Some random thoughts about Cliven Bundy

I’m with Jon Stewart:  I just don’t get it.  Here is a man who doesn’t recognize the United States government, but runs around with an American flag.  He thinks slavery was a fine institution, much better I guess than getting welfare, but Mr. Bundy doesn’t seem to realize that by grazing his cattle for free, he has been getting welfare for years.  Talk about welfare cheats!

And ya gotta love all those national political figures now in retreat.  I guess they were initially moved by the pictures of all those armed men prepared to put the women up front so they would die first.  But then came the comments about “Negroes”.   Dana Milbank had a great list of retreaters and their comments in his recent Washington Post column. 

Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy knows how to start a stampede.

After Bundy, who became a right-wing hero for his refusal to acknowledge the authority of the federal government, wondered aloud about whether “Negro” people were “better off as slaves,” conservative figures who had celebrated his cause rushed to distance themselves from him.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had condemned the federal government’s attempt to enforce court orders against Bundy: “Offensive.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who had declared Bundy’s followers “patriots”: “Appalling and racist.”

And Sean Hannity, who had led a Fox News campaign that made a hero of Bundy: “Beyond repugnant.”

But Bundy’s daughter is still defending him.  According to Mother Jones

Bundy defended his initial comments on Thursday saying, “If they think I’m racist, they’re totally wrong…Again, I’m wondering are they better off under the old system of slavery or are they better off under the welfare slavery that they’re under now. You know, I’m not saying one way or the other.” And on Friday morning, he told CNN that he didn’t see a problem with using terms like “Negro” or “boy” for black people. “If those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet,” he told anchor Chris Cuomo.

Meanwhile, Bundy’s daughter, Shiree Bundy Cox, is striking back at conservatives who have turned tail on Bundy, especially Hannity. In a Facebook post Thursday night, she accused Hannity of abandoning her father and pandering to ratings. Here’s a snippet:

I’m sure most of you have heard the news about my dad being called a racist. Wow! The media loves to take things out of context don’t they? First off I’d just like to say that my dad has never been the most eloquent speaking person. Like someone said, he’s a Moses who needs an Aaron to speak for him. This is true. Second, however, is that the media has turned this into a circus side show. It’s like their trying to throw us off the real subject. Why was this ever even brought up? What does this have to do with land rights issues? Sean Hannity was all for reporting the happenings at the Bundy Ranch until this popped up. I wonder if someone hoped it would be that way…By the way, I think Mr. Hannity is more worried about his ratings than he really is about what my dad said. If he supports a supposed racist, what will that do to his ratings? He’s already lost his #1 spot on Fox.

If Shiree wants to understand the connection between land rights, race and taxes, Dana Milbank can explain it to her.

In general terms, Bundy’s notion of state supremacy — “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing” — is a variant of states’-rights claims that go back to the Civil War and were revived in the segregationists’ opposition to civil rights laws. Because the federal government has been the protector of minority rights, states’ rights have long been used to justify discrimination.

Specifically, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks anti-government and hate groups, says that Bundy’s sentiments align closely with those of the “Posse Comitatus” movement, founded by William Potter Gale in the 1970s. That movement based its anti-tax position — and its belief in the primacy of county and state authority over the federal government — on a belief that the levers of national power were controlled by Jewish bankers. “Most of the ideas that bolster positions like Cliven’s that the federal government doesn’t exist come from Posse Comitatus ideology,” the SPLC’s Ryan Lenz argues. And that ideology is rooted in bigotry.

I’m not sure how this will get resolved without violence, but if no action is taken I’m afraid that the discussion will pivot again into a questioning President Obama’s “manhood” for not fighting.  This will really obscure the issues.  In the meanwhile, we have Tom Tomorrow.

TT and Bundy

 

 

Death of an angry, unhappy man

I know that many were happy with the news of Fred Phelps’ death but when I first heard, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt.  On one hand, a man who protested at the funerals of men and women who died in combat would no longer be able to do so.  On the other, one could feel sorry for a man who could never get over his anger.  He was once a noted civil rights lawyer in Kansas  and won an award from the local NAACP, but even back then there were signs he was troubled.  The obituary in the New York Times notes

He earned a law degree in 1964 from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, but his legal career was troubled from the start. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which describes Westboro Baptist as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” Mr. Phelps struggled to find people to attest to his good character when he wanted to be admitted to the bar, was temporarily suspended for professional misconduct, and was even sued for failing to pay for candy his children sold door to door.

