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Oh! Sweet Nuthin’: Boss Tweed’s Ghost!

By

I just don’t know what to do with this one.

A friend of mine last month came out of the post office and was assaulted by a young lady with a clipboard. Not unusual. The girl wanted to talk about the legalization of marijuana, which my friend supported, and she did too, naturally. But her point in clipboarding/campaigning/hailing down strangers was not to spread the Word about the Herb, but to make sure people knew how to vote correctly on the proposition. She was even collecting phone numbers to send out text message reminders on election day: vote no on 19, “because no means yes!” Some people were apparently very confused.

My friend gave her a fake phone number (or possibly yours?), went home, looked this up and was very upset. In case you don’t know, Prop. 19 was in favor of the legalization of marijuana: the girl was lying. I’m a little surprised nobody’s been arrested. But I’m more surprised I can’t find anything about this on the Internet. Granted, it’s not an easy search, seeing as how there are (lots and lots of) people out there who think that either “smoking marijuana does not cure cancer” or “the legalization of marijuana would not lead to the apocalypse” is “misinformation.”

But something this egregious should be floating to the top of a “Prop. 19 Misinformation No” query. This must’ve been a campaign. She just can’t have been alone. Nobody tries to affect an election on a vote-by-vote level (talking to people individually) without enlisting lots of help, even if the methodology is crude fraud and sabotage. Actually, especially in that case, because a good 10 to 30 percent of the people you lie to will at some point realize you were lying.

The nerve! For an organization to even attempt something like this? It’s a little scary to think of how much they actually influenced the election. Most of the people who would vote yes aren’t actually people who’d talk about it, and wouldn’t necessarily double-check if they thought they knew how they were voting (nor trust the ballot if they’d been emphatically cautioned by an attractive girl with a clipboard that the way they wanted to vote was actually counterintuitive).

Has this happened before? Where you weren’t bullied out of your vote, or you didn’t care enough not to inform yourself, but somebody was just plain lying to you about the ballot?

This is completely different from the case in which the voter’s knowledge of the issue is heavily and actively censored to the point that he can’t make an informed decision. Everyone in this case can access the truth. Everyone the girl talked to had easy access to the truth. She wasn’t about to stop them from going home and looking online. She was just handing them the lie, making the lie the easier thing and swaddling it in a social interaction.

That this was attempted, possibly successfully, might be a sad indicator of the current political culture of young people. Obama, et cetera, has made voting cool, but “cool” as a concept, as an abstract force, is a socially instantiated thing. If enough cool people say it’s cool, it’s cool. It doesn’t have to do with optimizing the good or moral principles. The voter motivated by either of these forces checks the website, looks up news clips or at least reads the fucking proposition before checking the box. The voter motivated by fear just keeps his head down and does what he’s told. But a voter motivated by cool just wants to feel like a part of something hip, young and alive. And a friendly little text message on Election Day, making sure you’re someone in the know, does just that.

Did this happen to you? Rosie wants to hear about it! rcima@stanford.edu