UPDATE: I was wrong. The available evidence I have tells me that while the letter in question was sent under Joe Schmoe’s name, it was not in his official capacity as Sangamon’s secretary of state. It seemed “official looking,” but then so does Publishers Clearinghouse (to some people).
[Note: I wrote an earlier version of this post at Hitcoffee. What I say here is slightly revised and updated.]
My wife got a piece of mail yesterday addressed to “[her name] or current resident” and the return address said, “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.” The bottom of the envelope had a note that said “From the desk of [Joe Schmoe],” who is Sangamon’s secretary of state. Inside the envelope were a vote-by-mail application, a postage-paid envelope in which to send the application, and a form letter from the Sangamon secretary of state explaining the vote by mail process.
While I have mixed feelings about vote by mail, it’s an option open to people in Sangamon and I offer no complaint about it here. And because, as I understand, the state’s secretary of state is charged with voter registration and running the vote by mail service, I find it entirely appropriate that his office sends letters and applications to citizens.
But it’s unseemly, in my opinion, to have this thing paid for by the Democratic party. It’s also unseemly that my spouse was the only one to get the application. While she is registered to vote, I don’t know if she’s registered as a Democrat, but she probably is.
I am not. I’m also not particularly friendly to the local Democratic party. Several months ago, a precinct captain asked for my signature on a petition for someone to run for Democratic the ward committeeman. I politely explained that I was uncomfortable with the quasi-official “party committeeman” form of governance. Equally politely, he demurred. He didn’t pursue the matter or harangue me the way stereotypical activist-types are supposed to.
But it’s possible that encounter put me on the list of “not likely to vote for our person and therefore shouldn’t waste campaign resources on him.” When it comes to things like voter canvassing or who to hit up for donations, that’s a perfectly acceptable way to designate people. But if, as may be the case here, it plays a role in determining who receives vote by mail applications “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon,” that’s disturbing.
Or not. There may be other, mostly innocent or innocuous, things going on. Our phone number is registered under my wife’s name. So if the information about who is to receive the application is gotten by the same pool of information as the phone book, then I can see why the default would be to send the application to her. I also understand that in Big City, the Democratic Party is the only viable political party. Its quasi-official role in governing the city–via the ward committees which while they’re not as strong as they used to be, still exercise some power–gives it certain responsibilities. I don’t particularly like this quasi-official role. But I realize how that situation came about, and living in the real world requires accepting that for now things are as they are.
Neither is it a wholly bad thing, if it so happens the party is helping the state meet operating expenses for public services like vote by mail applications. Sangamon’s budget is pretty strapped.
I should also admit that the envelope was addressed to my spouse’s name “or current resident.” Presumably, I or anyone residing at that address could comfortably open the envelope and get the benefit of access to the application. And let’s not forget the postscript to the enclosed letter:
P.S. No matter who you vote for, voting matters. It’s the backbone of our democracy. Fill out your Vote By Mail application and send it back TODAY! You can apply online or find your early voting site at [Sangamaon]Dems.com/Voting-in-[Sangamon]
But I still have a problem with the situation. I usually won’t open a piece of mail addressed to someone “or current resident” if that someone is not me. I opened this particular piece of mail only because my wife gave me permission. While I would have probably opened the letter if it had been addressed to me, someone else–especially someone not likely to vote the Democrats’ way–might see “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon” on the envelope and throw it away unopened, believing it just a political flyer or request for a donation.
If a state service “from the desk of” the state’s secretary of state is being sent out “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon,” that implies something like an official advertisement the party bought from the state. It suggests that by paying for this outreach, the party receives quasi-official status as the main game in town. This isn’t the most horrible thing ever. And I’ve heard stories about “not the most horrible but still disturbing things” the Republican party does outside of Big City.
But “two wrongs” and “tu quoque’s” and all that–none of this is entirely benign either.
Image: Vote! By robertstinett. Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License, Attribution requirement. Some changes made to the written description of the image, but not necessarily endorsed by the image owner.