. Pride actually goeth before destruction.

                It’s an haughty spirit that goeth before the fall.

  11. If whether you have voted is a matter of public record, where are these records and how does one get access? The next thing you know some a-hole will publish the names.

    1. In some states, it’s on the Web. If not, it would be at the Board of Elections.

      They generally have your voting history (whether you voted in a given election, whether you voted in person or absentee), as well as your address.

      1. The rationale for this is often given as helping fight voter fraud.

        1. That doesn’t make sense – there is NO voter fraud…you obviously are “new” to Reason…

      2. I suppose there are reasons why that should be such as allowing independent investigations of voter fraud. But I can’t think of any good reason why people shouldn’t be forbidden from using it for electioneering purposes. I’m getting pretty tired of getting phone calls and reams of flyers in the mail every day.

        1. The argument against restricting it’s use is a 1st Amendment one.

          1. I guess. But if you can have a “do not call” list, why not? I suppose there would be the same problems with “do not call”. I’m probably letting my frustration with election crap get the better of me.

            1. Iirc it’s because do not call is commercial speech but this is as political as speech can get, and (sadly IMO) the former is far less protected.

        2. Here’s how you solve that in Maryland. Register as a Libertarian. No one will ever call you or send you mail. Guaranteed.

          1. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I’m registered “unaffiliated” or whatever they call it. Which of course gets you on everyone’s list. Only problem is that I have very little interest in voting in the Libertarian primary.

            1. Not only is it not a bad idea. It works, I’ve proven it.

      3. Even if you never registered to vote?

        1. No, I think you have to be registered, or have been, to be on the list.

      4. Thanks. Yes, I found it for my local county and school district. Amazingly, although my city votes 60-40 Republican the registrations are 60-40 Democratic.

        It just seems wrong that this information is public – when you voted, did not vote.

        1. Is there an independent/undeclared option?

  12. I think it is funny that it is effective to do this. I generally do vote, but I am seriously considering giving it up except maybe certain local things.

    But I guess people have the weird idea that there is something wrong with not voting.

  13. Look who I found – Patricia Keever, former NC legislator and the person who took credit for the voter-shaming campaign in the Tar Heel State.

    I wonder what she’s doing, down at 1586 CHARLOTTE HWY
    FAIRVIEW, NC 28730?

    And looking at her voter history, it seems she voted in the Presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, *but there’s no mention of her voting in the midterm elections.*

    Shame, shame, shame!

    (NC voter records)

    http://tinyurl.com/nhcvv8x

  14. They say the real test of one’s principles is sticking to them even when the result is something you don’t like. That’s how I feel about campaign finance. On principle I can’t accept restrictions, but I increasingly think it is the main cause of the awful system we have. Systematically any ‘serious’ candidate will have to be acceptable and/or beholden to the kind if entrenched interests who can bankroll their campaign, and they’re usually rent seeking champions.

    1. And even if you put aside the principled objections, it would probably just serve to further entrench the power of the major parties.

      1. I frankly don’t see how they could be any more entrenched.

        1. Easy. Just create a ton of new laws and regulations which are complex, semi costly to comply with, and extremely difficult for smaller new groups to comply with.

          Your entrenched groups are large and stable enough, and hold enough power and influence, that the resulting legislation will be setup to create new, expensive and complicated barriers to any new players who may enter the market.

          But since you are a self proclaimed real, true libertarian thinker, one who holds the most libertarianest thoughts as compared to all other libertarians, one who is so libertarian, you think if one needs a set of libertarians to define the True Scottsman of libertarians, it need only include you… You already knew the answer, right?

          I mean with your staunch libertarians beliefs, combined with your perfect ethics, I’m sure your question was rhetorical.

          Right?

          1. So, old paleo poster/new handle or long time obsessively angry lurker first time commenter?

            1. Michael Langston is neither. I’ve seen his posts for many months now. Doesn’t post frequently.

            2. [[Bo pulls secret list of crypto So-Con commenters from his pocket and adds Michael S Langson]]

            3. Uhh, Bo-Bo, Langton has been posting here a lot longer than you have and he’s pretty consistently libertarian.

    2. The sole reason our system is so fucked up is winner-take-all elections. That’s what leads to the two party system and everything else that flows from it.

