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Wait For It


There are occasional moments in America’s relentless pursuit of a truly equal democracy when the pursuers themselves wind up heading in the wrong direction. Instead of promoting a better, stronger and completely honest government, these well-meaning believers either (1) overlook one or more of the obvious pitfalls in their own thinking or (2) simply can’t understand how far opponents of ill will are willing to go to achieve their questionable goals. Although we have met only a few members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and therefore are compelled to admire the others from afar, we believe the state’s highest court dropped the ball last week when it struck down the part of a state law demanding that mail-in ballots be notarized unless the voter in question is physically incapacitated.

So what does that mean? Why do we feel that way? Why question the integrity of Oklahoma voters?

There are several reasons. First off, we certainly aren’t really challenging the integrity of the average Oklahoma voter in any way. We have lived in this grand state for oh, thirty-plus years and that’s long enough to conclude that most of the people in Oklahoma are honest, caring and hard-working individuals.

Beyond that, we also understand that there are people in this grand democracy — and by that we mean in all 50 of these United States — who would gleefully turn the marvelous works of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin and the like from the masterpiece they put together to just another way to grab undeserved power. There are lots of ways to try that. One of the easiest is to rig an election ... and one of the most common ways of doing that is to play with the ballot box (or in these days, the voting machines) and make sure the people who show up to vote are the people somebody else wanted to vote and quite often got paid for that privilege.

Well, back in the day (in this case, “the day” was some time in 1961) that your friendly editorial writer graduated from college with a degree in journalism, joined up with the Army Reserves for six months and for a while made a “home” in such lovely places such as Ft. Jackson in South Carolina and Ft. Sill in Lawton.

When the half-year was up, we landed a job with The Jackson Daily News, our hometown newspaper, for $65 a week ... and after taxes, that $65 figured out at $41. Eight or nine months later, the telephone rang and a voice at the other end offered $95 a week as a reporter in Bristol, which is on the state line between Tennessee and Virginia. Not too long after that, The Bristol Herald-Courier granted a modest raise and the opportunity to (1) write the editorials, (2) cover City Hall in Bristol, Tenn., and (3) also cover City Hall in Bristol, Va.

It was then that this young journalist began to learn what a vote was worth in Southwest Virginia. A lot of people who made up the electorate in that part of the state were “paid” to cast an absentee ballot. Some were told to go to the courthouse and get the ballot themselves but most just let the party take care of that chore. In this instance, “the party” meant the Democrats. The going rate was a bag of groceries, a ton of coal (not hard to find in that country) or cash ... probably about ten bucks. The Republicans, who at least came close to their opponents and occasionally won a few offices, didn’t play that game ... and their “wins” remained very occasional.

That was Southwest Virginia. Then the Trotters moved to Memphis. Yours truly landed a really good job with The Commercial Appeal. There was a break-in period on the copy desk (misery, misery) and real reporting followed. City Hall became the beat for a year or two and then it was back to the CA office as urban affairs editor ... the second highest position on the large newspaper’s active news-gathering staff. Then Scripps-Howard, which owned The CA, sent the editor to somewhere or another and things started going downhill. Memphis was a great town but it was time to go and the family wound up in Asheboro, N.C., which was looking for an editor.

There was a difference between the way votes were “appropriated” in Tennessee and Virginia. In Virginia, the votes were bought and paid for. In Memphis, most were outright stolen. In precincts where the Republicans did not have the representative the law accorded them at the polls, the workers (all Democrats, to be sure in those days) would close the precinct, check to see who didn’t show up, grab a bunch of unused ballots and go to town. The Commercial Appeal eventually learned to figure the percentages of those who voted in each precinct, a practice that led the newspaper directly to the places where the vote really counted ... more than once, to be sure.

So now the Oklahoma Supreme Court in effect is saying ... or at least hinting strongly ... that this state has no need to have a “third party” (well, perhaps “second party”) ratify that the man or woman who mailed in an absentee ballot is actually a voter? Yeah. Go that way. See what happens.

We’re willing to bet that nobody in Oklahoma politics, whether registered Democrat or registered Republican, wants that door opened. How do you feel about it?


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