Once the smoke clears from Tuesday’s elections, we might look back at 2014 and conclude that this was the year when campaigning turned creepy.
A mailer sent out in Louisiana by Americans for Prosperity has already gotten some attention. The postcards indicate whether the person the card was sent to voted in the 2010 and 2012 federal elections and say that AFP will get back to them after checking the 2014 election records. Secretary of State Tom Schedler thinks this goes too far, and he said a new law may be needed to address the practice.
There’s more. A couple of weeks ago, a link from the Republican National Committee appeared on my Facebook page. “NOTICE: All voting is public,” it said. “In a few months, Louisiana will release the list of individuals who voted in this election. Ensure your name is included when the public rolls are released by becoming a voter TODAY.”
The purpose of the ad was to motivate people to take advantage of Louisiana’s early voting period. Clicking on it sent you to a site that told you where you could vote early.
There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to vote. But there was a creepy undertone in the Republicans’ Facebook ad. It featured a photograph of what looks like a comfortably middle-class neighborhood. There were red checkmarks on the houses of people who voted — specifically, it says people who “voted GOP” — and a black X on the house of someone who didn’t.
It’s faintly reminiscent of those paranoid “Twilight Zone” episodes from the 1960s where people in normally inoffensive domestic settings are suddenly agitated to discover that someone among them is somehow “different.” Then things get ugly.
I don’t expect suburbanites to soon be breaking down the doors of neighbors who didn’t vote. But you have to wonder just what state Republicans are getting at when they urge you to make sure you’re not on the public list of non-voters.
AFP advertised heavily against Sen. Mary Landrieu’s re-election effort, so it and the Republican Party are on the same side. But such tactics haven’t been limited to conservatives.
In New York, the Democratic Party sent letters noting that voting records are public and that the party will review them “after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”
Similar strategies have been used in previous elections, but this year they’re more widespread and have attracted more notice.
Where do campaigners come up with ideas like these? It’s true that voting records are public. They have been for a long time, and political pros buy this data from the secretary of state to help the campaigns they’re running.
But who dreamed up the strategy of using these to shame or even bully voters? I doubt that it has ever occurred to most people that they should seek out their neighbors’ records and then try to act on whatever information they find.
Given what went on this year, it’s not too far-fetched to think that political operatives may have more in store for us in the future. Maybe they’ll ratchet up the pressure by encouraging squadrons of citizens to check up on their friends and go have a little talk with those who didn’t vote to find out why they decided to be “different.”
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.