Is there a major flaw in mail balloting — one which should cause all 50 states to reconsider the trend towards all-mail balloting? Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll affirmatively argued “Damning revelations will surface about a candidate several days before a major election, quickly be proven true, and a once-popular politician will limp to victory despite a sea-change in public opinion and acute remorse among tens of thousands of voters.”
Carroll uses the accusations — (1) made by a criminal with a vendetta against Denver mayoral candidate Michael Hancock (who went on to win the election anyway), and (2) proven to be false — as an example of something potentially important which most voters missed. I would argue that, even if the accusations were true, they were not nearly as important as some have posited.
One argument against mail balloting is the vast majority of voters cast their ballots (e.g., +90%) prior to Election Day and, therefore, those voters “miss” the opportunity to change their minds after such revelations occur at the end of a campaign. Actually, for a number of reasons, nothing could be further from what we want our democracy to be for several reasons.
First, are we really missing critically important information about candidates who have been at hundreds of events, who have campaigned for months, who have answered thousands of questions, and who have been investigated by news organizations and opposition research teams (some of which hire private investigators)? By the last week of almost any campaign, everyone has “heard it all” — ad nauseam — and has made their decisions based on what has occurred over the past several months or years — rather than some alleged last-minute “breaking story.”
Second, think about the nature of end-of-the-campaign “revelations.” Do they typically involve substantive policy issues? Are they commonly related to the office in question and how the candidate will govern? The answer is “Never” or close to that, so voters usually aren’t missing anything relevant. Last-minute claims typically are malicious personal attacks against a candidate’s character.
Third, in the current political era, it is rare any new adverse information is found at the end of a campaign. Most such accusations are known well in advance by almost every Media entity. They typically are “shopped” by agents or sympathizers of an opponent weeks or months before Election Day. By any standard, the Hancock example in Denver was old news because the accusations had been investigated in past years — with no verifiable information ever found which implicated Hancock.
Fourth, news organizations who abide by high journalistic standards, such as The Post, do their best to vet any claims against a candidate but today find themselves in competition with entities — primarily online — which do not care about substantiating outrageous claims. These less-responsible entities are willing to publish “information” regardless of its accuracy. In some cases they do it due to their political bias. In other cases they do it because they do not have the resources of a daily newspaper or because they like the attention. Last-minute claims put enormous pressure on bona fide Media entities but those with integrity will not change their modus operandi. Mail balloting actually mitigates the impact on the electoral process of the growing number of those standards-free Media entities.
Fifth, despite the titillating nature of typical last-minute accusations, voters are far less interested, as part of their electoral decision process, in many of the kinds of salacious news items many Media entities prominently publish (including electronically).
Sixth, again voters are more sophisticated than many of us in the Press believe. No one has seen a scientific correlation between personal scandal and political performance. Although it is easy to say, “Someone who breaks his or her marital vows will do the same to the electorate,” there is no evidence this is true. Many of us admire great leaders who had messy lives. And most voters know personal relationships can be extremely complex. And they often are compassionate — when properly, genuinely, and timely asked for such forgiveness.
The reality is mail balloting actually protects voters from the kind of scurrilous last-minute attacks which most Americans despise. It forces those who practice the Politics of Personal Destruction to play their hands earlier — giving the Press time to investigate claims and giving those who are unfairly attacked time to respond. If anything, mail balloting should be encouraged by those seeking to address this abysmal aspect of modern politics.
Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm as well as on COMCAST Entertainment Television and ION Television (KPXC-TV) and is viewable 24/7 at http://www.HarberTV.com. Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com. (C) Copyright 2011 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber. All rights reserved.