    3. Because the root cause is not the money, it’s the power.

      1. Scruffy for the win!

        If the government has less power it won’t attract as much money. Simple.

        1. I wholeheartedly agree, but how to get there in the present system is the question.

    4. The main cause of the awful system we have is that our ostensible leaders are (ostensibly) chosen by people who have very little incentive to get things right when casting their vote, and where in any case short-term incentives for rulers absolutely overwhelm long-term incentives.

      If it were a simple matter to fix the problems with democracy, it is likely that we would see the real-world effects of implementing this simple fix. I don’t see any particular difference in between the quality of democracy’s responsiveness and responsibility in a country with stringent campaign finance laws and a country lacking such.

      1. The solution to that problem was published in the 1960’s. Read “Lone Star Planet” by H. Beam Piper. It’s open source on the net.

  15. Orwellian? Isn’t that a bit over the top? Political parties have always been all about determining who the voters are, where they live, what messages appeal to them, etc. They are also very interested in who isn’t voting and would likely do what they could to convince those people to vote (for them!). This time they thought “shaming” would work. They’re dumb for thinking that it’ll work, but it’s not a sign of some impending totalitarianism or something.

    1. but it’s not a sign of some impending totalitarianism or something

      Neither are the other ten hundred zillion signs, it’s all just extremist hysteria. Politicians and political parties just love us and are all selfless and benevolent. Now where’s my free pony?

      1. When I was a little girl in Poland, we all had ponies. My sister had pony, my cousin had pony… So, what’s wrong with that?

        Move to Poland if you want pony.

        1. I hated ponies. In fact, I hated everyone who had a pony.

          1. That’s it! I’ve had enough!

          2. You stole my line!

      2. There are 10 zillion signs, but this is not one of them. It’s just stupid, that’s all.

        1. Not really, I find those letters offensive.

          It sort of reminds of the company that was sending me letters in the mail when the warranty expired on my car. They would say stuff like ‘open immediately, response required within 10 days!’. And they would try their best to look like the emails were actually from the MVA or some other government agency.

          But these letters are much worse, since they are little more than thinly veiled threats. I would love to get one and tell these people to piss off and don’t threaten me as I don’t take threats lightly.

          1. What are they threatening to do? Tell people? Who are they going to tell? Of those people, who will care? Of those people, who do you care that might know and care?

            1. The problem is that they know a good percentage of the voting public are naive enough to actually believe they are going to get into some sort of trouble for not voting. It’s incredibly unethical what they are doing. These people are pure fucking scum.

            2. Pretty sure they have mandatory voting in Oz. This is just the first step.

              1. The fine for not voting is A$100.

  16. What we need is something like this:

    Bit Congress

    And, yes, it will work and it will happen. Yeah, yeah, I know, the idea of people sending mail with computers is insane, that’s exactly what I was told in the 80s. Voting online will NEVER, EVER happen of be possible. People will never fly, the car will never replace the horse, no one will ever have a computer in their home, blah, blah, blah. Be gone, luddites!

    1. They need a less ridiculous website.

      1. Most folks need a less ridiculous website. The problem with websites is that anyone can create one. It takes pretty much zero knowledge of knowing what the fuck you are doing. It’s like cooking. Everyone can do it, but not everyone should.

        1. My standard would be if the actual content is just text, then just give me text in an easy to read and navigate format.

    2. So what am I looking at here?

      1. It’s a sort of system for online government/voting. For me, the inspiration for this is from the writings of Vernor Vinge. Have you read the novel ‘A Fire Upon the Deep’? If so, then you are already familiar with the concept. I’m a big fan of the idea.

    3. Hah! We already have 2-bit Congress.

  17. When is John going to show up for a clumsy Shackelford takedown?

    1. “Clumsy Shackelford Takedown” sexual euphemism or poorly thought out cocktail name?

