WE WANT INFORMATION: The Republican Party of Wisconsin visits another No. 6 in his village | WisCommunity

WE WANT INFORMATION: The Republican Party of Wisconsin visits another No. 6 in his village

I'm still shaking my head at how Wisconsin Republicans slyly arranged to run a low-turnout primary a month earlier than usual. But I've been shaking my head even more concerning a related incident. One day, about a week before the election, the doorbell rang at my home in a Milwaukee County village. Such impromptu arrivals are not surprising, even on weekends; our neighborhood gets a lot of door-to-door sales people, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the occasional candidate for public office or representative of a political interest group. But this time someone new and different was at my door.

A casually dressed, well-groomed 20-something of a guy was standing there when I opened up. He peered down at his smart phone for a couple of seconds and  began: "Are you Man MKE?" [Actually, he used my legal name.]

Yes, I told him, and he immediately replied: "I'm from the Republican Party. Do you think Scott Walker is doing a good job as governor?"


I didn't mind sharing that with the GOP, even though it may have given the party further circumstantial evidence regarding how I might vote. I want as many people as possible to know what I think of Walker. Besides, I'd already signed a Walker recall petition, and the GOP and its pals long have sinced plumbed to great depths to learn something about everyone on that nearly million-name list of Wisconsin residents. 

Indeed, my name long ago wound up among those listed on an Internet-based petition-recall database, run by a conservative "public interest" group, where anyone on the planet could learn I'd once had a speeding ticket and that (this the web site did not explain, except to intimate its operators suspected me of something) that I had been "rehabilitated" in some unspecified manner, apparently by the database managers. Nevertheless, my name and all the same negative information was still there. If you're a Republican-leaning employer, you'll no doubt want to consult this handy black list the next time you're hiring and I show up.

Anyway, back at my door, the visitor squinted further at his smart phone, then said: "I need to check some other names of people living at this address." He asked about particular individuals. I don't regard that information as any business of the Republican Party. Second, I value the privacy of my friends and family, and wouldn't without their permission share information about them with any stranger. Third, I knew others in my family would not want to say a single word to this guy, if I even bothered to convey his query. So I declined to answer on their behalf. 

The young man abruptly left, peering again at his smart phone as he headed towards another house down the block. He was on my doorstep only a few seconds, but I thought the encounter odd. 

It's one thing for a candidate seeking public office, or a volunteer for that candidate, to knock on my door and engage me in a short, proselytizing chat. That's to be expected, and I'm okay with it. Likewise, it's fine by me if a non-profit group comes seeking donations, or for a political interest group to try talking me up-- say, for instance, a labor union or a legislative lobbyist, the latter whom Republicans in Wisconsin lately have been seeking to engage. It's fine, at least, if they're honest about what they are seeking. Whether on behalf of the Democratic, Republican, or any other party, vote-seeking in general is fine by me, in principle. That's in the finest tradition of American democracy. Door-to-door campaigning is in fact especially important in an era where most voters get their under-information or disinformation from short, cleverly worded TV and radio ads. And, anyway, it gives voters a little bit of a chance to ask questions or even talk back.

But what is a citizen to think of a political party whose representatives knock on your door and apparently are only interested in seeking personal information? Not information about how you plan to vote or whether you'll vote, but rather, more information on your household? It dawned on me that inquiring whether I thought Scott Walker was doing a good job was just a beard for the visit's real intent. When the GOP guy introduced himself, he first wanted to know if I was me (again, insert my Christian name). Aside from the short question about Walker, the substantive information he sought amounted to this: Who else besides you lives at this address, and are they who we think they are?

Thus, you might regard my visitor as a kind of private census enumerator -- amusing, in that Republicans in general have been busy trying to defund the official US Census, lest the data that time-honored agency collects anonymously be used to <shudder!> formulate rational public policy. Republicans mainly claim to oppose the Census on the trumped-up basis that its surveys are an invasion of privacy. Never mind that people retain the right to say no thanks. Nevertheless, the personal data that the GOP's campaign arm collects is potentially no less invasive and possibly more so, given that it relates directly to who votes, and where, and even how.

Neither is it inconsequential that the party is in effect duplicating the work of duly appointed local, county and state election agencies wherever its minions do this.

So why does the GOP bother expending the time and money? Because (and this is just my personal view) the party regulars have a pronounced authoritarian streak, and do not trust government -- although, ironically, they function on the premise that government not totally controlled by them is too authoritarian. Go figure.

Mulling over the encounter at my door, I soon realized why the guy's smart phone piqued my latent interest: Smart phones equipped with customized databases are how Republican Party election observers in recent years have been tracking voters at the polls. They constructed their private databases from official election records. If they did an accurate job, then, in theory, the names of anyone who's registered to vote and when they have voted (but not how they voted) is in that database. But again, why re-create the public voter rolls? Because knowledge is power, and so is control over knowledge, and the ability to manipulate it.

Republicans, being conservatives of the modern persuasion, do not trust the public record, and thus the private databases they have derived from it. They believe -- or, at least, some of them pretend to believe -- that anyone to their political left is potentially engaged in some kind of unproven but massive con game to vote fraudulently. So, if I'm right, that young man's visit was a harbinger. The GOP has set out to independently check out their database, one door and person at a time, at least in some Wisconsin communities.

Who knows? Maybe they'll catch someone living at an address not shown in the (constantly changing!) official voter registration rolls, and then they can once again scream bloody murder about why vote fraud endangers the republic and why they thus must make voting much harder for certain people of, ah, certain persuasions. It's the figurative equivalent of imposing a  curfew in Ferguson, Missouri. Keep people off the streets and/or away from the polls and Republicans will feel more secure, and, really, isn't that's what's most important?

Now, just visiting households based on a political polling list and updating it as you go is not necessarily nefarious. And I'm totally mindful that all political parties maintain such voter lists. Democrats certainly do. Such information makes door-to-door campaigns possible, given finite resources. So I'll stipulate right here: Political parties do have a legitimate purpose in tracking supportive voters and likely voters among them.

However, based on a lot more than that one guy's visit to my house, I suspect that Republicans these days are increasingly more interested in tracking their foes than their own dwindling base. Republicans have in essence decided to replicate the official voter rolls in a faith-based attempt to spot illegal voting and then, during an election and observing the balloting process, tally the activity of voters on the spot, to their own satisfaction. If since the disruptive 2000 election you haven't seen Republican-friendly poll watchers challenge a voter at the polls, you're either near-sighted, or you seldom vote, or you live in a totally red part of America.

This GOP vote-suppression plan didn't work out too well in the last national election, when their custom database failed to work properly -- a tale documented here in earlier blogs. So maybe the GOP is now just throwing money at improving that database. In any case, I sense something fundamentally new and disturbing in the sheer scope of their effort.

Like a private National Security Agency, the GOP, for one reason or another, is checking on us. Certainly at our doorsteps, certainly on the web, certainly at polling places, and perhaps elsewhere. And they're willing to share what they've found out, if it might be made to seem unflattering or scandalous and involves their opponents. What do they want? Information. Information! IN ... FORMATION! And they plan to get it, by hook or by crook.

Welcome to The Village. You are No. 6.


August 19, 2014 - 11:54am