Wed 16 May 2012
The night of the election, May 8th, I went out to a local pub called the bar and met some friends and did some convivial mourning of the outcome of the vote on Amendment One. When we were done I stayed behind to pay the tab while The Boyf went outside to wait for me. I found him having a conversation with two young guys, one of whom had a video camera. They stated that they were with Duke’s student news publication The Chronicle and that they were interviewing gay and gay-friendly voters about Amendment One and our reactions to it. We spent several minutes having a conversation that was very positive and upbeat and during which I first articulated and processed many of the emotional reactions that are reflected in my post from a few days later. They taped me during this interview and asked me to state my name. Then they said they had turned off the camera and transitioned to a jokey, conversational style of chatter with us during which we and they were opining freely and sharing our feelings. The filmmaker (who appears in the video wearing a UNC cap and reflective silver sunglasses, with blond hair and a dark beard) represented himself as a bisexual student activist. They made me think I was getting the opportunity to lift their spirits in a moment of defeat and I believe too much in my community to do otherwise than seek to raise it up when it is brought low. I was completely sober but I had been awake for 21 hours and working on my feet for 19 of them. I was exhausted and I did not ask for ID or other credentials because I prefer to live in a world where it’s possible to have a conversation on the street and express an opinion without fear of abuse.
What they actually did was leave the camera running and, later, pull out select quotes with no context. They dropped all the talk of Amendment One and activism and my feelings as a voter – my observations about how much good has happened in the last twenty years and how much work this gives an activist to be excited about – and used my honesty about hesitating to take the oath of office again to suggest that I was stating I would only enforce portions of the state constitution in my role as an election judge. If one listens to what I say in the video then it’s clear that isn’t what I mean but they do their best to distract from that by failing to caption the words that make it clear and by running out-of-context audio over other footage later. A professional journalist who has reviewed the video said there are obvious signs of manipulative editing that any trained observer would recognize as signs that the video should not be taken at face value and that these will ultimately hurt the video more than help its apparent message.
The kids making the video were, it turns out, part of James O’Keefe’s organization. They used twenty or thirty seconds of me in a ten-minutes-and-change video they say demonstrates how easy it would be to commit voter fraud in North Carolina.
I posted the following comment on the video:
As one of the persons in this video I think it’s important to note that the filmmaker misrepresented himself and the topic to me, performed selective editing and dropped an extended conversation in favor of the juiciest quote with no context. This is an important issue tragically reduced to fumbled anonymous “gotcha” journalism. I decided the next day to resign as an election official because I believe we must mean the words we say, especially oaths. I wish the filmmaker had been that honest.
Overnight it received enough “down” votes to become invisible.
Most of the people with whom they speak are not election officials and are in no way experts on election law. They have nothing to do with enforcing those laws. They are not persons who would be allowed into a voting enclosure on election day for any reason other than to cast their own ballot and leave. They are not people who run elections but they are as welcome as anyone else to have opinions about them. I can only assume that those persons also find themselves misrepresented and their words mischaracterized and taken out of context to put them in the most negative possible light. They also misrepresent the activities at the bar that night to be some sort of official results party but it was just another night at the bar. There was no organization and no party. He line-danced with a bunch of lesbians who were there to line-dance. I am sure there are places where line-dancing is a political act but that night, in that place, it was not a preordained one.
Needless to say, I am saddened and infuriated and disappointed.
One of the things I find most frustrating about this is the ignorance the filmmaker shows regarding the very laws he’s claiming to investigate. When he fraudulently presents himself as another person and then volunteers that he has no ID he is told that they cannot ask for ID. That’s the law; the workers in a polling place are not allowed to ask for ID. If someone wants to show it to us then I suppose they can but we are not allowed to ask and he is taking advantage of that by approaching elections workers rather than legislators as though we should be expected to be more stringent than the law. Precinct officials enforce the laws as they exist; legislators craft them. When he states that he is not comfortable not showing ID and the election official gives him a slightly dismissive, “OK,” that’s something I recognize as the response of a person who has heard a hundred crazier things before lunch every election day for years. One person who thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t have to show ID is way down the list of things to worry about.