      1. Can’t it be both?

        1. Enough of your Libertopia fantasies, Somalia Guy.

    2. Has he got Scott confused with Ernest Shackleton?

      1. Wasn’t he a pole dancer?

        1. Nah, he just chills.

  18. Back on subject. You know what, those letters are really creepy. If I received something like that, it would piss me off. So first, I’d throw it in the trash, then I’d take it back out, piss on it, and set it on fire. No wait, that’s not what happened! I wrote them a letter and said ‘You want to know why I didn’t vote? Because all of the candidates suck donkey ballz. You like that? Now pizz the fuck off. Oh, and have a nice day.’

    1. Hey, you think you got it bad? I have Pelosi or some other not-quite-as-pathetic lefty on my ballot.
      Wanna know why I didn’t choose one of those? Are you nuts?!

      1. Dude, this is the Rep for my district:

        Maryland District 7

        And you thought you could one up me? Hah! This guy makes Pelosi look both smart and honest.

        1. Is that the guy who asked if Guam was gonna capsize?

  19. “These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation,”

    Who was it that said getting to choose your executioner is not due process? If the choice is between a turd sandwich and a giant douche (and it almost always is a choice between a turd sandwich and a giant douche), being pressured to squeak and gibber in the harlequinade is hardly participatory democracy.

  20. “You didn’t vote for the shysters we said you could vote for? Where do you get off!?”

  21. How is this a reminder of the parties with an s? They only have a horror story about one party. Couldn’t they find something about the Republicans?

    1. “So they aren’t the only ones and this isn’t new. In Alaska, voters have complained about receiving a similar kind of letter from a group that received a hefty contribution from a charter-school supporter who wants to elect a GOP Senate (though he disavowed the mailers).

      “Why do so many people fail to vote? We’ve been talking about the problem for years, but it only seems to get worse,” the Alaska letter says. “This year, we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote.”

  22. The Democrats have taken political involvement into a religious dogma. They’re behaving the same way parish churches treated members of the congregation over the last couple of centuries.

    *irish accent*

    Haven’t seen y’n church, Paddy O’Doyle!

    *glowers*

  23. As much as I would like to dismiss this effort as a tone-deaf response to voter apathy at a particularly blah-inspiring field, TPM spoke to academics who say this sort of social pressure actually works:

    Yeah, fucking try that shit with me.

    And uhm, wouldn’t the Democrats have a worse kind of problem? More votes than registered voters?

    *ducks*

  24. I get one of these letters, the first thing I do is file a criminal complaint of voter intimidation. If I get no action, the letter gets wrapped around a brick and returned through the most expensive window in the party office.

  25. My default reply to any political solicitation is “eat flaming death, you boot-licking piece of shit.”

    -jcr

  26. “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

    Ebola. OK?

  27. It looks like my state requires you to mail in a request form to have access to the voter roles, and then they charge you for it. At least they make it fairly cumbersome.

  28. Not only don’t I vote, I don’t open the mail.

  29. researchers from Yale University and the University of Northern Iowa reported that they had sent letters to voters with a variety of messages — voting is public record, your neighbors will know if you don’t vote, etc. — and what they found is that among people who received the mailers “substantially higher turnout was observed.”

    Hmmm. If I received such an Orwellian letter, I might consider voting … for someone not of the party of whoever sent such a letter.

    OK, I wouldn’t vote at all even then. But you gotta wonder if those letters are counterproductive.

    1. But you gotta wonder if those letters are counterproductive.

      According to the linked research, they aren’t.

    2. We received our FOURTH post-card today (I live in Iowa) – the Orwellian tone reached fever pitch today with the as-of October 30 our records show you have not voted and “we plan to notify your community” whether you have voted.

      Ironically, we voted over two weeks ago (via early voting).

      I sent complaint letters to the State Attorney General this morning regarding AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY, the so-called non-profit, non-partisan organization responsible.

      1. You probably get a better response if you taped the post card to a brick and returned it through a closed window.

  30. Can we no please dispense with the pretense that there’s no difference between the major parties? As much as there are very real problems with the Republican party, the Democrats have gone full-out fascist.

  31. It’s a sad reminder, though, that this vote-shaming results in these political parties coming to believe that they are entitled to our votes…

    These parties? It sounds pretty clear to me that this isn’t a bipartisan issue, Mr. Shackford.

  32. Voting is violence, even if you’re voting LP.

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