Friday, November 17, 2006

How Voting Needs to Change in Pittsburgh (Part I)

I don't imagine that this is only a problem for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, but the issue only really became in-your-face obvious to me once my wife and I moved here in 1999. I simply couldn't believe that, for so many races, there was simply no choice at all to be made in the November elections.

I'm not just talking about non-competitive races where only one of the candidates has any hope of winning. Those are legion in this part of Pennsylvania every November, and I'll address that problem in a later post. What I am talking about here are those races where only a single candidate -- almost always the Democratic Party candidate -- is listed on the ballot, running completely unopposed. And these aren't just meaningless local offices that we're talking about. My own U.S. Representative, Mike Doyle, has run unopposed in every election that I can remember. At least until this last one.

Imagine my shock a few Tuesdays ago, upon entering the voting booth -- oops, I guess that's one more idiomatic expression that my children will never understand (see also, "broken record") -- upon being led to my Fabricator 6000 electronic voting machine and pressing countless buttons on it's touch screen, to find that there was actually a second choice on the ballot. At least this time around, I could vote for someone other than the incumbent.

I wouldn't exactly describe it as "bliss", but it was a refreshing change of pace.

Of course, our rare second choice wasn't a Republican. The local Republican Party hasn't had the cojones to contest this seat (and many others like it) for years, and probably never will. Instead, our non-incumbent candidate was Titus North, from (to my incredulous disbelief) the Green Party.

I had never even heared of the guy until I was basking in the glow of the Fabricator 6000's touch-screen. The Post-Gazette only seems to have mentioned him in passing while giving it's unquestioning and all-but-fawning endorsement to the incumbent. Prior to that, there wasn't a mention of the poor bastard. You would think that they would at least run a brief interview with the guy, if only for the novelty of seeing a constested race for a change, but that would be asking far too much of our local members of the fourth estate.

Since the Post-Gazette didn't see fit to cover the story about Mr. North's run for office, it obviously couldn't tell us anything at all about how it almost didn't happen. And this is where this whole story gets truly and disturbingly disgusting.

It turns out the Titus North teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. Despite this fact, even the student newspaper on campus didn't have much to say about his run for office until Election Day itself. But better late than never, I guess. The Pitt News finally ran
an article about his candidacy, just as the polls were opening on that fateful Tuesday. I'm sure that all 257 people who actually (a) read the Pitt News for something other than it's Police Blotter, and (b) made it to the polls found the article to be enormously helpful.

While I myself did not encounter this article until well after the election was over, it's still a pretty decent piece of work. It really shows how low the dominant political parties will sink to protect their monopoly on the ballot.

Now let's look at this situation objectively for a second. We have an incumbent who is seeking his seventh consecutive term in the House of Representatives, and who enjoys more name recognition than some members of the Steelers. His seat has been safely Democratic since just about forever. He has run unopposed for as long as anyone can remember. It also happens to be a year in which the Democrats are predicted to (and, in fact, did) make big gains in the House. In basic terms, Mr. Doyle could have been facing Jesus Christ himself on the Republican ticket and still pulled down an easy majority without even coming back into town to kiss a single baby.

But he wasn't facing Jesus here. He wasn't even facing a Republican, who might have had at least enough money to print up a dozen yard signs prior to the election. He was facing a professor who nobody have ever heard of, a party which is only remembered -- if it is remembered at all -- as the spoliers who split the Gore vote and gave us the W. presidency, and a campaign that had almost no money whatsoever to mount even the barest degree of publicity for Mr. North's candicacy. More to the point, Mr. North's Green Party positions on nearly every issue were basically the same as the Democratic party line. So there was almost no need for even the most left-wing voters to desert the incumbent. Even Mr. North, according the the Post-Gazette, conceded that he was going to lose. Truly, the North candidacy was absolutely nothing for Mr. Doyle to have worried about.

In fact, in his public comments about the election (what little one can find in the local press), Mr. Doyle claims to have welcomed Mr. North's challenge. At least that's what he told the Post-Gazette's editorial board.

But behind the scenes, the Democratic Party worked like mad to keep Titus North's name off the ballot. The story, as reported in the Pitt News, almost sounds pitiful:

... when the last signature was taken and North's petition for candidacy was turned in, the Democratic Party challenged its authenticity.

North saw the challenge as a test to his dedication.

"They challenged 3,800 [signatures] saying they weren't valid," he said. "So I had to spend four weeks in Harrisburg going through the signatures one by one, sitting next to a representative from the Democratic Party."

Two-thirds of the contested signatures were valid. The others, according to North, weren't accepted because many were from college students who had registered under one address and moved recently to a new one.

North slept in a tent during the four weeks he spent at the state capital because a hotel room wasn't in the budget, he said. But he was eventually granted a place on the ballot.

This guy had to sleep in a tent? In Harrisburg? For four freaking weeks? I don't think I could last four nights in the swankiest hotel room that Harrisbug has to offer (second floor of a Motel 6, last renovated during the Regan administration, door opening directly onto the parking lot?). Meanwhile, the Democratic representative who attended all of these meetings to challenege the signatures was probably being driven by a luxury car service back to the Hotel Hershey every afternoon in time to get in a quick nine holes before dinner.

Why on earth would they fight so hard to keep this guy off the ballot when he posed absolutely no threat whatsoever to Mike Doyle's re-election? Who in the hell would get their jollies from doing a thing like this?

Kudos to Titus North for going the extra mile -- more like hundreds of extra miles -- to stand up for a completely lost cause. His positions on just about any issue you can think of are almost completely contrary to my own. Just knowing that he was the Green Party candidate was enough for me to be fairly certain that he and I would not agree on very much. I had never heared of the man before his name came up on the touch screen, and I destest the very notion of uninformed voting.

But I like to have a choice for a change, so he got my vote. That's me and 17,504 others who gave this brave (but misguided) gentleman a whopping 10% of the vote. Somehow, I'm proud of that.

1 comment:

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