Conspiring to Vote

Yes, the dollar is nowadays considerably stronger versus most other major world currencies than it has been in a long while. Here’s my pet theory about why that is: it’s due to the veritable flood of news correspondents from outside the US who have traveled there – many taking their camera-crews along with them – to try to capture for their readers back home vignettes of American life in the context of the election that reveal some basic essence of where that country is going. I can’t even count by now all the “road trip through America” article-series I have seen sponsored by various foreign publications, for example. (Here’s the one from the Guardian, if you want a taste.)

Pauline Michgelsen is a writer who has been dispatched to the States by the excellent Dutch daily Trouw, and while she doesn’t seem to be road-trippin’ through the highways and by-ways in some caravan, in her recent piece Learning to vote she makes a bolder move: she deliberately infiltrates a gathering held by that band of subversives famously sworn to undermine the functioning of American elections in particular, and the American Way in general. I’m talking here about ACORN, of course, and Michgelsen somehow manages both to learn of the secret handshake required to gain access to a “Know your rights” evening held inside a Lutheran church in Lansing, MI and even make her way out of there at the end intact.

All joking aside, though, she is hardly the only media representative there. There’s even a camera-team from Al-Jazeera, together with a local TV news-team and radio correspondent. Indeed, the media outnumber the members of the general public for whom this instructional assembly is attended, who number five (although they are joined by “six community workers from various social organizations”).

Anyway, the show must of course go on, and does so for a good two hours, dealing with vital electoral questions like “When is the date of this year’s General Election?” Don’t laugh: it’s a time-honored ploy to try to fool people to go vote only after the polls have permanently closed, and it’s been seen already this year. The ACORN representative goes on to treat more nuanced questions like “Is photo ID required to go vote” (answer: no) and the like, and then yields the floor to the Lansing city clerk to read out and explain the actual ballot. That is particularly long this year – in fact, “the Michigan ballot is the longest of all the states” the clerk declares, with what Michgelsen detects as a hint of pride in his voice – since it’s not just president but also senator, congressmen, local officials, and a whole list of ballot-initiatives that will be presented to be voted upon.

The local TV news-team does not stick around until the end to hear all the delicious voting information; it has to leave in the middle because it turns out that it has got something else to do. What that is, is what our Dutch correspondent Pauline Michgelsen sees later upon returning to her hotel room and turning on the TV: the local-news anchorwoman declares “many people show up at these sorts of evenings,” and somehow the accompanying TV-picture shows a hall full of people. Montage: just one of the magic-tricks of American television technology!

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