Commentary: It Pays to Be Vigilant on Election Day

Tuesday is Election Day, and besides your voter registration card, your driver's license (or other ID) and your list of people/ballot issues you plan to vote for, there are a couple of other accessories you might want to take along as well: Your camera and a voice recorder.

Those two gadgets probably aren't quite as important in California as they would be in, say, Ohio or Florida – where, hopefully, this article is also being read – but it can't hurt to have them along anyway. At least, that's what almost every progressive group that's dealt with the subject is saying.

Take, for instance, the Women Donors Network, which took out a full-page ad in the Oct. 30 New York Times, titled, "YOUR VOTE WILL COUNT. NO ONE CAN STOP IT. NOT EVEN COUNT HACKULA."

Now, that's what we call optimism!

"The Women Donors Network believes this election is too important to let the count be botched," the ad begins. "Whether the villains are sinister or just inept, America cannot accept hackers invading voting machines, registered voters being turned away, or votes miscounted or discounted."

Among the ad's suggestions are, "If you confront long lines at your polling place, complain to a poll worker. Poll workers are paid by you. Their job is to help you vote. If they won't help, take names" – and, AVN would add, if they won't give their name, take their picture.

"If your voting machine doesn't work right, demand an emergency paper ballot – not a provisional ballot!" the ad continues. "Then demand that the offending machine be taken out of service."

"An entirely new species of ballot debuted nationwide in 2004: the 'provisional ballot'," explained BBC reporter Greg Palast. "These were crucial to the Bush victory. Not because Republicans won this 'provisional' vote. They won by rejecting provisional ballots that were cast overwhelmingly in Democratic precincts. The sum of 'the uncounted' is astonishing: 675,676 ballots lost in the counties reporting to the federal government. Add in the missing jurisdictions and the un-vote climbs to over a million: 1,090,729 provisional ballots tossed out."

Add in spoiled ballots, where the voter didn't make a dark enough marking or "hung his/her chad," and uncounted absentee ballots – in Florida in '04, many absentee ballots were rejected because voters didn't check a box affirming that they were American citizens, though they had signed a statement elsewhere on the ballot affirming exactly that – and it adds up to a shitload of disenfranchisement.

"The official number is bad enough — 1,855,827 ballots cast not counted, according to the federal government’s Elections Assistance Commission," Palast reports. "But the feds are missing data from several cities and entire states too embarrassed to report the votes they failed to count. Correcting for that under-reporting, the number of ballots cast but never counted goes to 3,600,380."

That's enough to have swung either the 2000 or 2004 presidential election the other way, all other things being equal (which, of course, they weren't).

Anyway, the Women Donors Network's final recommendation is, "Any voter or poll-watcher who witnesses what appears to be a crime can call the whistle-blower's hotline: 1-888-VOTETIP. Remember you can create a photographic record on your cell phone."

Correct – but some readers of this article are in the adult video business, and we've heard that those folks use actual video cameras, which can make longer recordings and deliver much better image quality than cell phones – and are easily small enough to take with you to the polls.

Once there, however, potential video shooters should be careful. Citizens have the right of privacy, especially as they cast their ballot, so no one should attempt to shoot anyone in a voting booth – unless, of course, they invite you to do so – or in the polling place.

But interfering with someone's right to vote is a crime, and recording documentary evidence of that crime should be a civic duty – as long as you take care not to videotape anyone not directly connected with the crime you're trying to record. The attorneys with whom we've talked suggest that you attempt to familiarize yourself with the local rules regarding videotaping or photographing in and around polling places – but it seems to us that if a crime is being committed, recording its commission should be fair and legal.

Among the things that you might want to record are:

Very long lines outside polling places. Extremely long lines outside polling places may indicate either that there aren't enough voting machines at that precinct, or that the voting process is being deliberately slowed by, for instance, excessive challenges to voters' registrations by partisan poll workers. But take care to photograph/tape only the backs of people's heads, to the extent possible. Those looking into the problem won't need to see the potential voters' faces, just how many people were inconvenienced.

Malfunctioning voting machines. If you go into a voting booth and try to vote for one candidate, but the electronic voting machine for some reason switches your vote to another candidate, it should be fair game for you to record that fact. If you can recreate the event while you're still in the booth and record it, so much the better. And of course, once you've done that, you should report the malfunction to poll workers, and request that that machine be taken out of service.

Any attempt(s) to prevent you from exercising your right to vote. If some poll worker or poll watcher or official or anyone attempts to prevent you from casting your ballot, your interaction with them is fair game for at least audio taping, if not videotaping, the entire sequence of events. Chances are, the person trying to stop you from exercising your voting rights won't like being recorded. Be prepared for that and DO NOT instigate or, to the extent possible, respond in kind to any physical attack. At the very least, try to get the name of the person(s) causing you the problem, and report him/her/them to the proper authorities.

Finally, True Majority Action has put together a "Voter Preparedness Kit" with a few more suggestions, that include establishing an "emergency alert message tree," so that if you spot trouble at a particular polling place, you can alert election officials – and if you sign up with that organization, they'll even send you short text messages with information on how to speak out about problems.

True Majority also advises knowing where to vote: "Polling places change like the weather. Be sure to go to the right poll the first time." Failure to do so may cause your vote not to be counted. They also provide the number of the National Voter Assistance Hotline: 1-866-OUR VOTE.

Never thought protecting your right to vote would be such a big production, didja? Well, guess what, bunkies: "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Wendell Phillips, columnist for The Liberator, said that in a speech before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852.

And let's not forget Edmund Burke's dictum, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." We're pretty sure that goes for women too.

So go out there tomorrow and vote, damnit!