Dirty Politics

UPDATE:  Yes on 1 is winning handily, at about 60% to 40% with half the returns in, and the race has been called.  Same day registration stays in Maine, and the dishonest and misleading ad campaign was a failure!

Watch this ad and try to guess what it’s about.    You might think that some nefarious outside force is trying to weaken Maine’s ethics laws, and that it’s important to vote “no” on question one to protect them.

In actuality the ad is funded by an out of state group, we’re not sure who, and it’s about an effort to bring back Maine’s same day voter registration.   40 years ago in a bi-partisan effort Maine approved same day voter registration which has helped Maine consistently have some of the highest voter turn out rates in the country.   There has never been any proof that this has caused fraud or led to harm in the system.

Republicans have often scapegoated same day registration as an excuse for not winning more in Maine.   There is no reason to believe that the case — same day registration is usually very modest in number, and not enough to turn around elections.  Moreover, it does not appear that any party benefits more from the practice.   Yet it’s been used as a kind of boogey man by the right for awhile.

This year state GOP chair Charlie Webster claimed that there was massive fraud, pointing to 200 out of state students at UMF who voted in 2008.   Yet these were mostly students who registered weeks before the election, there was no evidence of wrong doing, and a large chunk of these were Republican.   It was simply a fishing trip.   The Republican Secretary of State, however, sent letters to these students saying that unless they made sure their cars were registered in Maine they should drop their voter registration — including a card to help them do so.   This was raw voter intimidation, with no basis in Maine law.

The Republicans, who came to power in 2010 in both the Maine legislature and Governorship overturned same day registration, bowing to unproven (and very dubious) claims that it enhanced fraud.   This was somewhat of an anomaly.   In other issues such as right to work laws, public labor unions, redistricting and the like the GOP backed off the most extreme measures.   Maine Republicans are not extremists and have for the most part chosen a pragmatic path.   They also know that the 2010 election was itself outside the norm — to be re-elected they’ll need to show that they didn’t do anything too rash and ideologically extreme.

But same day voting registration became the big symbolic issue reflecting GOP power.   And, unsurprisingly though with haste few expected, signatures were gathered for a “people’s veto” of the law — a referendum by the people to overturn the law.   Conservatives narrowly won a similar referendum on gay marriage a few years ago after the Maine legislature (then in Democratic hands) approved gay marriage.

The people’s veto is another reason politicians tend towards pragmatism.  Not only might they be hurt if they take an extreme position, but even if their vote passes whatever measure is up, it can be overturned by the public.   Almost any extremely controversial issue will generate efforts to launch a peoples’ veto.

In this case, early polls showed support for question 1 — the measure to overturn the legislature’s act and bring back same day registration.   51% indicated they’d vote “yes,” only 41% said “no.”    The backers are motivated and well organized, leading most pundits to predict that question one will pass.

That is the context within which this late ad appeared.  I learned about it first in Amy Fried’s blog Pollways.   Last night while watching Pan Am on ABC it aired twice within the same commercial break, with one commercial in between each showing (I’m not sure if that was intentional to try to quickly reinforce the message or just how the station filled its commercial time slots).

Maine traditionally does not like dirty politics or outside interests interfering in Maine’s elections.   Knowing that, the ad tells Mainers not to let “outsiders” get ride of Maine’s ” election ethics law.”   Yet the ad is from outsiders and is dishonest — no “ethics law” is up for a vote; the question is whether same day registration will be brought back or not.

I doubt this will work, but the fact such tactics are used, allowed and potentially effective is disturbing.  Yes, it’s a side effect of having the most libertarian free speech laws in the world, and overall that’s a good thing.   But this requires the public to educate itself before voting or getting swayed by such ads.  If somehow “no” wins, nobody will know for sure if this deceptive ad was the cause.   The pre-vote polling is weeks old and there was only one poll.   However, to those who put the ad up it would seem to validate their decision to ignore truth and simply try to emotionally manipulate the voters.

For that reason I hope not only that “yes” wins on question one, but that it wins big — and people draw the conclusion that the dishonest ad hurt rather than helped the cause.

  1. #1 by Black Flag® on November 7, 2011 - 16:19

    Dirty Politics –

    You are repeating yourself.

