RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Bring Dems Out of Closets

Our buddy Bryce has undergone a conversion. Well, maybe "conversion" is too strong a word. What he actually said was, "Now I feel I can go to the polls and vote for Kerry without having to hold my nose."

His better half, Jenny, was won over earlier, when Kerry chose John Edwards as running mate. For independent family farmers, the Kerry-Edwards team has credentials. They seem to understand that USDA is married to corporations that want to, frankly, break family farmers.

These candidates know that industrial farming, especially livestock farming, pollutes the land, wastes water and energy, and destroys rural communities. They even understand the anti-farmer implications of trade agreements like NAFTA, and they are for country-of-origin labeling, aka "COOL."

Bryce's breakthrough came when the family, including baby Henry, were invited to a farmers-only meeting in Missouri with Kerry and Edwards. The candidates had chosen a family farm, not a factory farm, and the 100 invited guests sat around on hay bales to hear the speeches and, following, the questions and answers.

Now that they've made up their minds, Bryce and Jenny have gone to work to make some change, and it's a good thing, too. Missouri's state elections look increasingly conservative. A recent referendum to change the state constitution and ban gay marriage drew an insulting 70% approval from the voters. Clearly, the churches are turning out voters, and those voters are likely to vote against Kerry.

So Bryce and Jenny are looking for unregistered voters and taking registration materials to them. They have to hurry. The deadline for registering to vote for the presidential election in Missouri is Wednesday, Oct. 6. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to be deputized as a registrar and to gather the necessary forms, and this can be accomplished with a quick visit to the courthouse.

But where, in this politicized nation, do you find unregistered voters? Turns out the list is long: Colleges, senior centers, housing areas, trailer parks, shopping areas, workplaces. Jenny has even taken baby Henry door-to-door.

Since registrars don't ask for party affiliation and don't make recommendations on how to vote, it seems that registering voters is a risky business. You might end up registering a wad of people who will vote for the other guy. At the same time, the unregistered are society's least-connected people, and those without resources usually end up being -- surprise! -- closet Democrats.

According to, "Republicans continue to actively suppress black and minority votes in order to win elections through intimidation, misinformation, and tampering with voter rolls and records. In 2000, the black voters who were not allowed to vote would have almost certainly swung the election in Al Gore's favor."

Jenny says it's amazing how many people of all colors and heritage are ready for a change, hate the current policies, but haven't been voting. Since Missourians can register when they renew driver licenses, these non-voters are often non-drivers, another form of dis-enfranchisement. A second part of the plan will have to be picking up voters and taking them to the polls.

This kind of citizen involvement throws back what Bob Herbert of the New York Times calls, "the blanket of intimidation" and a joint report from People for the American Way and NAACP call "The Long Shadow of Jim Crow." Their report documents intimidation by armed guards at the polls, signs that warn of penalties for voter fraud, poll workers helping voters fill out their ballots and telling them how to vote.

Some of the strategies to keep voters from the polls were as simple as sending them to the wrong place to vote, telling voters that the polls would be open later or on other days. In Missouri's 2000 election, ballots were printed with the donkey symbol in the Libertarian column and the Statue of Liberty in the Democrat column. So if you left your glasses at home and punched the donkey symbol, you voted Libertarian. In 2004, the donkey's back where he belongs.

There will be, no doubt, more disinformation in 2004. Be ready for it, find out the truth, and share the correct information with your fellow voters.

If we were to be honest about America's system, we'd have to admit that most, if not all, elections have been rigged or the results jiggered. Local elections, almost ignored in a presidential year, are as important as national ones, and local elections are notorious for corruption. Lyndon Johnson's career, among others, was spotted with questionable wins.

Our system is overdue for an overhaul, but it's the system we have. Volunteering to help is the least we can do in this most-important election. We can, like Jenny, register voters and correct the misinformation they may be getting. Later, we can drive them to the polls and stand witness. If these escorted voters are intimidated, we must stand up for them.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

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