Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Burying the Lead

A front page headline on today's Metro Section reads: "2,600 D.C. voters switch to the Democratic Party ahead of mayoral primary."  But aside from the lead paragraphs, most of the article is about how a wholly different issue - Mayor Adrian Fenty's "pocket" veto of legislation passed by the D.C. Council that outlawed vote buying. 

This is why the Washington Post has a reputation as a cheerleader for the Fenty Administration.  A more accurate headline for the story would have been "Fenty blocks vote-buying bill."  That's not my invention, its what the Post called it when they posted the story online at D.C. Wire.  Instead, they buried that not-so-nice-sounding press in the print edition.

That 2,600 voters changed their registration to Democrat on the eve of the District's primary is indeed newsworthy, but it's not adequately covered by the story, which might have explored questions such as how many voters typically switch parties for the DC primary, was this year more or less than usual, or how many voters who switch immediately switch their registration back to Repubican or Independent when it's over?  The reporters could have interviewed a handful of voters who switched their registration this election (names and addresses publicly available from the Board of Elections) or who routinely do so each election season, to ask why they do it and how they feel about needing to do so.  The article might have considered calls for an "open primary" and the ridiculousness of a system in the Nation's capital - a place with already limited representation - that requires thousands of voters to switch their party, then switch back, in order to have a meaningful vote in local elections.  Alas, the article doesn't get into it.

Which just shows the true story.  It's not every day that Mayor Fenty vetos legislation.  And the fact that it was a bill to prohibit vote buying that was apparently spurred by accusations that Peaceoholics, whose founder Ron Moten has handed out money to youth to vote in a straw poll in Ward 8, a charge he denies.  Moten, who, in the words of the article, has become a "chief strategist" for the Fenty campaign, also organized several go-go concerts to entice young people to register to vote.  It was supported by every member of the D.C. Council, including those who back the Mayor's reelection, aside from Tommy Wells and Jim Graham who abstained (most likely because they are up for reelection in challenged races) and Marion Barry who was absent.

Here is what the bill actually says:
It shall be an offense for any person to knowingly or willfully:

(A) Pay, offer to pay, or accept payment of any consideration, compensation, gratuity, reward, or thing of value either for registration to vote or for voting;
(B) Give false information as to his name, address, or period of residence for the purpose of establishing his eligibility to register or vote, that is known by the person to be false;
(C) Procure or submit voter registration applications that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent;
(D) Procure, cast, or tabulate ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent; or
(E) Conspire with another individual to do any of the above;

(2) A person who violates paragraph (1) of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $ 10,000, be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
Does the bill properly draw sufficiently clear lines as to what is permissible and what is criminal?  Obviously, giving out money in exchange for a vote is and should be illegal.  What about other types of practices that our local politicians routinely use?  Free dinners at straw polls?  Get-out-the-vote concerts?  Free t-shirts for supporters?  Campaign-funded shuttle buses for seniors to the polls on election day?

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