It was the very picture of democracy Thursday evening in Carmel: A county government committee (the Rules, Enactments & Intergovernmental Relations panel, to be exact) was hearing reports. A good crowd was on hand. The first topic: Voting.
Which, the following day, was to be all over the news. The Russians, we are now told via an indictment Friday by the Special Counsel, used trolls and bots and Facebook and Instagram to tremendous effect, sowing discord about democracy with an effort that traced back to 2014. And, two years later, as this effort intensified and gained success in the echo chamber of the 2016 election, we believed it! On both sides, liberal and conservative, we were credulous and naïve. Sometimes, we even showed up at opposing rallies organized and instigated by the Russians!
We used to be clear-eyed. Optimistic, but also realistic. We had daughters like Sybil Ludington, just 16, who rode 40 miles on horseback in the dark of night to alert soldiers that Danbury was about to be sacked by the British. We built an iron foundry in Cold Spring that helped power the Industrial Revolution; it also manufactured the Parrott rifled cannon that helped the North win the Civil War. We pushed west and built houses from sod. We defeated the Nazis, sent men to the moon.
Alas. When and how did we come to think that ANYTHING on Facebook amounted to news? That we could believe it, take it to the bank, rely on it? Did we really think that a bunch of millionaires and billionaires in California cared as much about democracy as they care about harvesting and selling and profiting from our personal information and eyeballs? Apparently, we did.
We ought to be angry with the Russians, and ourselves. Instead, we are angry at each other – which is exactly what the Russians want. Exactly.
Catherine P. Croft, one of Putnam’s two elections commissioners, briefed the panel on the primary this fall (Sept. 13, a Thursday, to avoid 9/11). She also spoke about early voting, which 37 other states have. There’s considerable desire in New York state to have it here, too. Lawmakers seemed supportive, but were concerned about the cost: It would take workers and supervisors, and would have to be done at two sites across the county. Knowing New York’s penchant for mandating something and then offloading the cost to someone else, that seemed a high probability, another unfunded mandate on top of the millions of dollars of unfunded mandates the county already sees.
Later in the meeting, Legislator Joseph F. Castellano crystallized what several had been thinking. Sure, it’s in vogue. Do we need it? “I voted every year since I turned 18,” said Castellano, who attended but is not a member of the committee (in fact, all the lawmakers were present). “It’s not that hard. Why are we doing this?”
And Karl Rohde, director of the Putnam County Veterans Service Agency, chimed in: “My first vote was cast when I was in Vietnam,” he told lawmakers and the audience. “I was in Vietnam. I was able to get a ballot and vote.”
I first met Rohde in 2010. He is a fierce advocate for veterans, a patriot who sees voting and participation in our democracy as something akin to sacred duty.
Maybe early voting is good. Or, maybe, we simply need to take voting more seriously than our Facebook feed.
Until next week.
Douglas Cunningham is editor and publisher of both the Courier and its sister paper the PCNR, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845- 265-2468, or by email at email@example.com. Letters to the editor, on this or other topics, are welcome. Please send by email as plain text or a Word document by 9 am Monday.