14 May 2010

Questions...Always Questions....

(Photographs copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

For anyone that's interested in the pictures....

These were taken on a recent trip to Portland OR. We had one sunny day, and that's the one we decided to spend at Washington Park, which is huge and gorgeous. Sadly, we were early for the roses, even though it was the first week in May. Spring there was so cold and wet that everything slowed down.

The pictures were taken at the Japanese Garden. That azalea is actually two plants. Over the years they've been pruned into a perfect ten foot diameter circle. The second is a Japanese Maple and it looks overexposed because it is. I was standing inside the canopy looking up when I took the picture. I was more interested in the structure of the tree than the leaves.


Some of this is prompted by the fact that The Boy and I have applied for citizenship. Our forms are in, and we got fingerprinted by Homeland Security a couple of weeks ago. If things go at their normal pace, we will probably be sworn in by the end of September/beginning of October, in time for the November elections. We'll see.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a very official looking envelope in the mail, addressed to me by name, that looked a lot like the Census form. Now, I sent that in as soon as I got it - it was in the mail the very next day. This envelope looked about the same, so I opened it, figuring that it was either a duplicate (strange but I imagine it happens), or I'd screwed something up so they were asking me to re-do.

I opened it, and there was an official-looking letter inside with a huge black heading that said "2010 Congressional District Census". In very tiny little black print underneath that it said "Commissioned by the Republican Party". Now it was addressed to me by name and signed (by machine) by a Michael Steele, who I've never heard of. I'm sure he's a nice man, even if he IS a Republitard.

The cover letter was filled with loaded language that interspersed the usual paranoid idiocy with things like:

" Barack Obama was barely in the White House a month when he dropped all pretense of "hope" and "change" and laid bare his real agenda of massive tax increases, government-run health care, amnesty for illegal aliens (it's ok, The Boy and I are legal), and bigger, more intrusive government."

You get the gist. It's a three page letter, demanding that this "census" be returned by 28 May and also begging for money. We've seen it all before. Still....when I looked at the survey it was STILL iffy as far as I was concerned.

The form LOOKS like the real Census form. There's a blurb at the top about being selected for the survey and so on, and in small print with a white line through it that was meant to look like a copier malfunction and so virtually unreadable; "This is not a U.S. Government document."
Neat, hey? Oddly, this "malfunction" is present ONLY on that small line of text.

The rest of the printing job is beautifully done with not one error as far as I can see. It has all sorts of numbers on it, a tracking code, due date etc. I know that this is an old advertising/marketing trick. No one reads the text of the letter, right? Most people just toss that out. No one really pays attention to the exact wording at the top of the survey, either. They just fill in the boxes. It's even postage paid.

There are 21 questions, and they read like the typical paranoid Republican bullshit we've been hearing since the last election was called.

"5. Do you think the record trillion dollar federal deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for or nation?" (Like the Shrub didn't start that whole sleigh ride.)

"9. Are you concerned that as other countries like China buy up hundreds of billions of dollars of our national debt they will have more control in directing our nation's future economic policies?" (Hmmm. A new take on the Yellow Peril bullshit that was around a hundred years ago?)

I found these questions hilarious, but that's just me. No, they really ARE hilarious. So there. The funniest part of the whole thing, though is Page 4 of the "census". It's a donation form that is designed to take credit cards. Gotta love political parties! The whole thing seems like a lot of work to ask for money, don't you think?

It's also funny that this is coming to me. Not only am I not registered to vote, I CAN'T do that. I'm not a citizen!


However, this got me thinking, and I have questions about politics here. I'm Canadian, so give me a tiny break here before mocking me.

1. Do you have to declare a party before you go into a polling booth?

2. When you register to vote, is that done by a civil servant or do you have to register with party officials? If it IS a civil servant, do you have to tell THAT person what party you're affiliated with?

3. Why do party officials count the ballots? Isn't that begging for trouble, or at least corrupt counting practices? Shouldn't the people counting be neutral? In Canada, that means civil servants.

I am genuinely confused by this. I've voted in a lot of elections in Canada, and we were always taught that the secret ballot is sacred - that no one has a right to ask how you're going to vote. Ever never. It's not just that no one answers the question, no one asks because it's considered so rude.

