I’m hoping in the coming days to do a longer blog on the stories about employers instructing employees how to vote, forcing employees to attend rallies for Romney, etc. In the meantime, Gordon Lafer has one of the best pieces yet on this story. He makes the point, which came as news to me, that the Bush Administration repeatedly condemned elections in other countries
where because in part bosses there were doing the exact same thing they’re doing here.
The Bush Administration, for instance, rejected Ukrainian elections as illegitimate, in part because international observers found that managers of state-owned enterprises had “instructed their subordinates to vote for [the ruling party].”
One step beyond even the Kochs is GOP mega-donor Bob Murray, who required employees at an Ohio coal mine to attend a Romney campaign event. The resulting photo-op could have been at home in the old East Germany – candidate standing before a crowd of miners, replete with banner reading “Coal Country Stands With Mitt,” with no notice that miners were attending under the direction of their boss, forced to give up a day’s pay in order to serve as human props. Again, we routinely condemn such charades when carried out by foreigners. The Bush Administration criticized Armenia’s elections, for instance, after observers reported that “factory workers … were instructed to attend the incumbent’s rallies.” But what we reject for Armenians and Ukrainians, the business lobbies now want to institute at home.
He also responds to a claim I often hear—including on this blog—that since employers can’t really know how an employee votes, employers can’t be said to be intimidating or coercing employees.
An employee whose boss tells them hot to vote may still ignore this advice in the privacy of a voting booth. What they won’t do, however, is display a button or bumper sticker, write a letter to the editor, or be seen attending a rally of the opposing party. This strikes at the very heart of democracy. Elections are only “free and fair” if voters are free to speak out, write in, and publicly support the candidate of their choice, without fear for their livelihoods.
What sets democratic elections apart from the sham votes of authoritarian regimes is not secret ballots – after all, even Saddam Hussein had secret ballots – but the ability of all voters to participate in what the Supreme Court termed “uninhibited, robust and wide-open debate” without fear of retaliation.
Update (October 26, 4 pm)
Gordon sends me a followup email:
You mentioned in your post about my article that even people on your blog wonder why it’s a problem for bosses to tell workers how to vote, since you still have the secret ballot. I noticed similar comments on the The Hill site where the piece went up — even “why shouldn’t employers tell their employees what they think the impact of certain policies will be?” and “don’t they have a moral obligation to do that”? I got similar questions yesterday afternoon in a radio interview about the Milwaukee manufacturer emailing his employees that they’ll lose their pension funds if Obama is reelected.