Bad news and good news in ‘The Silly Season’
Way back in July I wrote a commentary here at electionlineWeekly that pleaded with everyone involved in the field of elections to stay cool in the face of rising political temperatures across the country:
We must always remember that the American election system has always been the mechanism through which we enable the peaceful transfer of power between groups with different views. Those of us in the field of elections cannot preserve that role if we are contributing to the storm instead of standing strong – and together – against it, even when we disagree about the best way to do so.
Three months later, it’s pretty clear most people weren’t listening.
Indeed, we are now in what the old electionline crew used to call the “silly season” — that period when Election Day gets close enough for people to start saying and doing things that simply boggle the mind.
The bad news, of course, is that most of these “silly” things end up on the front page.
Take, for example, Ohio’s battle over early voting. After Ohio Secretary of Jon Husted issued a directive eliminating weekend early voting, Franklin County (Columbus) GOP chair and election board member Doug Preisse sent an email(!) to the Columbus Dispatch in which he said “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine … Let’s be fair and reasonable.” That just confirmed the worst fears of Democrats, who cited Preisse’s remarks – at full volume - as proof that the GOP sought to return the nation to Jim Crow days.
Take remarks like those – and the controversy they create – and it’s easy to see why observers like Rick Hasen say the nation’s election system is in the hands of the “partisan and incompetent”.
Unfortunately, that pattern has been repeated again and again across the country as battles over voter ID, voter list maintenance, early voting and other policies rage on and on: hard feelings lead to hard words, which generate big headlines leading to more hard feelings etc. It’s a vicious and – if you read the headlines every day like we do at electionline — depressing cycle.
But here’s the good news: Virtually none of those headlines involve remarks by people who can truly be called election officials. Indeed, most of the cringe-worthy comments you see or hear are by people whose job it is to be partisan: candidates, party officials and advocates. Sometimes, like Preisse, they have a nominal role in elections – but really, they’re just part of the noise with which the real election officials must cope as Election Day approaches.
Now, I’m under no illusion that election administrators don’t have problems of their own (occasionally self-inflicted) but contributing to the “silly season” isn’t usually one of them.
Real election officials — the ones printing ballots, staffing/equipping polling places and getting ready to run Election Day — are simply too busy to pop off in the press. These women and men catch far too many grenades in the run-up to Election Day to even think about throwing any of their own.
Keep that in mind the next time somebody contributes another doozy to the silly season.