By Tim Nesbitt of Portland, Oregon. Tim is the president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. This year, the AFL-CIO's campaign can be found at WorkingFamiliesVote.com. [This guest column was originally a speech delivered on October 21, 2004.]
Welcome to Oregon, where we value open and fair elections, where we vote in large numbers, and we’re proud that we do.
This isn’t Florida.
We don’t have their heat and their hurricanes. And, until now, we haven’t had their political storms about who can vote, and how you must vote and whether or not your ballot should be counted.
No, here in Oregon, we have elections in which we seek every vote and we count every vote. We are the only state in the country where every registered voter gets a ballot. We make it easy to vote, by mail and in person. We have one set of standards, and one way of voting, in all of our counties. But, most important of all, we vote – way more than in most states.
We practice what everyone preaches. We know that voting is a good thing, and we prove it by how we conduct our elections and how we run our campaigns.
Until now, we have always campaigned by reaching out to voters, by doing our best to persuade those voters and by getting our supporters out to vote. That, too, is a good thing. It’s a healthy part of our process and another reason that we vote in such large numbers.
But some campaigns now appear to be worried that that we are experiencing too much of a good thing. So they’ve come up with ways to compete not by getting out the vote, but by keeping out the vote. And that is a very dangerous thing.
Make no mistake about it: The plans concocted by the Republican Party will turn Oregon into another Florida.
They’re talking about videotaping voters waiting to vote, as if there’s something suspect about the very act of voting.
They’re talking about trying to cut off voting at 8 PM, when the law is clear that if you’re in line by 8 PM, you can get your ballot and cast your ballot whenever you get to the head of the line.
They’re talking about questioning signatures and challenging ballots where there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
But, worst of all – the most telling sign of what they’re really up to, is that they’re planning to do these things in some counties, like Multnomah County, but not in other counties.
We can see very clearly what they’re doing by where they’re doing it. And, there is no doubt that the Republicans are targeting voters in Democratic strongholds to make it harder to vote in those places.
If the Republican Party goes ahead with these plans, they will be crossing a line we’ve never crossed before in Oregon – from mobilizing one’s supporters to blocking one’s opponents, from seeking votes to suppressing votes, from getting out the vote (GOTV) to keeping out the vote (KOTV).
This is a line we shouldn’t cross – because if these tactics go unchallenged, what are other campaigns supposed to do?
We will fight to defend our votes, but no campaign worth its salt wants to play only defense. If this continues, it won’t be long before all campaigns in Oregon will feel that they have to fight fire with fire.
That’s why this has to stop now.
On behalf of an organization that includes Democrats and Republicans and third party members and independents, we call on the Republican Party to disavow these tactics.
Put down your video cameras, put your hands together and applaud those Oregonians who show up to vote on Election Night.
Tell your volunteers to rewrite their signs to “Vote Here.” Do that in your strongholds, and let the Democrats do the same in their strongholds.
And, most of all, don’t try to set tougher standards for voting in Democratic counties and another set of standards in your own backyards. Affirm the principle of equal rights and equal access for all.
This is Oregon, remember. This is where we compete in our elections by getting out the vote – not by keeping out the vote.
We can be a battleground state without waging war on our right to vote.
We can fight hard for our votes without blocking ballots.
We can remain a state in which we conduct spirited campaigns and still respect the spirit of our elections – that every vote matters and every vote should be counted.
We are here today to demand open and fair elections, Oregon-style – in which we respect every vote, we seek every vote, and we count every vote.