A "get out the vote" drive targeting Scott and Waterloo counties is underway. In the Iowa House 86th District, the strategy is as follows: Paid employees, some masquerading as citizen activists, spent the summer rounding up absentee requests. This week the telephone lines and mailrooms are burning with an urgent message - hurry up and vote, preferably before you learn anything about your local candidates.

Even the media were blindsided. At least, I would hope to think so. Newspapers and airwaves are littered with sound bytes and dominated by the rumble of titanic struggle. The Big Three races have all been stellar customers, while smaller races (read: measly media budgets) have by strange coincidence failed to capture the imagination of local news organizations. With less than three weeks to go before the election, the state rep, state senate, and Scott County candidates are not news. I don't think big-dollar mudslinging is news, either. But unfortunately, it's all the absentee voter will have to work with, if he or she heeds the "early voter" call. By the time we lesser candidates attract what's left of media attention, those early votes will be in the bag.

The absentee-ballot stampede is fiendishly clever and totally legal. Partisan operatives may retrieve and stockpile absentee ballots in their homes or offices until October 29. If I were doing it, I might be sorely tempted to discard votes from uncooperative voters, or pick them up unsealed so adjustments could be made, at my leisure. There is certainly a powerful motivation to retrieve, and thus control, the ballots. Another twist might be to dump them at the auditor's office in the last week before the election. How demoralizing to the foolish candidate who thought pounding on doors for six months really meant something.

Here's what I really detest about the "dear early voter" strategy:

· It's condescending. "Done in the comfort of your home, and so very quick and easy! Straight 'D' voting!" The voter is advised that an absentee ballot looks a lot like a sweepstakes entry. Instructions include how to lick an envelope. The sweepstakes idea may be aimed at voters who didn't understand that they'd been signed up. The Scott County auditor's office has been inundated with complaints from voters who have no recollection of an absentee request. Buyer beware.

· It's manipulative, at least in the 86th District. Some "early voters" thought they were verifying their voter registration. They fell for a pitch that appealed to their racial identity - not surprising, since the "early voter" campaign is a pioneering effort to capture the black vote. Sadly, that was not the revolution calling, but lucrative summer employment for the fortunate few. It may have been legal, but in my opinion, it was racism at its most insidious.

· Unseemly haste. An informed voter is hard to control.

· If you don't properly handle the envelope that looks like a sweepstakes entry, you will lose your opportunity to vote. Inexperienced or confused voters clearly have the most to lose. Excuse me, are we in Palm Beach County?

· Instructions to vote straight-ticket. I apologize to my own party brethren, but I thought that went out in the '70s.

Judith Malone
Republican Candidate,
Iowa House District 86
Davenport

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