Compulsory voting might not be such a good idea

June 22, 2012

I read a Peter Orszag column for the Dallas Morning News this evening and it forced me to ponder long and hard the implications of compulsory voting.

I’ve blogged/ranted about elections several times before, so y’all already know that I’m pretty much an election NUT. Y’all also already know that the intense apathy of the American electorate frustrates me to no end. As a reporter, I almost feel a personal responsibility to get people to go out and vote, and when turnout is as low as it was in the last primary election for my state, I feel like I failed at my job.

So how do I make these fuckers care we solve the problem of low turnout? Well, Orszag suggested imitating our brother from down under: Australia. According to his column, voting is compulsory there. The fines for not participating in elections are light at first and grow steadily with continued avoidance. So it gives people a fairly good incentive to get their butts off the couch and head to the polls.

The idea is intriguing, but I foresee a great deal of problems.

First of all, the election system is kind of jacked up in this country because there’s no set standard. The federal government does not govern elections; Instead it’s up to the states to come up with their own set of election laws, so they differ from state to state. That in and of itself is not a problem. Election laws should differ from state to state because each state has a different culture. They also have different governmental structures. Not all cities in the U.S. have a council or a mayor, not all counties have a governing body. So standardizing election laws would be difficult. Ergo, it would be incredibly difficult to make compulsory voting the standard because first you would have to standardize election laws across the country.

For example: Primary elections in my state are closed, meaning only voters registered with one of the major political parties can vote in partisan elections. And in my city, all elections are partisan. I am registered independent, so I could not vote in my primary election, as much as I wanted to. So guess what? I get fined.

In order to avoid that, they would have to make it so that I would be able to vote (They should be doing that anyway, but that’s a rant for another day).  And that would require standardizing elections across the board. This brings up a whole different discussion of states’ rights and how far we should limit federal government, but you get the general idea.

Second of all, making voting compulsory would require a level of supervision that makes me uncomfortable. The government would be able to track whether or not any one individual specifically voted. They can’t do that now; All they can determine is how many people voted and compare that to the number of registered voters to determine how many people didn’t vote. But to require everyone to cast a ballot would be keeping track of who did and did not do so. Then they could hunt you down and mail you a fine letter. Does anyone else find that creepy?

Third of all, I dislike the idea of fines in general. What if someone is working crazy, crazy hours just to make ends meet and they don’t have the time to make it out to the polls? There goes part of their paycheck. It’s an endless, vicious and unnecessary cycle.

The real root of the problem in voter turnout is making people care. Forcing people to vote isn’t going to make people more interested in elections. The real root of the problem is the crazy disinterest in matters that affect all of us.

I maintain that there’s a way to get people to care without taking their money. We just have to find it.



June 10, 2012

I have resigned myself to the fact that no one will ever get my ethnicity right.

I don’t hold it against anyone. No one is purposely being racist. It’s just a simple fact of life.

Let’s take into consideration the facts about myself:

  • I have black hair.
  • I have dark skin.
  • I have a Spanish last name.
  • I grew up in Texas.
  • I have a pretty thorough command of the Spanish language.
  • My parents are immigrants.

So that all points to…CORRECT! Mexican. Or at least some kind of Latino. But the Texas part sort of narrows it down to Mexican.

And like I said, it doesn’t bother me. All of those factors combined make it confusing, so I have a lot of patience and understanding for the fact that people don’t automatically know that I’m Filipino. The only part that gets awkward is having to correct their assumptions.

Case in point: Yesterday I went to Mass. Last week this woman who sat alone in the front row invited me to sit with her, so I did. I sat with her and her elderly friend Doris and they were delightful. But when Doris introduced herself, she said,

I asked Sheila if she asked you, “Como se llama?” I’m not fluent in Spanish, but I do remember key phrases from high school.

I just nodded and smiled. I mean, what the hell was I supposed to say? This was the first time in weeks that Doris had been out of the hospital and been able to attend Mass in person. I wasn’t about to embarrass her because of her mistaken assumption.

So I let it slide.

I suppose I bring this up because it begs a greater question: How do I correct people about my ethnicity while managing to maintain any sort of social grace? Do I just let it go altogether? Like I said, it doesn’t bother me when people think I’m Mexican, so should I just assume that ethnicity for the rest of my relationship with them?

When I bring this up to fellow Filipinos, they become indignant because they think it’s because I’m ashamed of my ethnicity. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My parents raised me to be Filipino and proud, so I am. I am proud of being a strong, intelligent, Filipina woman.

