Voting an important tool in fraud prevention

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 9, 2005

This column shouldn’t have to be about encouraging people to vote.

Hey, it’s been done. Anyone over the age of 18 and able to read knows the words by heart:

our veterans died for our right to vote, it’s the lifeblood of our American democracy, everyone votes in other countries even when there’s only one crooked party on the ballot, etc. It’s a stirring message. But column space is a precious thing (especially when there’s so much about Alabama politics to whine about), and it’s not like “Vote! Please! For the love of God!” hasn’t been written a hundred times before.

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Perhaps the reason it’s been written a hundred times, however, is that it’s still not getting through. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover two elections now for the Times, and in all four of the Marengo County polling places I’ve walked into–two in Demopolis for the January special Senate election and two in Linden for last Tuesday’s House election–I’ve found the poll workers very busy…reading magazines, doing crossword puzzles, and generally getting a lot of exercise out of their thumb’s “twiddle” muscles.

Yes, those two elections (the first of which was decided before the polls opened and the second of which involved less-populated sections of Marengo County) aren’t completely indicative of the region’s interest in voting, or lack thereof. But regardless, whenever the percentage of voters that make the polls that day is less than the percentage that make the Church’s Chicken, it’s an embarrassment.

So here’s five reasons, which you hopefully have not heard before, why Black Belt residents really should vote before they worry about that 2-piece meal with biscuit and potatoes:

1. Voting’s crucial everywhere, of course. But when it comes to the Black Belt, it’s literally a matter of life and death.

There’s too much poverty, too little health care, just plain too much that needs to be fixed for the Black Belt’s representation to be chosen carelessly. The fewer and fewer votes get cast, the more and more likely it becomes for a politician to make office not through an overall consensus of the people, but by the fervor of one devoted subsection of the people.

And when an elected official has to answer to only that one subsection, everyone else loses. The Black Belt has too steep an uphill climb already to risk leadership that’s pre-committed to only climbing the hill halfway.

2. Voting can extend one’s lunch break by a good forty-five minutes or more with the right spin. “Where have you been?” usually doesn’t carry much weight in the face of “Well, my grandfather risked his life in Japan 60 years ago for me to be able to vote today, so I kind of felt I owed it to him. Hope that’s OK with you.”

3. 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. is a long, long time with nothing to do but tackle the Reader’s Digest. You only get to answer “It Pays to Enrich Your Word Power” once, you know. The poll workers I’ve talked to have admitted that when you show up to vote, you’re doing them the favor of livening up what might be a slow afternoon. But more importantly, you’re also only showing the respect their time and effort deserve. If they can spend 12-plus straight hours at the polling place, we can be there for a quick few minutes.

4. By voting, if your candidate loses you’ve earned the right to complain. You had your say and did your part, so if you have a gripe about the winner’s voting record, public speaking habits, fashion sense, or bad hair, by all means: let fly. By not voting, if your candidate loses you’ve earned the right to just shut up already. You’ve had your chance to do something and say something and didn’t. People who don’t vote and complain about the election’s outcome are the same people who barely look at a menu, order a sandwich with mayonnaise, and then send it back when they find out there’s mayonnaise on it. Ask someone you know who’s waited a table or worked in a kitchen about these people sometime.

5. The voting fraud issue. Now, I don’t know if fraud’s going on in the Black Belt or not. Whether those stacks of absentee ballots piling up in the Hale and Perry boxes are the product of legal encouragement or illegal thievery, I’m not in the position to say. But it’s only natural to be concerned when the absentee numbers produced election after election are so violently out-of-whack with the numbers produced by elections everywhere else in the state.

And that concern makes voting all the more critical. If there’s not any fraud, great! You’ve still done your duty to your country and community.

If there is fraud, though, there’s no simpler, easier way to fight it than to vote. By voting you tell the powers-that-be that you care about the election. By voting, you may cancel out someone else’s fraudulent vote (sad, yes, but better than the alternative). By voting, you tell anyone who might be rigging the process that you aren’t going to be intimidated into staying home. Anyone who skips their vote because they believe the election might be stolen is the Black Belt equivalent of the New Yorker watching calmly as a purse-snatcher sprints by with an old lady’s life savings.

Again, it’s quite possible nothing funny’s going on. But why not vote and know that, if there is, you’ve done something to fight it? Isn’t that better in every way than automatically knowing you might have done nothing in the face of a crime against your friends and neighbors?

It is, and that’s reason enough to write it for a hundred-and-first time: Please, get out and vote.

Jerry Hinnen is a staff writer for the Demopolis Times. He can be reached at or by calling 334-289-4017.