Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday roundup and branding -- the Gazette, and beyond...

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The Teamsters are very cost-efficient: Apparently only 1.7% of Teamsters' Union dues go to things other than collective bargaining -- i.e. political contributions and other political activities.

When a logging truck driver from Kalispell exercised his rights as a non-union member to pay reduced dues, his monthly dues were cut by a whopping 69 cents, from $39 to $38.31. In addition, he was forced to pay a $150 "objector fee."

We're no math whizzes around here, but by our calculations, that means that the poor guy would have to pay monthly union dues for 19 years before he broke even. Yes, that's right -- unless the guy drives truck for an outfit represented by the Teamsters for 20 years, he actually had his dues raised.

He was also told that if he didn't comply, the union would demand that he be fired. One hopes that the brakes on his logging truck don't have unexpected problems.

The ability to unionize is essential to the operation of a free economy, for reasons we have discussed on Montana Headlines before. Furthermore, it is only fair that non-union members be expected to pay their share for collective bargaining from which they benefit.

But workers should also have the right not to pay union dues that will go to political activities they object to.

And it should be pointed out that for the Teamsters' Union, this historically could just as easily have worked in the favor of Democrats, since that union endorsed Nixon, Reagan, and the first President Bush. (Their judgement has gotten poorer in recent years.)

The Montana Stockgrowers Association comes through: The deck had been getting stacked at the Board of Livestock with recent appointments, but once the Montana Stockgrowers and its members had a chance to weigh in, the Board backed off on its original proposal to divide Montana cattle producers through the so-called "split zone" strategy for dealing with brucellosis.

Montana's stockgrowers correctly stuck together, forcing the state to deal with the brucellosis problem head-on, rather than using a divide-and-conquer strategy that left cattle producers in areas around Yellowstone National Park to bear the brunt alone.

The Montana executive branch needs to be working to come up with solutions for how to deal with the reservoir of infection in the Park, which means taking on the feds and advocating for the Montana beef industry.

It is regrettable that the comments from the executive branch about this decision were so lacking in respect for Montana ranchers.

The governor blamed the lobbyist for the Stockgrowers, saying that he had misled the state's ranchers.

Are we to understand that the governor is implying that those country-bumpkin ranchers are just too stupid to be able to think for themselves and aren't bright enough to figure out whether a slick lobbyist is feeding them a line of, well, you know what?

Sounds like some folks in the executive branch need to get out more, and meet some real-life Montana ranchers.

We suspect that Gov. Roy Brown, in his recent journeys through rural Montana, is getting an earful about this subject. We also suspect that he would never have concocted a "split-zone" scheme to begin with, since he would likely have gotten the Stockgrowers Association input before deciding what to do.

Vote by mail: Vote by mail for all Montana elections is coming.

We've been learning of late that the only reason Republicans ask questions regarding potential for voter-fraud in any proposed voting measure is to suppress the vote and disenfranchise voters -- so it is best for Republicans not to discuss voter fraud aspects of vote-by-mail at all. We need just to trust that it will all be OK, and, truth to be told, it probably will be. So why rock the boat by asking questions?

There are other interesting conversations that have happened surrounding this issue, though. For instance, in a recent conversation with a Republican, we overheard it jokingly said that the price of a stamp was a poll tax. Given the price of gas these days, it was definitely a joke. The parties can hand out rolls of stamps with far less expense than driving voters to the polls the old-fashioned way.

The response was that we shouldn't say that too loudly, otherwise we would find proposals that the government pay for the postage, thus raising the cost of the election. No-one need have whispered, since exactly those proposals have been made in various Democratic corners since the most recent election day.

Interestingly, at least one Democrat -- a staffer for Sec. State candidate Linda McCulloch -- is now raising questions about the wisdom of mail-in ballots now that there are indications that that voter turn-out may actually be lower in Native American communities and other traditionally Democratic areas.

Another question that is more interesting is whether vote-by-mail is a ballot that is just as secret as is voting in person. One of the cornerstones of freedom in this country is the secrecy of one's ballot. It is pretty impossible for an individual ballot cast at a polling place (at least in the way it is done in Montana) to be linked to an individual person.