But the truth of the matter is, my ethnicity isn’t the only facet about me. It’s not even the most important facet. Yeah, I’m Filipino, not Mexican. But that’s why I don’t mind when people get it wrong: Because my ethnicity doesn’t define me. Like how one’s sexuality doesn’t define a homosexual person. I am not my skin color.

Anyway. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m getting better at impersonating a Mexican.

Journalistic integrity — or lack thereof

June 5, 2012

I’m new at my job. I am. I’ve been working as a government/military affairs/business reporter here for just a few months, and I honestly love it. I really do. I love my job. I love what I do. I love the people I do it with. It’s all great.

But I’m not blogging today to tell you all about how awesome my job is. I’m blog ranting for you today because of the lack of journalistic integrity in OTHER media outlets. Case in point: the local radio station.


When I first started working here at this paper, my editor and fellow reporters warned me about the “reporters” from the local radio station. From the way they explained it to me, I kind of assumed it was like a friendly rivalry between news outlets. Like in any big city with more than one paper, there will usually be some sort of competition between those papers to see who breaks news first, who has the best coverage, etc. There’s even a bit of competition between most television stations. But since this is a fairly small town, there’s only one newspaper and no TV stations, leaving us to compete with radio.

Little did I realize that this was not so much a rivalry but a complete lack of journalistic integrity.

My first encounter with this outrageous breach of protocol was with a (pretty major) story about the military post just down the road from here. The post put on a press conference that seemed pretty last minute, so not many news outlets heard about it. Only one other newspaper and a TV station from the big city an hour away were at the press conference with me and we were all gleefully excited about the fact that we had a story that not even the Associated Press could get their hands on before us.

As a quick aside, whenever there’s an event going down on post, the radio station will send a reporter to cover it. Inevitably the reporter will snap a few pictures, record any audio and then split the minute the event is over. It’s not really “reporting” so much as it is “showing up.” Anyway, point is: Radio’s always on post, and the fact that they weren’t that day made my victory all the more sweeter.

Imagine my surprise the next day when I see the story up on their website ANYWAY. And guess what? They plagiarized a sentence from my story. They actually lifted an entire sentence from the story wrote about this event and stuck it in their own crappily written thing (I can’t even bring myself to call it a story), and passed it off as their own.

OK. Whatever. It was a fairly big story and considering that the writing skills of their reporters is subpar to nonexistent, I could sort of understand why they plagiarized. I mean, I didn’t like it, but it was a bit flattering.

But my next encounter with this bullshit was far less welcome.

Yesterday I attended a board of education special meeting. The board was convening to discuss applicants for the open superintendent position and per state law, they were allowed to convene in closed session. None of the news outlets heard about the meeting until Friday afternoon which means A) it was scheduled last minute and B) the board is flailing. But in the press release sent out, the board said straight up that it was going to be a closed session so they could discuss candidates.

Well that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to go. So I went, and I was the only representative of the news media there. The meeting started as an open meeting at 2 p.m., and pretty much immediately the board made a motion to go into closed session. So they did and they stayed in closed session until 5:30 p.m.

So I sat there. I chilled (literally because that room was FREEZING) by myself for three and a half hours, waiting for them to come out of closed session in the vain hopes that they would be able to answer some of my questions afterwards. Well, they didn’t, and I went back to the newsroom feeling like a failure. Fortunately for me, my editor was awesome and helped me turn a seeming non-story into a story. PLUS the simple fact that I showed up to this closed session meeting indicated to the school board that my newspaper was dedicated to covering this story from beginning to end, without skipping any steps in between, unlike the radio station.

Well imagine my surprise when the stinking radio station has a story up on their website about it ANYWAY.

This time, I was livid. I was steaming, fuming, red-faced mad. How dare they make it look like they showed up? How dare they try and profit off of my hard work? How dare they try to make it look like they care when really they’re a bunch of journalistic hacks that can’t be bothered to wait during a meeting?

And what’s worse: They don’t even ATTRIBUTE any of their information! They didn’t say that they got their information from me. They made it seem like they actually went out and got it themselves which is complete BULLSHIT because they didn’t!

I now completely understand this “rivalry.” It’s not so much a rivalry as it is a leeching. They’re profiting off of the hard work of our reporters and passing it off as their own because they’re a bunch of lazy asses who wouldn’t know how to report with integrity and respect to save their lives.

Ugh. OK. I’m done.