He succeeded in winning settlements in discrimination cases he filed as a civil rights lawyer.

“Most blacks — that’s who they went to,” the Rev. Ben Scott, president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s Topeka branch, said in an interview with CNN in 2010. “I don’t know if he was cheaper or if he had that stick-to-it-ness, but Fred didn’t lose many back then.”

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Mr. Phelps, with his wife, Margie M. Phelps, left, and daughter Margie J. Phelps, at a demonstration in Baltimore in 2007.

Phelps was disbarred in 1979.  While he has said that his anti gay crusade began because a grandson was propositioned he showed a predilection for child abuse.  Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker piece titled “The Two Freds” about Fred Rogers and Fred Phelps

One unpleasant thing about Fred Phelps was the way in which he and his church members brought children to their protests and had them hold placards like the ones that Roberts quoted, and repeat slogans slurring gay people and praising divine killings. They tended to be Phelps’s own children or grandchildren—how else would you find an eight-year-old to damn Mr. Rogers?—and the bulk of his parishioners were his relatives. The obituaries refer to complicated loyalties and estrangements, but then, those of some very good people do, too. But one can see, in the hanging of hateful signs on children, the very opposite of Fred Rogers’s life’s project, which was to treat young people both morally and as serious moral actors. Mr. Rogers spoke of the intense drama of one’s earliest years, Supreme Court cases or no, and the way that friendship, above all, was orienting. Of the two Freds, he’s the one who endures. Phelps, and all his vitriol, will spin away.

Phelps and his congregation at Westboro Baptist Church (composed primarily, if not entirely of family) demonstrated everywhere.  They spread Phelps angry message at thousands of funerals of the well known and of ordinary people as well as at many events.  Phelps represented an angry God.  The New York Time obituary again

In 1998, he explained his view of a wrathful God in an interview with The Houston Chronicle.

“You can’t believe the Bible without believing that God hates people,” he said. “It’s pure nonsense to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin. He hates the sin, and he hates the sinner. He sends them to hell. Do you think he loves the people in hell?”

So in the end, I feel sorry for a man filled with so much hate and anger.  I hope he can find peace in another life.

Photograph:  Jed Kirschbaum/Baltimore Sun, via Associated Press

Kittie Knox: Bicycle Racer

Never heard of her?  Me either until this morning when the Boston Globe carried a front page story by Dan Adams about the ceremony putting a headstone on her long forgotten grave at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Kittie Knox

Kittie Knox

Knox, a seamstress born in 1874 to a free black father and a white mother, became a prominent and accomplished cyclist by the 1890s in Boston. But her mixed racial heritage raised eyebrows, as did her insistence on riding a man’s bike and wearing pantaloons of her own design instead of the long, heavy skirts prescribed by Hopkins and her ilk.

And if that weren’t enough, she excelled at the sport: Knox completed multiple 100-mile rides and placed 12th out of 50 male and female cyclists in a major national race, “far ahead of her lighter-hued sisters,” one magazine reported.

Knox had seemed doomed to obscurity. But six years ago, author Lorenz Finison stumbled across her name while researching a forthcoming book on Boston’s cycling history. Passing references to Knox in cycling books prompted Finison to search local newspaper archives for more information.

“I found an article saying she won a cycling costume contest in Waltham,” said Finison, a teacher at the Boston University School of Public Health and a cofounder of Cycling Through History, which develops bike routes between African-American heritage sites. “I thought, that’s really amazing. Why, given the racial climate of the time, would she have won a contest out there? I thought I should look into it more.”

Kittie Knox faced not only sexism but also racism.

Finison eventually unearthed a trove of stories about Knox. While many articles were preoccupied with her race and appearance — “a beautiful and buxom black bloomerite” was one reference in Referee Magazine — he learned that Knox had been a member of Boston’s only black cycling group, the Riverside Cycle Club, before joining the Boston-based National League of American Wheelman in 1893.

Knox soon found herself at the epicenter of a fight over whether blacks could join the league, he said. After a Southern faction of league leaders successfully politicked in 1894 to make the group for whites only, Knox’s appearance at the league’s 1895 national meet in Asbury Park, N.J., caused an uproar. Trouble began upon her arrival, when, rather than appease critics, “Miss Knox did a few fancy cuts in front of the clubhouse and was requested to desist,” The New York Times reported.

