Government Shouldn’t Play Gotcha on Voting and Benefits

ACORN ACORN International voting rights
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New Orleans       Talking to a reporter from Politico about voter purges and why there needed to be supplemental efforts other than failing to answer a letter in the US Mail to determine whether a voter had moved or was still at a certain address, I offered the argument that most of what comes in the mail is junk or bills, and too many just don’t bother.  I thought it was true, because it has happened to me more times than I would like to admit.  I have the extra excuse of traveling half the time, so it’s often “search and destroy” on the mail when I return.  If it looks like junk, recycling.  If not, I’ll open it, when I get around to it.  I’ve almost thrown away checks doing that, and have absolutely thrown away bills and other inquires. Still that might just be me.  It also sounded lame.

Wrong!  The Upshot folks at the New York Times surveyed 4400 adults of various ways and means, it’s not just a case of misery loving company, but one where there is a huge pile of folks who admit that we sometimes mess up even on these relatively simple tasks and interactions with business and government.  The Times was most interested in the draconian way that some states, Arkansas being a prime example under the Affordable Care Act qualifications, try to force continued eligibility determinations based on replies to a simple letter from the government.

They asked the survey participants if they ever flubbed up, and then they calculated the percentages based on income.  Left mail unopened, 25% under $20,000 and 26% over $100,000; forgotten a bill like a scofflaw, 30% on the low end and 26% on the high end; missed an appointment 39% for lower income and 26% for higher, and let me add, both groups are lying – way more of them have missed appointments, misread their calendars, or showed up for a meeting before it was over or after it ended, sometimes by days.  Truth time!  The rich, like the poor, working stiffs, also fail to bring the right documents to the Motor Vehicle office between 23 and 19%, let their car registration expire between 14% for the poorer and 15% of the richer, or let their health insurance expire, 7% of the rich and 16% of the poorer.  I spent a fraught thirty minutes this morning before dawn going through my checkbooks to see if I had let my home insurance lapse!  God knows where the bill might be.

So, we humans who have not yet achieved robotic status or have minions or minders to cover up for our basic frailties, mess up.  Businesses know that.  They don’t just send one notice, they send twenty on subscriptions, car insurance, and a million other things.  Why do governments not understand that?  Or, let’s tell the truth, they do understand that, making their refusal to do more or better, deliberate.  Too many of them don’t want to admit that they are trying to deliberately deprive people of benefits, including their poorer fellow Americans who are desperate for healthcare, food stamps, and welfare.  They also don’t want to admit that they want to keep qualified citizens off the voter rolls, saying it is good politics.

They are wrong.  They need to do better.  Sins of omission are as serious as sins of commission, especially when there is clearly malice aforethought.