To link a ballot to an individual in mail-in voting would require a criminal act on the part of someone such as a postal worker or an election official, and/or a breakdown in strict procedures. But would it not be far more possible than with voting at polling places? We almost fear to ask the question in public, since behind the question there is probably a desire to disenfranchise someone lurking somewhere in our dark Republican heart. But there the question is, nonetheless.

Is wanting to have ballots secret just as bad as wanting to have them be valid and free of fraud? We'll find out soon enough.

All of the concerns about vote-by-mail need to be addressed. Thus the advice of Oregon's election administrator to take things slow (Oregon took 2 decades to work up gradually to all mail-in elections) is probably good advice.

Going on Safari: We are gratified to learn that the Safari Club International has weighed in on the question of removing the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species List.

Perhaps recent attacks on hunters by grizzly bears helped the Club make its case that the grizzly isn't terribly endangered right now. In any event, the courts have allowed them to participate in the case.

This group of lovers of the great outdoors is a good counter-balance to the lawsuits filed by conservation groups -- which so far have had the field to themselves when it comes to filing lawsuits relating to grizzlies.

The Safari Club is also a conservation group, of course -- you can't hunt game that doesn't exist, after all.

Let's hope that other hunting and sportsman organizations follow suit and help work to delist the decidedly unendangered species of grizzly and wolf.


Jay Stevens said...

We've been learning of late that the only reason Republicans ask questions regarding potential for voter-fraud in any proposed voting measure is to suppress the vote and disenfranchise voters -- so it is best for Republicans not to discuss voter fraud aspects of vote-by-mail at all.

Nice! Okay, maybe I deserved that.

I think questions are healthy, esp. if they're geared towards ensuring that the system provides the best means possible for everybody to exercise their right to vote.

I'm just wary of any plan that puts an unnecessary onus on citizens to vote (picture ID), or that is based on some percieved, yet arbitrary, character value (too lazy to go to the polls?).

So, yeah, if vote-by-mail presents its own set of hurdles and roadblocks to participation, it's a concern...

Montana Headlines said...

But again, you seem to be defining the questions that are "acceptable" (in a political sense) as being ones that promote "the best means possible for everybody to exercise their right to vote" and avoiding "hurdles and roadblocks to participation."

What interests me is that it seems obvious that a fraudulent vote "cancels out" a legitimate one, and yet Democrats seem not to be concerned about that nearly as much as Republicans are. In other words, the fraudulent voter infringes on the right to vote of the legitimate voter.

When questions are asked about whether vote-by-mail is as secure as in-person voting (or "stand-up voting" as Moorcat puts it,) those questions have seemed to be brushed aside as secondary to the almighty "voter turnout" percentage.

There is no question that vote-by-mail is more capable of being abused than stand-up voting. I could, for instance, grab all of the ballots for the adults in my household, forge their signatures, and send them in. I could do the same when the ballots arrive at the homes of elderly relatives who aren't as sharp as they used to be.

Much harder to vote for my family members at the polling place.

Voter turn-out, in that example, would be much higher, though, so it would cancel out the down-side of my having cast half-a-dozen fraudulent votes, right?

And since it would be hard to detect the fraud, let alone successfully prosecute it (you don't think that the Headlines family wouldn't stick together, do you?,) the fact that there were no proven cases of fraud would back up the assertion that we had a tremendously successful election with great turn-out and no fraud.

Jay Stevens said...

Hm. I admit I'm confused with your eagerness to apply a government solution to a problem that doesn't seem to exist.

If there were any evidence of wide-spread fraud, I might side with you. But all evidence points to the contrary. Most voter-fraud cases are over falsified registration cards -- creating non-existent voters who wouldn't vote anyway -- not multiple voting, or what have you.

Sure, tightening up laws to prevent voter fraud is a good idea -- as long as those laws don't discriminate against any group of voters, or that reduces participation. But to forge ahead with laws that do, and because of a problem you say might exist because it's hard to detect...well, count me out.

By the way, I would advocate more participation, even if it did mean a slight increase in fraud. It's not just about counting all the votes, it's about allowing more people to feel a sense of responsibility about their choices, which should hopefully increase citizen participation in government.

Maybe I'm old school this way, but I feel that democracy perseveres in places where the citizenry works to preserve it...and working to include more people in the process, IMHO, is doing just that...