  2. #2 by classicliberal2 on November 9, 2011 - 18:29

    The Maine situation was only part of a massive nationwide Republican assault on voting rights in the wake of the 2010 elections. This isn’t, as its right-wing proponents present it, an effort to combat “fraud,” which is, by every real estimation, virtually non-existent. Rather, these onerous restrictions are aimed at disenfranchising those who vote for Democrats–it’s a vote-repression effort, and nothing more. It doesn’t matter if same-day registration in Maine actually helps Democrats. Maine Republicans believe it does, and that’s enough to make it a target. The story is the same everywhere.

    A place to start:

    • #3 by Edwin Herdman on November 10, 2011 - 05:49

      The overarching theme, a “war on voting,” was visited in an NPR program, the October 17 “On Point with Tom Ashbrook.” It included one of the proponents of voter ID laws in the discussion, who (sorry for the spoiler) was not able to give a convincing argument about the necessity of making voting even harder for the poor, the old, and people who do not have access to the same easy sources of transportation and information that many others take for granted. I did not get a clear sense that he was anti-voter, but it seems clear that the overall trend is not due to some grassroots, widely-supported campaign against voter fraud, but a centrally directed opportunistic attack on certain groups of voters (ironically, older voters who may be staunchly Republican are likely to be considered collateral victims of this movement).

      It is, quite simply, another current example of the GOP establishment starting a crusade or stampede, doing a lot to shine a light on their “values,” but nothing for examining whether a problem does, or does not, actually represent a real problem – rather like any post by Black Flag.

      I take it as non-controversial to say that you should not “vote early and often (in the same poll);” people across the political spectrum believe in the sanctity of the one vote system and do not want those votes to be watered down. At the same time it is easy to reject the proposition that legitimate votes (and therefore the interests of legitimate voters) should be sacrificed to the interests of a razor-wire nation Republican view.

  3. #4 by Alan Scott on November 11, 2011 - 02:23

    Voter fraud is the only reason to have same day voter registration . Anyone can register to vote ahead of time .

    • #5 by Scott Erb on November 11, 2011 - 02:28

      Except that’s not true — in political science there have been numerous studies showing that it increases turnout, does not create fraud (there is no evidence for increased fraud at all) and most political scientists who study elections argue in favor of same day registration as more democratic. They do not do so because they want fraud!

  4. #6 by Alan Scott on November 12, 2011 - 17:46


    Political scientists are like climate scientists. Like you and I. The political scientists have agendas . Studies come out the way they are supposed to or they are buried and discarded. You and I are honest in our agendas, scientists are not. And the term political scientist is quite an oxymoron .

    So , since you will convince me of nothing, tell me why Democrats favor same day registration . Give me the logic. It most certainly gives them an advantage or they would not push it. I say it is an illegal advantage, but what exactly is the party line? Why can’t informed legal voters be bothered to register beforehand ? Why are their registrations from previous same day elections not good for the next elections ? That is what I don’t understand .

  5. #7 by Scott Erb on November 13, 2011 - 01:15

    Being a political scientist I’ve also often joked that the discipline is oxymoronic. But knowing many people who study American politics (I focus on International Affairs and the EU), I know that they are dedicated, honest and that the studies cited on voter turnout are pretty powerful. I also know that there has been no evidence that voter fraud increases. The only reason to try to make it more difficult to vote — call for ID’s, end same day registration, etc., — is to repress voter turn out.

    Once you register on the same day you are registered for the next election.

    Also, though I know for someone as partisan as you this is hard to accept, most scientists really do care more about the truth than any agenda. That’s especially true in the hard sciences like climate science where there is overwhelming evidence and almost universal agreement that humans are causing climate change. When one goes over the real data — I did this in my class the other day as we talked international efforts to deal with environmental issues — it’s clear that the skeptics have far weaker arguments than the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and that new finds bolster their already strong consensus. Then I showed the class how the “skeptics” are well funded by companies who want to avoid regulations, and we went over their arguments and data supporting their claims. I tell you, my very conservative Republican students have often expressed real anger at their own party because they know that THEY are the ones who will have to suffer in the future if nothing is done. You and I can treat this like a political football if we want, the worst will not affect us.

    Again, you have to be open to looking at the facts, comparing things with an open mind, NOT focusing on websites and sources with a clear bias, and NOT letting politics and ideology determine your perspective. Truth and reality defy ideology; it is fundamentally irrational to think that either the Democrats or the Republicans are right almost all the time. They see different parts and perspectives on an issue, and reality is probably somewhere between or beyond their focus. Ideological thinking is for those who don’t want to — think, that is.

  1. Voter Suppression « World in Motion

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