Voting is the greatest act an everyday citizen can do to participate in our democracy, a right that has been fought for all throughout the history of our nation. We’ve seen efforts to expand the vote with ways of making it easier, such as absentee ballots, same day registration and accessible voting with assistance on site at polling places. We’ve also, sadly, seen a number of initiatives meant to suppress the vote, from closing down early voting sites, purposefully not having enough balloting materials or not enough polling places for certain populations, or photo ID requirements.
Now, there’s an odd campaign out of Arkansas which is claiming to be a means of encouraging more voters to cast ballots. Instead, however, it may be intimidating them out of voting at all.
According to a news station out of Rogers, Ark., some neighborhoods are receiving interesting mailing that allegedly are supposed to encourage them to go to the polls. The mailings consist of a list of people in their neighborhood, and whether or not they have been voting.
This “helpful” list may be presented as a way to have neighbors encourage other neighbors to vote, but those who have seen it in their mailboxes really think it’s more of a shame tactic than anything else. “I thought it was something about the upcoming election but when I actually opened it up and read it I was just stunned. It’s more like a public shame is what it feels like when you read the letter,” resident Scott Murphy told the news channel. ”It felt like I was being put on display. It’s like someone is trying to shame me into casting my ballot.”
Is it a name and shame quest, and if so, is that really such a bad thing if it gets more people participating in democracy? Actually, yes. After all, although voting may be a right, it’s certainly not mandatory, and using peer pressure to try to create a higher turnout isn’t exactly the stuff that democracy is made of.
Even worse, there’s the likelihood that such a campaign wouldn’t encourage more votes, but actually discourage those who usually do show up. Local residents expressed nervousness that the letters listing their voting record mean that other information about them was being accessed and made public, and that their privacy was being invaded.
After all, if it feels like someone is tracking you to the polls, what else might they be tracking?
Adding to this sense of disquiet and confusion is the fact that the group, “Arkansas State Voter Program,” doesn’t appear to really exist at all. The website states it is a project of “A Public Voice, Inc.” yet the Secretary of State says there is no incorporated organization with that name in the state, and the address that is listed for the voter mailings doesn’t have an actual office associated to it.
With so many efforts to try to curb voter participation, it’s no wonder people are looking for ways to encourage more voters to go to the polls. It’s also no wonder that people would be highly suspicious of any project that claims to have an agenda of persuading people to vote.
There’s plenty of reason to suspect dirty tricks. Voter suppression is still a key tactic for the GOP, and with the courts rolling back new voter ID laws, no doubt someone will be looking for another way to accomplish this. Since Arkansas is one of the states to see its new law struck down, it’s not surprising that a misleading effort like this could pop up there.
Voting is a right, not a requirement. If this truly is a voter engagement tactic, it’s a bad one, and one that is obviously ready to backfire. Let’s focus on making it easier, not harder, to vote, including when it comes to public relation campaigns surrounding the voting issue.
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