Then, when Knox went to register for the meet and presented her membership card, the credentials were rejected.

“[Knox’s] entrance today, in the parlor of the Asbury Park wheelmen, caused wild consternation among the ladies gathered there,” wrote a San Francisco paper, according to Finison’s manuscript. “She was politely told that she was in the wrong house. To their utter surprise she produced a league membership card and declared that no exception had ever been taken to her color by wheelmen or wheelwomen. After asserting herself to that extent, Miss Knox walked defiantly out with her wheel.”

Even after members of the Massachusetts delegation intervened to ensure her participation, successfully arguing she had been admitted before the color bar, Finison writes that anger persisted: A group of white women cyclists threatened to quit in protest; dozens walked out of a League dance when Knox partnered with a white man; a Southern paper slammed League leaders for permitting “this murky goddess of Beanville” to ride.

Don’t you love it?  “[M]urky goddess of Beanville”.  A dig at Knox’s race and at Boston.   Good for the Massachusetts delegation for standing up for her.

Much of the Globe’s coverage of early Boston cycling clubs, as cited by Finison, betrays blatantly racist and sexist attitudes common in that era. But one Globe report from  the event in 1895 at Asbury Park trumpeted Knox’s abilities, perhaps to point a finger at Southern papers that had decried her participation.

“The leaders tried to lose Knox during the eighteen mile run but she was game, and when the big crowd entered the town on the return trip she was up with the leaders, sailing with the best of them,” the Globe wrote. “She was not to be consigned to the tribe of ‘also rans,’ and today all the League members are anxious to see her. And when she appears in the street she receives more attention than a half dozen star racing men.”

Kittie Knox died in 1900 at the age of 26, but through Finison’s efforts, her family was found and she was honored on Sunday,

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Three generations of Kittie Knox’s relatives attended a ceremony dedicating a new headstone at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Another remarkable woman has been rediscovered.
Photograph:  Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Economic justice and the March on Washington

Correction:  I refer to today as if it were the 28th.  The date I posted this is the 27th.  I seem to not know what day it is!

 

The official name of the march we celebrate today is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Notice what comes first.  Jobs.  And while no one can deny that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a brilliant leader who served as a public face for the civil rights movement, we tend to forget that when he was assassinated in Memphis he was there to support sanitation workers striking for higher wages and employment rights.  Dr. King had moved past the simple movement for integration of public facilities and voting rights to understand that gaining equality meant a great deal more that sitting at a lunch counter or riding in the front of a bus.  Yes, those were monumental achievements, but true equality also means economic justice.

One man to whom we owe the March on Washington 50 years ago today is someone few have heard of:  Asa Philip Randolph.  Jack Curtis celebrated him in last Sunday’s Boston Globe.  The headline and subhead kinda of say it all:

Economic equality: What the March on Washington didn’t win

Fifty years later, why we remember King and not A. Philip Randolph

Rep. Byron Rushing (left) from Roxbury and John Dukakais at the unveiling of the A. Phillip Randolph statue in Boston’s Back Bay Station.

Rep. Byron Rushing (left) from Roxbury and John Dukakais at the unveiling of the A. Phillip Randolph statue in Boston’s Back Bay Station.

Today we can still point to the high unemployment rates, the lack of health care in many places, the failing schools and know that black Americans suffer the most.

The director of the march and its opening speaker, A. (for Asa) Philip Randolph (1889 – 1979) was established by 1963 as the century’s preeminent force on black labor and the dean of American civil rights leaders. Born in Crescent City, Fla., the son of a minister and a seamstress, Randolph moved in 1911 to Harlem, where he became a staunch socialist, a labor organizer, and a renowned soapbox orator. In 1925, Randolph was named the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which he guided for over four decades.

In 1941, Randolph leapt onto the national stage. He and his fellow activist Bayard Rustin initiated what they called the March on Washington Movement, or MOWM, with the goal of staging a massive march to protest racial discrimination in the armed forces and defense industries. An alarmed Franklin Roosevelt summoned Randolph to the White House. Just one week later, Roosevelt issued an order prohibiting workplace discrimination throughout the nation’s defense industries, which led Randolph to call off the scheduled march
MOWM lasted only through 1946. But in the 1960s, as the nation’s African-Americans faced high unemployment and low wages and the country was shocked by violent attacks on civil rights demonstrators in the South, Randolph and Rustin turned to the same organizing tactics. In early 1963, Rustin and three associates addressed a memo to Randolph, then 74, calling for “mass descent” upon Washington, with 100,000 participants protesting “the economic subordination of the American Negro.” They envisioned a groundswell of protest calling for freedom and jobs.  Randolph and Rustin, aided by labor organizers and civil rights activists, organized the march with the dual goals of ending racial segregation and discrimination in the Jim Crow South and achieving economic equality for all Americans.
Randolph was a union organizer and Bayard Rustin (someone else you may never have heard of), often called “brother outsider” was a pacifist and gay.  Together they put together the event now best known for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech.  Rustin was also a major influence in bringing Dr. King  to embrace non violence.
Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.  in 1956

