When We Lose Our Vote
Tuesday night’s assembly meeting played host to a dozen or so offerings of testimony from Anchorage residents. They reported personal accounts of voting issues, accounts of poll workers identifying ballot shortages and AccuVote machine problems, and the need for an independent investigation and a do-over election. Additionally, a new chair was elected in Assemblyman Ernie Hall (as correctly predicted here last week).
Of the testimony, one stood out which I felt worth posting, in full.
Good evening, Assembly members, my name is Laura Herman…. I grew up in Anchorage; I registered to vote for the first time in Anchorage. Because of going to school in other places I’ve not been able to vote in every election. But I was able to vote in the early voting process, which I’m really glad that we have in this city. And I think my vote got counted, but, you know, I didn’t receive a letter saying ‘Oh, your vote got counted’….
I just turned twenty-three; I have a whole lifetime of voting in front of me and I have so many friends who think that voting doesn’t matter – who don’t vote. I am the anomaly with people my age. And when I say, ‘no, there’s so many elections in Alaska that have been decided by hundreds of votes, or a hundred votes, or fifty votes – and I say it’s so important for you to go vote. How can I use that argument when it’s not even going to be counted? Literally, it’s not being counted.
And I think that you’re seeing a huge out pour from the city of concern that this is not okay…. [T]here’s a bunch of you who I support on this assembly. But I will actively be involved in revoking all of you because my voice is being taken away when you decide not to investigate this. It is so important, and it’s not right. And I know that we’re all coming forward and really imploring you to give our voice power and to really count our votes, but it seems like – why should I even have to stand here and ask you all to do your civic duty? …[I]f this had been an election where assembly members were being elected, I bet that you guys would really want to know if you really won or if you really lost.
There are some things that I voted for that won. I’m really happy about that. And some things that lost, and I’m sad about that. But it doesn’t matter if I won or if I lost because I know that all of those votes counted. Well, in this case I don’t know. I don’t know if this is really the outcome that we’re supposed to have and we need to have that assurance with our elections.
Paul Honeman chimed in, saying that government isn’t perfect; that they hire people who sometimes make mistakes. He asked her to try and convince her friends to stay engaged and keep voting. She responded.
I’ll do my part, but you guys have a really huge part to do. I can keep convincing my friends to go vote. But if they don’t hear from you guys that their vote matters than it doesn’t matter.
Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson agreed.
Why does anybody have to stand up here before us and practically beg us to hire somebody to investigate this election? Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now…. Even our clerk has asked us to hire [independent counsel] and to do an independent investigation, and I agree with you one hundred percent.
It’s not uncommon to hear the argument that voting is irrational. George Carlin made a pretty good career (and point) out of it. Our government, on each respective level, is a giant and often-clumsy bureaucracy with wires that seem to cross more than they connect.
But at this level; at the municipal level, we are talking about an election that cannot be called legitimate, given the evidence (and at least one admission) of election tampering, (and hundreds of counts of ) voter fraud, ballot shortages, compromised machinery, and voter disenfranchisement. This election was not on the “up and up”. It wasn’t sideways. It was and continues to be upside down. The shaky voice that so poignantly administered this testimony afforded those who listened, and those who read this now, the necessity of finding out why our democratic process failed; why it was allowed to fail. Not to choose new winners and losers, but to understand where the system broke down and make sure it never happens again.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to engage young people in politics – especially local politics. It’s resulted in a lot of tears, with a couple drops of success that make up for all the heartbreak. When the Occupy Wall Street crowd – at least the local chapter – became active, I tried to rally their attention to local issues and community involvement. “Occupying” town square and screaming at disconnected politicians in DC offices didn’t seem very useful when there were community councils that were begging them to show up and matter here. My frustration with many involved with that group was rooted in the people who said they did not vote, would not vote, and had given up on the process. I would tell them (as I have always maintained) that your vote, as Laura Herman so eloquently stated, is your voice. It is a sustaining voice that echoes the same civic duty that inspired our ancestors to lend their lives to the cause of the American Revolution, and it is the repeating chorus I hope to one day witness my offspring join.
When I told by someone that he or she doesn’t plan on voting, I have always immediately responded by saying: “So, you’re going to run?”
But tonight I find myself at a loss, listening to the desperate plea of this young woman, pleading with her elected officials to reassure her that someone is at the wheel. How can we claim to live in a self governing society that feels empowered to enact laws prohibiting protests on the sidewalk, and yet turns away from safeguarding our elections?
If our vote no longer counts; if we cannot rely on that one bedrock principle that has guided us from the birth of our republic through to today, all is lost.
We cannot allow voting to become irrational. We cannot allow them to take away our voice.