Also, Elections Canada used to (I don't know if they still do) count damaged and defaced ballots. Defacing a ballot- usually by drawing a big black X through it) is considered a legitimate form of protest. Essentially, if you deface your ballot, you're making it clear that all of the candidates are idiots so it doesn't matter who gets in.

There are no exit polls in Canadian elections - again with the secret ballot. All campaigning has to stop before the vote and the bars are closed. Apparently a favorite tactic among the politicians of yore was to park a wagon full of kegs of beer outside polling stations.

So anyway, what gives? I was raised believing that it's nobody's damned business how I vote or for who.

That's right - you got it. Messy asks for help AGAIN.


  1. The declaration system varies from place to place, as does whether primaries are open or closed--that is, some places you have to have registered as a Dem to vote in the Dem primary, and in other places, any registered voter can grab the Dem ballot.

    I don't even know if the variation is state by state, or more locally based--sorry. Maybe someone who has taken civics less that thirty-odd years ago will have more.

  2. 1&2: You don't have to declare a party before or even when registering to vote--you can leave that slot blank.

    3: The snarky answer is, it's probably something like "You say corruption, I say transparency--toMAYto, toMAHto, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more." But really I don't know (sorry).

    As for defaced ballots, most likely you'll have an electronic voting machine. With those it is probably possible (I haven't tried) to cast a blank ballot that doesn't vote for any candidate, but not to deface the ballot in protest. Unfortunately.

  3. Messy, it varies alot, and I'm not certain how exactly it works there in Illinois.
    But here's what I do know:
    1) According to Google, as of Apr. 1, 2009, to vote in the primaries in Illinois you have to be registered as a voter in that party.

    2) In Washington State, the primary ballots are segregated by party, but I believe it's still County Auditors' employees (civil servants) who run the tally.

    3) Even if the primary is counted by the party, assuming that they have segregated ballots, that's fine, because in most cases the Primary is FOR the party, to determine who the party will give money to support their general election campaign (especially true of Presidential elections, though, in WA, less true of other positions, because we've been altering our primary system about every election lately).

    4) People from both parties are supposed to be able to observe the counting process to ensure fairness and accuracy by the civil servants, again, here in WA state, that way, if a civil servant has especially strong feelings about an issue, they have incentive not to mess with the tally.

    5) In WA (sorry to be so specific, but I really know best about here) it is a civil servant who registers you to vote, and yes, you have to report to them (at least on the form) which party you want to register with. Theoretically, this information is just used to insure that those who feel connected with a particular party are the ones influencing their primaries.

    As for the secret ballot thing, I believe firmly that I am not obligated to reveal my vote to anyone... But I also believe that if I do, I should be free from undue harrassment about it. However, for the first time in my voting life, this last presidential election cycle I felt the hostility of politics in the workplace in a very real way. My boss was directly campaigning for a candidate I couldn't support, while squaring it with my conscience. My coworkers (who are either green card holders, or relatively new citizens) all wanted to know who I was voting for and why as they prepared to vote in (for many) their first Presidential election. Rather than have the workplace become hostile because of my boss, I declined to answer.

    I hope this helps some?

    Anyway, congrats on almost getting sworn in! Very glad to hear that you're that much closer! =-D

  4. Ok. I would think that since civil servants (who are NOT hired based on party affiliations, at least in Canada) who are NOT permitted to even VOTE (they volunteer to count ballots for the sake of the overtime pay and are sworn not to reveal preferences) in that particular election would be considerably less biased than party members.

    I can understand the thing with primaries. It's all about the money. But what about the actual elections? Am I not permitted into a polling place to vote for - say - President without telling someone what party I prefer?

    Sigh. Still confused. I thought Federal law governed Federal elections.

  5. no no federal law is preempted by state law. Here in SC, you register to vote in the county which you reside - no declaring your party. BUT to vote in the primary elections, you can only vote in either the repub or democrat primary. At the general election, in every state, it is a secret ballot - vote for whom you please. Poll workers are volunteers, every county has them regardless of party affiliation to staff the polls. they get to vote also. Many jouralistic outlets have "poll watchers" who make sure all voters are treated equally. especially here in the deep south.

