by James K. Galbraith

Belmont, MA

James K. Galbraith proposes the universal adoption of vote-by-mail legislation, which would eliminate election day and local polling places. In his rush to fix problems associated with exit polls, heavy voter turnout, reporting of partial vote counts and poorly designed voting machines, Galbraith has apparently forgotten that a transparent guarantee of a secret ballot can only be given and received in person at a polling place.

Online voting, provisional voting and voting by mail (including the casting of absentee ballots) cannot provide a transparent guarantee of a secret ballot. In order to preserve the one-person, one-vote principle, the personal identity of each voter must be connected in some way with the actual casting of an election ballot. With online voting, provisional voting and voting by mail systems–no matter what the design–voters have no way to actually verify for themselves that their ballot has been kept secret. Instead, they must simply rely on the assurances of election officials.

When voters cast their ballots at local polling places, however, voters can see for themselves that the connection between their personal identity and their ballot is discarded as they cast their vote. In this case, the guarantee of a secret ballot, which is given and received in person at a polling place, is clear for all to see.

The transparent guarantee of a secret ballot is an important part of assuring fair and democratic elections. Americans should, therefore, be encouraged to vote in person. Election day should be made a national holiday. Adequate numbers of voting machines should be provided. Absentee ballots and provisional ballots should be available only for voters who need them. We should not so quickly discard the transparent guarantee of a secret ballot provided to us at our local polling places by universally mandating that all votes must be cast by mail.


Yamhill, OR

I would heartily support the move to all-mail voting.

As an Oregonian who voted by mail and then traveled to New Mexico as an Election Protection poll monitor, I was able to compare the two systems up close. I had always appreciated the ease of vote-by-mail and the resulting higher turnout (85 percent of registered voters for 2004!), but hadn’t appreciated how much simpler it makes the rest of the election system as well.

One polling location I was assigned in Albuquerque hadn’t ordered enough machines–even though registration had grown from 1,600 to 2,500–and as a result, had two-hour waits all day. In addition, many of the folks working there were inexperienced; of course, it is hard to train people effectively and introduce them to new concepts like provisional voting and new voting-machine systems in the days before an election. Our Election Protection team helped at least four dozen voters resolve issues, often because the precinct team members weren’t skilled or were too busy to work with the citizens to insure that they could vote if they were eligible.

By moving to a mail-in election, the counting and verification work moves from hundreds or thousands of precinct-level places and poorly trained amateurs to dozens of county offices. The county offices tend to have a higher level of professionalism, and it is easier for all political parties to participate in oversight.

Furthermore, New Mexico had different voting systems for different types of voting: paper ballots for absentee voting, early voting machines, election-day machines, etc. In Oregon, all voters used the same paper ballots.

As mentioned in the article, signatures for every ballot are matched to those on file in Oregon, electronically. If the system rejects a signature, it is examined by a person, with the usual team of overseers from political parties. The voter is contacted to come resolve the issue. So no ID is required to vote once a citizen has initially established citizenship.

Before this election I liked Oregon’s vote-by-mail system for how easy it made it to vote. Now, I wouldn’t trade Oregon’s system for anything else I’ve heard of because it is a better overall voting system.


Central Point, OR

I am writing to support Mr. Galbraith’s recent article, which promotes the vote-by-mail system used here in Oregon. I totally agree! We have been voting like this for about ten years, and I can’t remember one reported voting problem. The only negative we hear is a lament for the loss of the polling place–the idea to meet with citizens and vote.

The vote-by-mail system uses numerous drop-off boxes at places such as public libraries, and includes drive-up drop-off boxes. Voters can then contact their county election boards to confirm that their ballots were received and counted. I do this with a simple phone call.

All in all, the system works very well, and there is a paper trail!




Adam Shapiro’s article exemplifies why so many people see the left as having lost its moral compass.

Shapiro waxes ecstatic about Arafat’s personal touch and charisma–and neglects to mention Arafat’s embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Palestinian people, his refusal to abolish the Nazi-like anti-Semitism taught in PA schools, mosques and media, his frequent habit of preaching peace in English to the Western media, and then promptly turning around and speaking of jihad in Arabic, and his role in thousands of deaths. Never mind that this man led a terror organization whose favorite targets in the early 1970s included kindergartens and school buses.

Shapiro, in his wisdom, assures us that Arafat showed a “personal concern” for all people. I suggest that he familiarize himself with a phrase coined about a different anti-Semite with homicidal tendencies: “the banality of evil.”



Leeds, United Kingdom

Ross Benjamin wrote an interesting article on the reaction to Jacques Derrida’s death. But like everyone at The Nation, Benjamin just doesn’t understand why so many people think Derrida is an intellectual lightweight. The accusation has nothing to do with politics or political theory or anything of that sort.

The major beef that people have with Derrida is that he was a lousy philosopher. Virtually everyone in philosophy thinks that Derrida was a sloppy scholar and worse at actually doing philosophy himself. The problem isn’t that he tried to challenge assumptions most philosophers hold dear. Most good philosophers hold plenty of views that challenge the philosophical foundations of past Western philosophy. Indeed, most good philosophers hold views that attempt to subvert the philosophical foundations of the views of other living philosophers. No, the problem with Derrida is much more boring: He just wasn’t any good. He was immensely provocative, which for the most part accounts for his influence in some areas, but philosophers care more about what someone says than the style in which they say it. For the most part, when Derrida produced theses that can actually be evaluated at all, they were either trivially true, trivially false or interesting but utterly lacking in any support. Derrida never gave us any reason to actually believe any of the interesting things he said.

I love The Nation, but the people who work there come from a background that makes them blind to even the most obvious facts about the profession of philosophy. People like Derrida and Foucault have always been–and continue to be–very marginal in professional philosophy. I understand that The Nation is of course interested in just the political side of philosophy, but even there, Derrida is just not of much significance.

Let me put it this way: Derrida has only moderately more influence in philosophy than he has in baseball. So please, spare us the references to Derrida’s influence in philosophy and his rigorous scholarship. There simply is no such influence, and professional philosophers are virtually unanimous in holding that his scholarship was uniformly shoddy. You might enjoy Derrida, but please be more accurate in writing about him with respect to philosophy.

Lecturer, School of Philosophy, University of Leeds

Durham, NC

Thank you for Ross Benjamin’s response to the New York Times obituary on Jacques Derrida. I was dismayed to hear that the Times apparently had the same response to this thinker’s prodigious career as The Economist did–to take Derrida’s death as an opportunity to produce a warmed-over, rehashed hack job à la Lynne Cheney.

It is incredible to think that both of these renowned journalistic institutions chose to have their obituaries be written by authors who apparently had little or no understanding of any of Derrida’s works or even major concepts. Couldn’t the adjective “abstruse” be applied to virtually any philosopher? Yet if they had found a reader who had been willing to read Derrida closely and with an open mind, as he and any thinker deserve to be read, they might have realized complex thought can yield some profound insights into the very Western civilization (and its notions of truth, justice and forgiveness) conservatives purport to value. Or could it be that Derrida is much closer to the Enlightenment and its thinkers than conservatives like Cheney even want to be?

Aren’t we simply dealing with opposing Western traditions here, Derrida continuing the Enlightenment project of further analyzing our ways of conceiving existence, theory and political action, while the right wing would prefer to retreat to simplistic fairy tales that better support their own agenda?