Other examples in which he absurdly overstates or misrepresents the circumstances and their risks:
- He violates the law by filming inside a precinct. This is explicitly forbidden and there is clear signage to this effect in any polling place that has been deployed in accordance with the law. No responsible journalist would violate this. By filming inside the polling place he risked the secrecy of the ballots of anyone else who was in there at the same time. I’ve worked with media on election days in the past and know that a real journalist will show up aware of the law and eager to abide by it. He is none of these things.
- He breaks the law by misrepresenting himself to election officials who then attempt to enforce the law by asking him to sign his name.
- He makes a big deal of being told that an “X” will suffice, as though election officials are also tasked with administering literacy examinations. An illiterate person is still a citizen. They may not be able to sign their own name but they may indicate their understanding and an X is a legal mark in that regard. They also most certainly may bring in a family member or a friend and ask that person to assist them in marking their ballot because it is their right to vote regardless of whether they can read. There are machines that have the ability to read a ballot to a person through a set of headphones if they are illiterate and wish to vote; we are required by law to have them available in every precinct. Literacy or illiteracy is no bar to legal voting.
- The filmmaker interrogates administrators at a university as though they are administrators of elections and characterizes their failure to begin administering elections, on the spot, as a failure of some sort.
- The filmmaker’s central “gotcha” is his claim that a person who once declined jury duty on the grounds of not being a citizen is now on the voter rolls, a claim which every local news outlet and a number of online sites has pointed out is true and legal because the person in question became a naturalized citizen and is now eligible to vote like any other citizen no matter what he put on a jury duty form in the past.
The central mission of election administration – and therefore of anyone who oversees elections in any official capacity – is one of establishing and maintaining trust in the results that are publicized. Every step of the way, every moment of the training classes we attend before every election, every form and seal and signature, every moment in which a judge or other official is forced to make a judgment call, should have as its foremost aim to maintain or increase the level of trust the public can have in the integrity of their election outcomes. The filmmaker exploited my honesty and my interest in the sincerity of my oath of office in an attempt to damage that trust. I cannot think of anything worse he could have done to me that night. I’ve been mugged, I’ve been assaulted, I’ve had cars and homes vandalized, I’ve been called names and had in fact been called names that very day in the course of doing my sworn duty as an elections official. None of that made me feel more intensely hurt than I do at this moment. I have spent years working to increase the faith other persons have in the mechanisms of local government and their community’s ability to come together and practice democracy. This kid thought that seemed like a fun can to kick and nothing more.
As noted here and elsewhere I have been struggling with the question of whether to continue as an election judge in light of the approval of Amendment One. I was 95% certain that I was going to resign. This has made up my mind for the remaining 5%. If I’m featured in a video that has any chance of calling into question the veracity of elections results in my precinct then I must absolutely step out of the way in favor of maintaining the public trust in elections overall. It stinks to high heaven for me, personally, to have the decision made for me like that by this one random and incredibly dishonest kid with a camera but such is life. My priority really is making sure that elections are fairly administered and the best thing I can do in support of that is to guarantee that elections in my precinct or my county are not somehow tainted by my involvement in them. My service is to the public and to the public trust, not to myself or some personal sense of false ownership over my precinct or any other aspect of the elections process. I would gladly step down if it would prevent one voter from doubting elections for one second.
There are two things I find incredibly ironic about this whole situation. One is that I spoke with him about the importance of being honest when I speak the words of my oath of office and yet he had been dishonest with me in order to get me to discuss those honest concerns. I believe that we must mean the words we say, always, or they lose value; that oaths we take to one another, to an ideal or to a society must be made to the highest standard of honesty possible. I wish this guy could share the same degree of integrity.
The other great irony is that he has pushed me out of the neutral role of election judge and thus freed me to be more of an activist. If his goal was to embarrass me, he has certainly succeeded and I suppose is to be congratulated for having gone to such tremendous lengths to get one moment of tired stupidity. If his goal on the other hand was to diminish my enthusiasm for the outcomes of elections or to make it impossible for me to participate in them in any way possible then he is a miserable failure. Before our conversation I was an election official whose activities were restricted to the voting enclosure and a fifty foot arc emanating from its front door. Now my turf is the rest of the world and I plan to work no less hard on it.
Two stills, pulled from his video, show a better look at the young man who conducted the interview. His cameraman was an overweight guy in his early 20’s with unkempt red hair and a fluffy red beard. He wore overalls and a t-shirt as I recall. I thought they were just absurdly dressed hipsters.