Hot Library Action

Election Day is still a week away, yet I have already voted. HOW IS IT DONE????? you ask, though why you speak in all-caps and use five question marks, I do not know. Am I a time-traveler? Have I committed a grievous act of voter fraud? Both are plausible and consistent with my character, but neither is correct. I have already voted because I live in Oregon, and Oregon allows people to vote by mail.

Oregonians are blasé about it now, but as a newcomer to the Beaver State (motto: “Please Don’t Call Us ‘the Beaver State'”), I am delighted by this wonderful idea. You see, voting is usually a chore. That’s why no one does it. You have to find out where you’re supposed to go, then you have to GO there, then you have to actually CHOOSE somebody in like 50 categories, all the while hoping some retard with exactly the opposite opinions doesn’t cancel you out.

But with mail-based voting, all the hassle is gone. They send you booklets in the days leading up to the election, telling you about all the candidates and measures and bonds and so forth. You sit down with the intention of reading them carefully so you can make informed choices, and then your eyes glaze over after a couple pages and you throw them away. Then the ballot arrives about 2 1/2 weeks before Election Day. You vote whenever you feel like it, put the ballot in a Secrecy Envelope, sign the back of the envelope (which they compare to your voter registration card to make sure it’s really you), put the Secrecy Envelope in a regular envelope, and mail it off. As long as it arrives by Election Day, you’re good.

The envelope isn’t postage-paid, so you have to provide your own stamp, and that’s my one critique of the program. Other than that, it’s so absurdly convenient to vote that I’m perplexed as to why Oregon doesn’t have noticeably higher voter turnout rates than other states do. Come on, you lazy, fur-trapping, Lewis-and-Clark-worshipping potheads! If mailing the ballot to your house and letting you take 20 days to decide who to vote for isn’t easy enough, then you don’t deserve democracy.

Also, in many areas, bars are closed on Election Day to prevent people from voting while intoxicated. But when the voting is done by mail, you can get as drunk as you want in the comfort of your own living room or at your neighborhood tavern, then vote for whomever your drunken heart desires. (Note: I did not do this.)

So anyway, I’ve already cast my ballot in this crucial mid-term election. If it should come out this week that the candidates I voted for are Nazi white supremacist back-alley abortionists, oh well! I already voted. No take-backs.

I bring the whole thing up partially because I want to brag about being a good citizen, but also because I want to talk about my very favorite subject: crazy people and the crazy things they do.

Some background first. As you know, the typical ballot has several measures and propositions on it. Some of these have no obvious “right” answer; a reasonable person could justifiably vote either way. For example, if there were a measure that said:

Shall the state constitution be amended to allow the hunting for sport of twentysomethings who wear T-shirts with ironic slogans?

… you could logically argue both sides. On the one hand, everyone is tired of hipsters who wear T-shirts with ironic slogans. But on the other hand, some would call hunting them for sport “murder.”

To help voters decide, the voter booklet features paid statements from people and organizations on both sides of the issue. Anyone with $500 can buy half a page and say whatever they want to about the measure, either for it or against it. Some measures have several of these statements from each side.

But then there are other measures that are no-brainers, where it is obvious that every sane person will vote the same way, where putting it on the ballot is just a formality. The no-brainer this year in Multnomah County (i.e., Portland) is to renew the levy that uses part of your property taxes to pay for the public libraries. It has to be renewed every five years, and it covers 50 percent of the libraries’ operating costs. Without the levy, the libraries close down. With the levy, the libraries stay open, and in fact two new branches will open next year.

So basically, if you vote YES on this measure, you are voting for Portland to continue to have libraries. If you vote NO, you are saying Portland shouldn’t have libraries. And who could possibly be against libraries?! Who in the world is anti-literacy?! NO ONE! you say. But again, you are mistaken, and I don’t know why you keep shouting.

I’m flipping through the voter booklet, and I see nine “ARGUMENT IN FAVOR” articles, and I’m chuckling because really, did we need NINE different paid endorsements from people saying that yeah, we should have libraries? Seems like overkill, I thought, especially since each one was basically repeating the same thing: “They’re LIBRARIES. There are BOOKS there. We NEED them. WHY WOULDN’T YOU WANT LIBRARIES?!”

And then I got to the last one: “ARGUMENT IN OPPOSITION.”

What? Someone paid $500 to come out AGAINST libraries? The hell?

Her name is Toni Manning. She is the executive director of an organization called Friends for Safer Libraries. (Visit the Web site here.) She is the executive director of this organization because she is also its founder and, as far as I can tell, its only member. She and her 10-year-old daughter, Heidi, were at one of the county’s library branches one day when a man using one of the library’s computers accessed pornography on the Internet, which Heidi happened to accidentally see when she was standing near him. Toni Manning decided that because of this, Multnomah County should not have libraries.

Well, first she decided that the libraries should use a filter to prevent patrons from accessing pornography. But since those filters have not been deployed, she’s decided the people’s tax dollars should not support the libraries. The libraries can stay open for all she cares; she just doesn’t think citizens should pay for them. If that means the libraries will have to close, then SO BE IT! She will throw that baby RIGHT out with the bathwater! DON’T THINK SHE WON’T!!

Toni’s belief that the libraries should employ a filter on the Internet is certainly a defensible one. If it appeared as a measure on the ballot, you could argue both sides convincingly. (The “con” argument, if you’re wondering, is that filters are almost always TOO restrictive, thus limiting the Internet’s — and the library’s — usefulness.) But since it isn’t, Toni hopes you will take up her position that if the library wants to offer unrestricted Internet access, it should do so without a tax levy.

I brainstormed some ways that the libraries could stay open without relying on tax dollars. Here are some options:

– Raise the fine for overdue books from 25 cents per day to $1,000 per day.
– Rather than lending the books, which is absurd from a business standpoint, require patrons to buy them.
– Sell a “Naughty Librarians” pin-up calendar.
– Persuade the county to levy a “self-righteous lunatic” tax and draw income from that instead.

Anyway, since I like the library and use it often to borrow books and to look at Internet pornography, I hope you will vote YES on Multnomah County Measure 26-81. Also, please vote YES on Measure 39-24, which would prohibit parents from using their children as political pawns. Also, please don’t call us the Beaver State.

And you thought when I moved out of Utah I wouldn't be able to make fun of overzealous moral crusaders anymore! The entirety of Toni Manning's "ARGUMENT IN OPPOSITION" is on Multnomah County's election Web site, if you'd like to read it. (Scroll to the bottom.) Her opinion that the libraries should filter the Internet is valid, and I agree with her that the local politicians who have fought against the filter on First Amendment grounds are off-base. But trying to get the libraries shut down until they comply is a bit excessive.

Fun fact: There are many individual counties in America that do voting by mail, but only in Oregon is it statewide.

There is a lot of shouting in this column. I apologize for that, but a lot of my readers are deaf.

For the first 36 hours this column was online, the second paragraph began "Oregonians are passé about it" instead of "Oregonians are blasé about it." The words are similar, obviously, but have completely unrelated definitions. I only noticed the mistake on Tuesday, when I happened to see the word "passé" in the newspaper and it triggered a reaction in my mind: Waitasec, I used that word the other day ... and I didn't use it to mean THIS! I'm ashamed of the error, but even more ashamed that no sharp-eyed readers caught it.

By the way, the library levy passed, though not by a terribly large margin. The vote was something like 56 percent. I guess there are a lot of people who will always vote against EVERY tax, no matter what it's for.