BTW, I'm not accusing you of being a dastardly plotter to disenfranchise folks. That's (or was) Karl Rove's job. I understand your concerns, esp. for vote-by-mail. Maybe there are ways to tighten it up without sacrificing the benefits it brings...

Montana Headlines said...

Jay, you make some intriguing observations. Is there evidence that when there is higher voter turn-out, there is greater citizen participation in government in general?

In other words, better turn-out and participation at public meetings, closer following of political issues, more and better communication with elected officials, etc.

I think that I could agree that this would be a positive effect of higher voter turn-out -- if it could be shown that the one caused the other.

Voter participation was close to 100% in the old Soviet Union, so I have to admit that I'm old-school when it comes to putting that number as the primary measuring stick of the success of an election.

I know that you aren't accusing me of dastardly plotting. It means that I've failed, of course, and have allowed my soft and cuddly side to show a bit too much on this blog... but so be it.

Your mention of Karl Rove, BTW, brings up an interesting memory -- do you remember all of the stuff flying around the internet about the voting machine company that supposedly had connections with Karl Rove, and that the Republicans were going to be engaged in massive electronic voter fraud?

It spurred what I thought was a very healthy debate about the importance of a paper-ballot trail that can be verified by human eyes, recounted, etc. Mind you, I am a big skeptic about recounts, since it always makes me nervous when people know exactly how many votes you need to "discover" in order to change the outcome of the election. But I don't see any good alternative to the old-fashioned paper-trail.

Be that as it may, Democrats were raising a fuss about a problem that didn't exist. They knew the stakes were high, and they were worried in advance about procedures.

Think about it. With other high-stakes things like taking entrance exams to medical or law school, there are very strict procedures, with photo ID and more. As far as I know, these procedures are not so much reactions to proven fraud as they are an acknowledgement of the fact that when stakes are high, the temptation for fraud is high.

The administrators want to make sure that the process has integrity. They want to make sure that those who "lose" have confidence that the process was fair.

This means that those who take such exams have cumbersome procedures, deadlines, etc.

I'm not suggesting that we make it as hard to vote as it is, say, to take the LSAT, I'm simply saying that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that the stakes of elections are high, and that there is and always will be a temptation to cheat. And that having tight procedures is therefore an intrinsic good that does not need proven fraud in order to justify them.

Furthermore, just as Democrats have a tendency to look with skepticism at the validity of elections where they think that tight procedures cut down on voter turn-out -- so also, Republicans have a tendency to look with skepticism on the validity of elections where there was the appearance of shady doings. I've blogged before on the fact that many Republicans, esp. in SD, don't consider Tim Johnson to have won his last re-election fair and square. Now maybe he did -- but it is important that everyone (well, everyone who is reasonable, that is) views an election as having been on the up and up.

My problem is not with measures that increase voter turn-out -- it is that I want to see election officials and lawmakers proactively thinking and talking about ways to make sure that we have clean procedures to make sure that one man, one vote also means one vote, one man. Every time.

As you can tell, I have thought a lot about this, and feel strongly that it is more important to have certainty that there hasn't been fraud than it is to have high voter turn-out. Those who are motivated to vote will do so properly -- and the political parties they vote for will make sure they are registered properly and that they follow proper procedures.

If something happens that they can't vote in an election because they messed up on a procedure, well, they'll make sure to do it right the next time (I speak from personal experience, having once messed up and failed to vote absentee on time while in college -- it never happened again.)

Again, that is just my own personal opinion, and I respect the opinion of those who believe the opposite -- namely that the upsides of procedures that make for higher voter turnout outweigh the potential downsides of increased opportunities for potential fraud.

But for all that, there was more seriousness than snark in my original comment in which I recommended that the GOP drop the voter-fraud questions. I think, in all seriousness, that Democrats have been successful in portraying the GOP as the party of disenfranchisement, and that the political liability to us isn't worth it.

I think we just need to go with the changes and turn out our voters under whatever system is decided on (we were pretty sure that it was going to be all mail-in voting, but now that the left is raising questions about decreased turnout in some traditional Democratic strongholds, maybe that won't happen --we'll wait for you to make up your minds!)

It bothers me to consciously choose, for political reasons, to drop what for me are principled concerns based on my love for the integrity of American elections. But for now, anyway, there it is.