Commentary From Scott Hays

Two articles of note came to my attention today: one with which I strongly disagree, and one with which I strongly agree. The one I strongly disagree with was written by my colleagues Brian Gaines and Jim Kuklinski in my parent unit at the University of Illinois, the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. This article, first appearing in the News-Gazette, recommends opposing Senator Mike Frerich’s bill expanding access to absentee voting. The authors claim that such an approach reduces secrecy and increases the likelihood of fraud. Neither claim is supported by the authors with facts, data or other analysis, and neither passes the ‘sniff’ test of common sense. How is it secret currently when primary voters in Illinois publicly state their ballot choice when voting in primaries, in the eyes of election officials and poll watchers? And why would it not be more secret for voters to cast their primary ballots from the privacy of their home? One’s private residence seems like a very secret place to cast a ballot to me, unless fraudulent political machine bosses are planning on invading our homes to watch us complete our election ballots. Or are we afraid of our privacy being violated by our spouses? Our children? Our roommates? Our parents? Our dogs? In all cases, such violations are bothersome, but I’m not sure they would necessarily constitute political problems.

Surprisingly, the article I agree with is an editorial published in the News-Gazette regarding Freedom of Information. When public officials hide behind vague issues of ‘privacy’ when dealing with employment contracts or hiding criminal records of public officials, we have major problems. In my own Newcomb Township, our officials have shown that they wish only to adhere to the narrowest interpretation of our Open Meetings Act by providing the least information to the public that they can. Public officials too often forget that tax dollars are our dollars, and that they very much ‘belong’ to we, the people. Their actions are public actions. Open government is messy, and that is the point. The more public officials know their every action is open to the scrutiny of the public, the more inscrutable their actions are likely to become. I support open government: open records and open meetings so that public officials, metaphorically of course, stand naked before us.

In addition, open access of the ballot to all citizens on demand aptly reinforces this notion of accountability. Hear the word ‘voter fraud’ and know that someone is subtly at work trying to deny citizens access to the polls. And usually that means certain classes and types of citizens. In my mind, we need a democracy that not only talks the talk, but proudly walks the walk out in the sunshine and stands out as a model, rather than standing behind a fearful shroud of secrecy, privacy, and potential for fraud.

Scott Hays

Sangamon Valley Alliance

8 Comments so far

  1. pattsi, on 5/28/09 at 8:41am said:

    One aspect of expanding access to absentee voting that I have not seen/heard discussed has to do with an educated voter. Information about candidates is so kinetic, even to the day of the actual election. How will those electors who choose to vote absentee and to do so weeks before an election, cast an educated vote when most of the candidate information probably has not been delivered, especially for local candidates? So my major concern is not secrecy, but educated voters. There will have to be massive change of campaigning behavior and distribution of election materials, not the weekend before, such as the pattern with the News-Gazette.
    Pattsi Petrie

  2. Scott Hays, on 5/28/09 at 9:07pm said:

    I completely agree with Pattsi. Who wouldn’t? Our entire educational system is premised on having educated citizens, after all. Even so, in a model of responsible party government, all the less well educated really need to know is to vote Democratic!
    Scott

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