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.
in 1956

In February 1956, when Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery to assist with the nascent bus boycott, Martin Luther King, Jr. had not personally embraced nonviolence. In fact, there were guns inside King’s house, and armed guards posted at his doors. Rustin persuaded boycott leaders to adopt complete nonviolence, teaching them Gandhian nonviolent direct protest.
Rustin was the speaker who read the list of the marcher’s demands.  You can read or listen to the transcript of Rustin reading the list of the demands in this link from WGBH radio.   They were seen as quite militant and including a living minimum wage. We all recited the pledge that committed ourselves to action.  I think it was in our programs.  (I found my button but so far haven’t located my program.)
As you watch the 50th anniversary coverage, remember A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.  Without them, we would not be celebrating this important milestone today,  We can honor them by supporting the continuing fight for economic justice.
Jack Curtis concludes

But King’s emphasis on integration and legal equality gradually came to be seen as the primary impetus for the movement. In the years since, the optimistic and basically patriotic appeal of King’s speech has served to eclipse the march’s agenda and distort the popular understanding of its significant challenge to the status quo. The standard narrative skirts the more controversial, no less patriotic, themes of the march, and the radicalism that was front and center that day.

Randolph’s legacy is not forgotten, including in Boston. In the waiting area of Back Bay Station sits a larger-than life statue of Randolph by sculptor Tina Allen, dedicated in 1988 by Governor Michael Dukakis. Speakers at the dedication ceremony, including state Representative Byron Rushing, hailed the contributions to the railroad industry by porters and waiters from the black community, many of whom had lived in the Roxbury and South End neighborhoods by the station. A quote inscribed in the monument’s base attests to Randolph’s militant stance: “Freedom is never granted; it is won. Justice is never given. It is exacted.”

As we look back over the last 50 years, and look around at a country with rising and racially inflected economic inequality, that revolutionary spirit sits less easily than the hope of King’s “dream speech.” We embrace King’s dream in part because we sense that the country has indeed gone some way down that long road to freedom, and his vision can still set us dreaming and move us forward. But focusing on the demands by Randolph that fell to the wayside, we see even more glaringly that the march’s core aims of economic justice are not close to fruition; even today, we stand at the start of that path. It’s been a long time coming, and it may be a long time yet to come.

Photograph:  Randolph Statue John Tlumacki/Globe staff
Photography:  Rustin and King Associated Press

On the opposite sides of the Civil Rights struggle: Lindy Boggs and Robert Byrd, Jr.

This week has brought notice of the death of two political figures from the past:  Lindy Boggs and Harry Byrd, Jr.  Both in their late 90s and had been out of office and out of the news for a number of years.  But it is notable that although of similar age and from the south, they were opposites when it came to civil rights.

Lindy Boggs was the window of House Speaker Hale Boggs who died in a plane crash in Alaska.  I remember when this happened in 1972,  I was moving out of my student movement phase and beginning to take an interest in electoral politics. Boggs ran to replace him following a tradition of widows taking over for their politician husbands.   Boggs, however, was different.  She went on to serve nine terms in Congress (several of them representing a majority black district) and become a champion of women’s rights and civil rights while representing Louisiana.  The New York Times describes some of her legislative efforts.

Mrs. Boggs during her Congressional campaign in 1973

Mrs. Boggs during her Congressional campaign in 1973

The velvet Southern charm she had absorbed growing up on two Louisiana plantations was her not-so-secret weapon.

She displayed it early in her first term when the House banking committee was composing an amendment to a lending bill banning discrimination on the basis of race, age or veteran status. She added the words “sex or marital status,” ran to a copying machine and made a copy for each member.

