22 October 2006

Ballot Spoilage in Va?

Recently and for reasons relating to this November's election, a little birdie told me I should check out spoilage statistics in Virginia.

For those not familiar with the term in this context, "spoilage" is decaying green stuff in the polling booth. All those hanging chads in Florida in 2000? Spoilage. All those provisional ballots that got tossed out in Ohio? Spoilage. Any time someone who is legal to vote, wants to vote, has taken the time to vote, and has his or her vote discarded, it's spoilage. There are hundreds of creative ways to spoil an electoral count and we've seen most of them in the past 3 elections. But have we seen them in Virginia?

Two of the most vile ways to spoil a vote, IMO, are caging lists, which are technically illegal, a fact which did not stop Katie Harris from using them in Florida in 2000, and discriminatory placement of equipment and staff, a more subtle voter purging method used by Blackwell in Ohio in 2004.

[For the record, it's not just the Reds that plays the ballot rigging game -- Boss Daley in Chicago kept IL staunchly Blue by soliciting the votes of the undead.]

What infuriates me about both of these methods is the blatant discrimination of the disenfranchisement. These tactics are designed to target black and hispanic voting precincts. I'm fairly sure that the Powers that Spoil don't care about the actual skin color of the people whose rights they violate. These voters could Scandanavian, Siamese, or Scottish -- as long as they were in Blue-voting districts, they wouldn't care and the results would be the same. But these 2 ethnicities are experiencing this form of discrimination precisely because they have experienced other forms before: They are the least educated, financially solvent, and upwardly mobile demographics, and thus tend to live in the lower income precincts. The intentional discrimination our society metes out has led to a computer statistics program essentially taking away their rights to vote, and eliminating their communal voice. Voting is basic to empowerment, and I'm incensed by tactics designed to hit those who need the most empowerment.

We need electoral reform -- not just campaign finance reform, but process & ballot accountability reform.

To get back on point: I have not managed to dig up any proof of spoilage in the last few election cycles here in Virginia, but I have looked at a set of statistics from FedStats and the State Board of Elections that make me curious. I learned something new: Most of the counties & cities in the 5th Congressional District of Virginia have a much higher percentage of blacks than the rest of the state. Virginia's average African-American demographic percentage is 19.9%. The 5th District's average is 26.9%. The 5th CD is made up of 18 counties and 5 cities and, in spite of having a reputation for being White Redneck World, only 5 of those 23 municipalities are more than 5% below the state average.

There are 7 counties and 1 city in the 5th CD where the black population is significantly greater (more than 10%) than 19.9%, yet they've consistently voted Republican: Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, and Pittsylvania Counties, and Lynchburg City.

The 5th CD areas with an even higher percentage of blacks (e.g., Brunswick with 56%, Danville with 44%, and Martinsville with 42%), are all bluer than sky. It seems very strange to me that counties like Buckingham, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg which are 38% black are not showing at least a purple tinge in their ballot tallies.

I also noted that Fluvanna & Greene counties have voted consistently Republican, although a high percentage of their residents commute to and, thus, take part in the liberal Charlottesville/Albemarle culture. We have always been a strong Democrat seat but, due to gentrification, there has been a mass exodus of the lower and middle lower income residents to Fluvanna & Greene. It seems unnatural that our former population, which voted Democrat while living here, started voting Republican when it fled to cheaper housing in the surrounding counties. Are they voting? Are their votes being uncounted or discarded?

I know the CW about Virginia politics: If we vote Democrat at the state, we'll vote Republican at the federal and vice-versa. It keeps the balance between our parties Since most of our governors have been Dems, no one thinks to question it. But that old truism hasn't held true: the increase in state Republicans (Delegates and Senators) as well as the split vote in the 2005 Gubernatorial election indicate that Virginians, if on form, would have voted for more Democrats in the federal Senate, Representative, and Presidential elections.

This could all be BS, OR there could be some teeth to it. What has been reducing the effectiveness of the black vote in this district? Is it apathy or is it something much less natural? What has been preventing any evidence of purple tinge in our state-wide federal voting? Is it just not our color anymore? I'm suspicious. I want to hear some other peoples' thoughts and theories.

No comments: