Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We are not amused

Something you might have missed amid the economic chaos and last week’s broader slime slinging—I, myself, have just noticed this item:

This week, hundreds of absentee ballots were sent out to voters who are registered in Rensselaer County with the names of two presidential candidates on them: John McCain and Barack Osama. Yep, that's right, Osama.

Both Democratic and Republican officials insist this is a typo, but according to the Albany Times-Union, everyone feels pretty embarrassed. Roughly 300 voters received the ballots. "Is it a Freudian slip, intentional act or a mistake?" asks the paper. "Voters are sure to have opinions, and one pol pointed out that the letters 's' and 'b' are not exactly keyboard neighbors."

Missing from this item on NY Mag’s Daily Intel is any information about who received these ballots or what is being done to make sure that those voters receive fresh ballots with the actual name of the Democratic candidate (I won’t humor them by calling it “the correct spelling”). In fact, you are looking at the sum total of the whole, droll post—minus one sentence.

I say “droll” because that is how Chris Rovzar, the author, wants us to see it.

Here’s that other sentence:

Is it weird that during this freakishly contentious week, a minor screwup like this seems kind of fun?

No, it is not “weird.” Nor is it “minor.” Nor is it necessarily a “screwup,” now, is it? These tainted ballots might seem like a small event when compared with Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric or the massive efforts to discredit the election by inventing charges of voter “fraud” in several battleground states, but it is far from “fun.” It is extremely hard to believe that this is a “typo” since the way a name is to be listed on a ballot is a multi-step process that involves a back-and-forth between the candidate’s campaign, the Secretary of State, and the locale for which that ballot is designed and printed, and as noted, the letters are not next to each other on a keyboard. In a year with such heightened sensitivities, this is not something likely to just slip through.

A look at the original story from the Albany Times Union has Rensselaer County officials swearing otherwise, and the Obama campaign has accepted their explanation. There will be some attempt made to replace the bad ballots, according to officials, though the story is not clear on how this will happen. One additional concern beyond the obvious taint—there is a fear that some folks will attempt to correct the spelling themselves on their ballot. “Election law is quite clear that any corrections done on a ballot will nullify the vote,” says a county official. . . see the problem? If the ballots are not replaced, and the people who care about the proper name of the Democrat in the race try to fix it, it will not only negate their vote for president, it will nullify the entire ballot. (Most of Rensselaer County is in NY-20, where frosh Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was once thought vulnerable, but is now expected to win reelection. The county executive has been a Republican since the post was created in 1972.)

But back to the questionable jocularity of the Obama/Osama substitution. . . . It is much more likely that this is a symptom of the larger and growing problem spreading like a virus throughout the country: the persistent definition, identification, or categorizing of Senator and maybe President Barack Obama as “other,” somehow not American, somehow illegitimate.

As likely as it now seems that Obama will be elected our next president, it is probably even more likely that a group of movement conservatives are going to refuse to accept or acknowledge that result. Claiming that Obama is secretly in league with those that wish America ill is laying the groundwork for a perpetual campaign against a sitting, elected president. It will be an orchestrated effort like we saw during Clinton’s second term, but on a Wagnerian scale.

The movement will not do one thing; they will do many things. Claiming voter fraud and media bias, claiming Obama’s victory isn’t a mandate because McCain wasn’t a real conservative and ran such a poor campaign, claiming that, yes, Obama is a Muslim, or an Arab, or heaven forbid, both!

Sending out ballots printed “Barack Osama” is neither the biggest nor the sneakiest of these efforts, but it is not nothing.

And it is certainly not “fun.”

(cross-posted on The Seminal)

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