In her memoir she recalled saying: “Knowing the members composing this committee as well as I do, I’m sure it was just an oversight that we didn’t have ‘sex’ or ‘marital status’ included. I’ve taken care of that, and I trust it meets with the committee’s approval.”

Thus was sex discrimination prohibited by the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

I always loved that story.

Mrs. Boggs used her membership on the Appropriations Committee to push for other women’s economic concerns, like equal pay for government jobs and equal access to government business contracts. She became a champion of historic preservation and port development, flood control and housing in her New Orleans district.

Mrs. Boggs championed racial justice at a time when doing so invited the resentment if not hostility of most Southern whites. She saw the growing civil rights movement as necessary to the political reform movement of the 1940s and ’50s.

“You couldn’t want to reverse the injustices of the political system and not include the blacks and the poor; it was just obvious,” she said in 1990.

While her husband was in office, she supported civil rights legislation as well as Head Start and antipoverty programs. As the president of two organizations of Congressional wives, she saw to it that each group was racially integrated.

She has been honored by the House with the naming, in 1991, of the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women’s Reading Room.  She was 97 when she died.

At the other end of the civil rights spectrum is Harry Byrd, Jr., the long time Senator from Virginia, and not to be confused with Robert Byrd of West Virginia.  When I moved to Virginia in 1965, Byrd was my Senator.  He had just been appointed to replace his father who had died.  The Byrd Machine ruled Virginia Democratic State politics at the time and both Byrds worked hard to maintain segregation in Virginia schools.  The New York Times writes

Even as a middle-aged man, Mr. Byrd was often called “Little Harry” or “Young Harry.” By the 1920s, his father, Harry F. Byrd Sr., had built a formidable Democratic political machine in Virginia that eventually elected him governor and then to the Senate, where he served from 1933 until his resignation in 1965. (Like his son, Harry Sr. was initially appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy, after the resignation of Claude A. Swanson.)

The elder Mr. Byrd was a conservative Democrat who served for 11 years as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He also supported “massive resistance,” the name given to Virginia’s opposition to public school desegregation in the late 1950s. The son, who was serving in the State Senate at the time, helped develop the policy, which included closing some schools for several years rather than integrate them.

Harry F. Byrd  in 1965, when he was appointed to his father’s seat

Harry F. Byrd in 1965, when he was appointed to his father’s seat

Moorestown, N.J. where I was living as a teenager was one of the northern towns that hosted African-American high school seniors so they would have a chance to get diplomas and go to college.  I went to a number of social activities that were hosted for them, but never, much to my regret, got to know any of them well enough to stay in touch.

Although the Byrd machine began coming apart amid the fractured politics of the 1960s, it held together long enough to get Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr., a longtime supporter of the family, to appoint Harry Jr. to his father’s seat in 1965. The following year Mr. Byrd won a special election to complete his father’s term. By 1970, with blacks voting in larger numbers and urban labor unions supporting more liberal candidates, Mr. Byrd faced a potentially challenging Democratic primary in pursuit of his first full term. That March, saying he was unwilling to sign a party oath to support the Democratic nominee in the 1972 presidential election, particularly since the candidate was not yet known, he announced that he would become an independent.

If the decision seemed striking given his family history, it was also prudent. Taking votes from his Democratic and Republican opponents, he won easily that November. Mr. Byrd had dropped his party affiliation but essentially kept his voters, his politics and much of his power.

I don’t think he could have supported either George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey so he made the correct choice.  Byrd, however,  continued to caucus with the Democrats.  There is one more shameful incident I remember.

In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter asked Mr. Byrd to form judicial commissions to name black and female candidates for Virginia’s federal courts. In 1980, after Mr. Byrd’s commissions had named only white men, none of whom were judges, President Carter nominated James E. Sheffield, a black state court judge. Mr. Byrd vowed to fight his Senate confirmation and did so successfully.

I remember Judge Sheffield’s rejection well.  The only reason for his failure to be confirmed was race.

Senator Byrd was a bigot throughout his public life.  He did not run for re-election in 1982 by which time I think he would have lost as new young Democrats were winning office like Charles Robb who became governor in then.  And people like me who were taking over the Virginia Democratic Party.  Byrd’s time was thankfully passing.

He was 98 when he died.

Photographs:  United Press International

Voting in America

We all saw the lines on television last November. A lot of us stood in them.  In Florida, in Ohio.  I saw at least a 20 minute wait on election morning as I timed a friend who went into vote while I was outside handing out Warren/Obama literature.  This was much longer than usual at my precinct.  It turns out that these are only the outward manifestations of larger problems.  President Obama has said fixing the problems is one of his priorities.  Now he can look at a couple of studies to see exactly what needs to be fixed.