  6. Oh, and BTW congrats on your pending naturalization. I have been trying for 30 years to get the hubster to become a citizen....Born in England, raised in Canada (Quebec) and in the US since 1970....damn Yorkshireman - too stubborn. He even trys to tell me who to vote for - HAH! twit- but I love him *sigh*

  7. oldbroad - gotcha on the primaries, so no worries there. I keep making comparisons to Canada, so it's the rough equivalent of joining whatever party (I used to be a Tiny Tory) so that you can vote at the leadership convention.

    Ah, curmudgeons! I've got one, too. Next time he tries to tell you who to vote for, tell him that for an application fee and your endorsement, he can vote for himself! It's easier for him anyway, because he's married to a citizen.

  8. Oh, and depending on the state, it is frequently permissible to not declare a party (hence all the independent voters) but you can't vote in "closed" primaries.

  9. We used to get those kinds of "polls" from the "Moral Majority (It wasn't a Census year) with leading questions like, "Do you approve of the ILLEGAL and IMMORAL .... " whatever the then-Democratic President was doing. We'd check, "Yes" and send it back. Of course, we'd add on somewhere that we felt it was neither illegal nor immoral, but I'm sure that just "voided" our poll.

  10. Party registration varies by state. in my state, you "register" for a party by voting in the primary of that party. That means you can vote in that party's run-off, but not the other party's. I think party officials count the votes in primaries and run-offs, but not the actual election results. If you vote in neither the primary nor the run-off (which you can vote in either if you missed the primary), then you are considered anindependent.

    Next election, if you vote in another party's primary or run-off, you then become a "registered" member of that party. You can switch every time there's a primary election.

  11. Madd Libby, the way it works in my neck of the woods is you register and then you get to choose which ballot you want to fill out. And since I'm in a vote-by-mail county we get both! MUAH HA HA HA HA! But you only get one. Usually it's not too hard to pick.

    And I think a "motor voter" bill back during the Clinton years makes it so all you have to do is go to the DMV/DOL/Whatevs in your state and you'll get a voter registration form. They usually also have them in the post office. I suggest getting the form from the place where you have to loudly announce you're a new citizen and you'd like to register to vote.

  12. Good Grief! Messy and the Boy, what is possessing you to give up a perfectly good Canadian citizenship for a US one!? Please accept my condoleances for your forthcoming loss.

    You don't have to belong to a party in order to vote, and you don't have to vote for party candidates of the party you might happen to belong to. The party thing as pointed out by other posters only applies to primaries, and not in all states as some have opted for open primary voting.

    On the other hand, there are advantages in becoming a US citizen. You now have officially the right to be entertained by such clowns as Michael Steele, the titular head of the Republican party and probably its only African American member, who lives with his foot in his mouth. Of course he denied having anything to do with the fake census forms which might actually be illegal. If you get MSNBC, look up the "Rachel Maddow show" and "Count Down with Keith Olberman" and the "Ted Show".... I guarantee that you'd like them, particularly Rachel....

  13. Oh no! If you're born in Canada, they own you for life! The US does not make you turn in your Canadian passport. I think it has to do with being from one of the pink bits on the map - there's some kind of deal going on there.

    However, we haven't lived there in a decade, it doesn't look like we'll be retiring there, and we need to vote. It's making me crazy, actually. We can't wait to get sworn in. Then the fun begins!

  14. My girl is thinking about taking the path too - makes it a lot easier for her to get rid of the resident alien status and do the citizenship dance, and like you say there's no risk - no need to renounce your Canadian citizenship if you move over here, so if Jeb Bush gets elected and we take on North Korea for imaginary yellowcake she can grab the kids and skeedaddle without much ado.

    As for voting, the entire electoral process, it's a clear goat-fuck from the get go, but suffice it to say you can win an election here by losing it, you can run on any ticket so long as you have enough corporate sponsorship, and local elections are the only thing imaginably more asinine that any word ever uttered by Glenn Beck.

  15. Oh, by the way - that shot of the Maple is just lovely! I wonder if it would HDR nicely? I'd like to try - may I?

  16. Schuyler - go ahead and mess with that photo. In fact, I have a couple more of that particular tree, so I'll e-mail them to you - just pick what you like.

    I'm surprised your wife isn't already a citizen. Wouldn't that be pretty easy for her since she's already married to an American? That opens yet another can of worms with the kids, though. Hmmm. Could this whole thing get MORE Byzantine, do you think?