The story of a small administrative error in Boston offers a window into how injustices can be obscured, downplayed, even denied.  It plays into the voter intimidation scandal that has surfaced in the 18th Suffolk District in Massachusetts, which just held a remarkable Democratic primary for state representative.

It all started a week or so ago when Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, sounded the alarm that BU students might help elect openly gay, and pro-marriage equality candidate Tim Schofield in the Democratic primary for an open seat for state representative. Carr wrote: [I]f I were one of the other two major candidates, I’d be plotting a dirty trick for this weekend.”
On March 12th, three days before the primary, a member of the Ward 22 Democratic Committee, Bart McCauley, (who was as a supporter of antimarriage equality candidate Greg Glennon), issued a press release citing Carr’s piece.  The release was rife with baseless arguments that students who live in dorms do not have the right to vote.  He warned of “potential legal issues with fraudulent voter registrations.”  According to a detailed report by the political blog Blue Mass Group, on election day a gang of “challengers,” accosted every prospective voter they could. (It has since come out that McCauley was among the challengers.) Some students cast provisional ballots. Some were turned away. Many others heard about what was going on and didn’t bother to vote.

Josh Sugarman, who was Schofield’s campaign manager, is a college student himself. He is outraged, and is calling for reform of double standards applied to student voters. He says that early on primary day, students were required to provide proof of residency — something that Sugarman says may be required of first time voters or those who have registered by mail, but is rarely actually required. Proof of residency for such purposes might be utility bills or bank statements, but of course for students who live in dorms, all they have is a P.O. Box. Mike Jervis of the BU College Dems told me that there is no residency info on thier unversity IDs either.  In other words, no one has documentation considered sufficient to prove that they live in a dorm in the district, because such proof does not exist. Word quickly spread that students who live in dorms would not be able to vote, and many did not show up. In fact, students who live in dorms do have right to vote — but this right is undermined by the shrewd and selective enforcement of this kind of requirement — and the failure of voting officials, university officials, and officials of both major parties, to reasonably anticipate and provide for ways to verify residency without applying impossible standards.  

All of which brings me to the glitch.

In the Democratic primary for state rep in the 18th Suffolk District, comprising Allston, Brighton and part of Brookline, the City of Boston posted just such glitch — and it plays into the controversy over voter suppression aimed at Boston University students.

Here is what is posted on thier web site two days after the primary. Moran 1,129; Glennon 1,035; Schofield 842; Walsh 301. The problem was that they only included the results from Allston and Brighton, and did not include the totals from Brookline where Schofield pulled about 294 votes, beating the entire field by more than 2-1. This remain uncorrected at this writing.

The actual, but still unofficial numbers accepted by the campaigns show Moran winning a squeaker over Schofield 1200 to 1136. Greg Glennon got 1102 and Joe Walsh, 311.

So there’s a discrepancy, so what?

Well, some people say that the aggressive voter suppression campaign aimed at BU students would not have changed the outcome — and the the incomplete City of Boston figures tend to support that view. (Of course, we we will never know for sure, because you can’t count the votes of people who did not vote.) Some people say that because the voter supression did not affect the outcome, we shouldn’t worry about it. I disagree. I think this situation commands our attention whether the outcome is affected or not.

But let’s look at the numbers anyway. More than 200 students were newly registered to vote in the precinct since September, mostly due to the efforts to the BU College Dems. Mike Jervis said they did a registration drive in support of John Kerry, as well as the more recent drive to register students in time for the Democratic primary for the State Rep. from thier district. Those 200 plus are far more than the margin of difference of 64.  There were 48 votes cast at the BU precinct on Tuesday — 44 of which went to Schofield. (Glennon got zero.) Additionally six provisional votes were cast.

Josh Sugarman says that Schofield will not contest the election, and has already thrown his support to Michael Moran. But he also says that students will be taking the struggle for voting rights forward. They deserve our support and encouragement.

Why, you may be wondering, of all the things one might be concerned about in the country, the world, and so on, am I so concerned about this? Let me explain.

I came of age during the war in Vietnam, when 18-21 year olds were denied the right to vote. But in reponse to the debate over the war, Republicans and Democrats agreed that if you were old enough to be drafted to fight and die for your country, you were old enough to have a say in electing public officials who will make the life and death decisions affecting our troops — and any other decisions for that matter.  This made common sense to the American people, regardless of how they stood on the war, and the Constitution of the United States was amended to extend the right to vote to 18-21 year olds.  The 26th Amendment reads in part: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

The unfair, and misapplied proof of residency standard at BU this week seems to me to be at least an abridgment if not an outright denial of the right of young people to vote. I know that the dust is still settling from the primary, but I hope we will start to hear from our elected officials, party officials, and from university administrators about what actions they will take to ensure that the right of students to vote “shall not be denied or abridged.”    

All wars are fought primarily by young people. More than 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam, and many more were wounded.  Today young men and women are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some 1500 have been killed. Many more have been wounded. The way things are going, the draft may very well be reinstituted and millions of young people will be eligible.  

This is one very good reason why we should do everything we can to encourage the participation of young people in public life — not spread lies to discourage them. We must do everything we can to work out proof of residency rules to facilitate their participation — not selectively apply rules to deny and abridge their constitutional right to vote.  

When we turn a blind eye to the demagoguery of Carr and McCauley, and ignore the actions of their henchmen, we are complicit in the degradation of the Constitution, and the Constitutional rights of our fellow citizens.

Silent complicity in this matter will compound the crisis of confidence in constitutional democracy looming on the horizon. Why should young people believe that voting matters when society and it’s institutions tolerate all this?  Why should young people believe that the Democratic Party stands for anything, if it turns a blind eye to the bad behavior of party officers like Bart McCauley?  (We already know that cheap electoral manipulations are the modus operandi of the Republicans in Florida and Ohio and elsewhere. I am also of the age that remembers when President Richard Nixon was forced out of office because of his personal involvement in “dirty tricks.” Carr chose his words carefully and well.)

Meanwhile, The Daily Free Press has further clarified McCauley’s attitude, and has begun to solicit the reaction of the Party. “‘They [students] don’t belong here,’ McCauley told The Daily Free Press in an interview Wednesday. McCauley said the BU College Democrats, who have spoken out against McCauley’s press release, should ‘get a life.’ ‘I’ve been working my ass off longer than these little babies have been living,’ he said. But Massachusetts Democratic Party officials said McCauley’s message was not aligned with that of the party. ‘[Students] are definitely allowed to vote,’ said Party spokeswoman Jane Lane. ‘We would oppose any effort to dampen their participation.'”  

The story is still unfolding, and the scandal has not yet surfaced in the major media.  But we know what Carr and McCauley said. And thanks to Blue Mass Group, the BU College Dems, the Daily Free Press (the BU student newspaper) and Josh Sugarman, we have some idea of what happened.  State and local Democratic Party leaders and elected officials must act now. The BU students who were the victims of voter suppression need to know that the Democratic Party believes that the right to vote is sacred — whether the voters live in Florida, Ohio, or Brighton. They need to know that the election rules are fair, and will be even-handedly applied. In fact, we all need to know that, and we need to know it now.

Currently, few outside of the 18th Suffolk District and BU are even aware there is an issue, let alone a problem. Fewer still, are those who know there is a problem, and that there is anything they can do about it. Let’s not let the victims feel alone and powerless.  

The BU College Democrats are outraged.  

The BU Daily Free Press is outraged

A few bloggers are outraged.

How about you?

[Crossposted from]

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