Voter buttons

First the Daily Kos posted a story about the MIT study showing that black and Hispanic voters waited longer to vote than other voters.

You’d think after two hundred years (including some awkward Constitution-patching, here and there) we would finally have this “voting” thing down. Nope:

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.

So how are states going to fix this?  Maybe by making it harder to register and then harder to vote.

…In states like Virginia, in fact, they’re still trying their level best to make sure certain people don’t have to wait in long lines to vote by making sure certain people aren’t allowed to vote at all. Newly passed legislation would:

eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card.

Well, so long as you’re still taking concealed handgun permits.

Since most of those now-banned documents are still perfectly acceptable for obtaining “real” ID’s, like drivers licenses, the possibilities for thwarting rampant voting fraud are approximately nil. The only substantive outcome is to make it ever more inconvenient for certain people (i.e. poor, elderly, and those that don’t have cars, those city-living bastards) to vote.

So I’m not sure that we can depend on states to fix their own problems.

On the heels of the MIT study comes Pew Research.  The New York Times reported on the study which looked at 17 factors.

The flaws in the American election system are deep and widespread, extending beyond isolated voting issues in a few locations and flaring up in states rich and poor, according to a major new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The group ranked all 50 states based on more than 15 criteria, including wait times, lost votes and problems with absentee and provisional ballots, and the order often confounds the conventional wisdom.

In 2010, for instance, Mississippi ranked last over all. But it was preceded by two surprises: New York and California.

The project includes an interactive tool that allows rankings by individual criteria or clusters of them.

Some states, for instance, lost very few votes because of shortcomings in voting technology and voter confusion, with the best 10 reporting failure rates of 0.5 percent or less in 2008. In West Virginia, by contrast, the rate was 3.2 percent.

I hope you will click on the interactive link and look up your state.  The study covers the 2008 and 2010 elections and will be updated with 2012 data when it is available.  Massachusetts is only ranked in the middle at 64% overall which is interesting as I would have guessed it would have been higher.

The study also covered the new trend of voting by mail.

The shift to voting by mail, which now accounts for some 20 percent of all ballots cast, tends to eliminate lines. But it has also produced new problems, especially in places where mail voting has soared because the state does not require an excuse or a new ballot request for each election. Arizona and California, where voting by mail is commonplace, had among the highest rates of problems with voter registration and absentee ballots.

In 2010, California rejected absentee ballots 0.7 percent of the time, a higher rate than any other state.

Dean C. Logan, the registrar for Los Angeles County, said the rate was partly a byproduct of the popularity of voting by mail in California and partly a function of how the state defines rejected ballots. Its definition includes ballots that voters requested but that the Postal Service returned to election officials as undeliverable.

“Voter behavior is changing and evolving,” Mr. Logan said. Young people do not sign their names as consistently as older ones, he said, and mail delivery is becoming less reliable.

He also cautioned that statewide results can mask the fact that “the elections process is extremely decentralized.”

Provisional ballots are also a potential problem according to the study.

Charles Stewart III [cited also by the Daily Kos], a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Pew adviser, said that high provisional ballot rates were an important signal of potential trouble.

“Nationwide, a bit over 1 percent of voters are given a provisional ballot,” he said. “In Arizona in 2008, the rate was 6.5 percent. In the battleground state of Ohio, it was 3.6 percent. While these numbers may seem small, in a recount or election dispute, they would be huge.”

There are lots of things to consider as we look at ways to fix things.  How can people more easily register to vote?  What kind of ID, if any, should a voter have to show?  Do we vote by mail?  Online?  In person?  How many options should voters be offered?  I don’t know how many of the issues raised by the Pew study are local and how many can be federally mandated.  I believe that the federal government may have more say if the election is for a national office and is not just a state or local election.

I hope we can tackle some of these issues before 2014 and more of them before 2016.

Professor Stewart said the study should focus attention on the infrastructure of democracy.

“Among all important areas of public policy, election administration is probably the most episodic and prone to the problem of short attention spans,” he said. “What would the world be like if we only gave intense attention to education, corrections, transportation and public health problems for a one-week period every four years?”

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special electio...

An Oregon mail-in ballot for a special election in May 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)