Editor’s note: This column first ran on Nov. 2, 2014.
“It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”
The text for today's sermon comes from Joseph Stalin, that paragon of democratic thinking, and it brings to mind the 1948 U.S. Senate race in Texas, during which Lyndon B. Johnson was running for the Democratic Party nomination, which was what really counted in Texas in those days.
Initial returns had LBJ losing by hundreds of votes. As the week went on, though, various votes were "found," here and there, bringing up his tally. You see, certain precincts had been held back; they would report late, after the guys who had already decided on the winner had calculated how many votes he actually needed. Anyway, it seems that the fine folks of Precinct 13 in Jim Wells County had arrived at their polling place in alphabetical order, had signed in with the same pen, in what appeared to be the same handwriting, and had put LBJ over the top by 87 votes.
All of which should serve as a caution to us as we decide on Tuesday whether to amend the Connecticut Constitution to allow the General Assembly to pass laws that would allow more people to vote early, by absentee ballot, instead of having to actually show up on Election Day. The wording of the ballot measure, Question 1, might also be construed to cover voting online or, now that we can get just about everything at the supermarket, including flu shots, why not vote there as well?
Security is a worry, of course. Will our sacred franchise be safe? But that was already a problem in 1948, in Texas and elsewhere, before there was any technology at all. And for decades we trusted Connecticut's old mechanical voting machines, maybe because we thought we sort of understood how they worked. And for years now we've been using electronic scanners without having the faintest idea how they work.
Time marches on, and surely adequate security precautions can be worked out for new voting modes. Every time we use a credit or debit card, after all, we take a risk of losing lots of money, so maybe it's not really the risk that bothers us when it comes to voting.
Maybe it's the feeling that technology has been isolating us, making us more and more antisocial — something we don’t really want, but don’t know how to stop. We no longer run into people at the bank, because we never get out of our cars and go inside anymore. We no longer run into people at the post office, because we use email, and we can print stamps online or buy them at Walgreens. Fewer of us go to church nowadays. Fewer join clubs or sports leagues. And we can shop online, so why go to the mall? The library? We have the Internet.
Better stop now, before I talk myself out of voting “yes” on Question 1.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Question 1 failed in 2014. This year, Gov. Ned Lamont temporarily loosened restrictions on absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, but only for the August 11 primary, and only if there is no vaccine by then. Whether to offer the same convenience in November is up to the General Assembly.