February 3, 2004
Joel Ferguson, vice chairman of the Black Caucus of the National Democratic Party and a Michigan delegate, speaks about the initial opposition to online voting and the challenge of improving Internet access for low-income and minority Democratic voters.
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TERENCE SMITH: Are you [with] the Kerry campaign?
JOEL FERGUSON: Right now with Senator Kerry, I'm a supporter.
In fact, I'm the person they turned to to be the one who is charge of
the delegates. But when I started this process, I was not involved in
the Kerry campaign at all.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell me what your view is of the Internet
voting that's going on this year in Michigan.
JOEL FERGUSON: I think the Internet voting is something that's -- for Michigan -- is ahead of its time.
I feel that there's a tremendous digital divide, where we have half -- 46 percent -- of the white households [with] Internet capability; only 23 percent of minority households. People who make an income of over $75,000 have 85 percent. People who make less than 15 percent (sic) have 5 percent. Yet the minorities and your lower-income people are your core Democratic constituency, the people most apt to vote in the election.
And our argument has been so why would you put the people who are most apt to be voting in the general election for a candidate, why would you all of a sudden dilute their vote for choosing who the candidate would be? I think it's great to attempt to bring new people into the process, but the new people you work to bring into the process, you should be certain they're going to be there to support the -- whoever the nominee is.
TERENCE SMITH: The party says they have placed, or provided
Internet access at 1,500 sites around the state.
JOEL FERGUSON: Well, that's fine, but the, the key to Internet voting is not leaving your home to go to the Internet. The key to Internet voting is voting from your home. So all those things are just absolutely only things.
Because if you're going to leave your home to go on the
Internet, then why not go to the polling place and just vote? There's
nothing magic about that. That's a really a tokenism in its worst way.
I think that for our party, [that's] championing minorities
and disadvantage people, then what we should be doing is ways to protect
them, not trying to have phony ways of making it look like we're giving
them something that still is not something.
TERENCE SMITH: Mm-hm.
|Initial protests against Internet voting|
JOEL FERGUSON: So that's why we were very much opposed to this at this time. I think years from now, when Internet voting is available for the general election, then it should be there. But for how [the party] won their appeal was they claimed that we were using this as an organizational tool, and therefore we should have Internet voting because we can get new names that we can go back to for later on.
Well, the process in a primary, in a caucus, is not about how to find future people. It's really about respecting the people who've always voted for the Democratic Party and giving them a strong voice in picking who the candidate is. And that's why in Michigan that you have to be a Democrat and we don't allow crossover voting.
So here, there's a direct contradiction. Because on one
hand, we're saying we've got to make certain Democrats are the ones
who vote, at the next breath we're saying everybody come on in and hope
that we can have your name for the future. At the same time, take your
core people and have them at a really diluted situation I think is wrong.
TERENCE SMITH: Does this situation, does this procedure
of voting favor one candidate over another?
JOEL FERGUSON: I don't think it favors one candidate over another, because right now all the campaigns have caught on and know how to do the Internet voting.
What it's done is it's just made one group of individuals' vote not mean as much as it would have meant before, and these are the people who are your core vote. And I'm all for Internet voting once everyone has the process, once the bugs have been worked out. But in the strong Democratic state like Michigan, I don't think we should be the guinea pig.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, the party says they have already 120,000
people who have applied online for ballots that they can vote either
electronically or by mail. So they believe they've found a way to greatly
JOEL FERGUSON: Well, I tell you what. I just hope I'm wrong. Because what I hope is that all this participation we have gives us a really stronger base to make certain our nominee's elected.
So there are two reasons why I didn't push the protest
into the courts. One, I feel that once you're part of a process, either
a primary or an appeal within a party, you accept that verdict and move
forward to make it work. And so I hope that some of my assumptions that
these people will really stick with us in the future; if they do, then,
the experiment will be a success.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell me about protesting, because I know
that at the beginning, when this was announced, several of the campaigns,
including the Kerry campaign, objected to it.. Tell me how that worked.
JOEL FERGUSON: All the campaigns except for the Dean campaign
and later on in the Clark campaign protested the process, the thing.
What happens is it already had its momentum. And our party
chair, who's an excellent person, is also the chairman of the national
state party chairs. So doing an internal protest within the Democratic
process, where people are back and forth on committees with each other
-- you know, and I have no problem because I've won different votes
that way, too -- is the insiders kind of had the best thing happen.
In fact, one of the people who voted for us -- Harold Ickes (former
aide to Bill Clinton) supported our protest -- when he did, he apologized
to Mark Brewer for voting against him that day. So that kind of really
tipped off how the appeal was going and where we were at. And so that's
when we have this thing about, well, we'll set up Internet sites in
different places. You know, which is just totally a phony way of trying
to pacify a group because if you're going to leave your home to find
a place to go to the Internet, then why don't you just skip the Internet
and just go ahead and vote anyway?
TERENCE SMITH: Well, Mark Brewer argues that if you don't
want to leave your home, you just put a 37-cent stamp on the ballot
and mail it in.
TERENCE SMITH: Mm-hm.
JOEL FERGUSON: And I like Mark. Good guy.
TERENCE SMITH: Has Senator Kerry expressed himself on
JOEL FERGUSON: Oh, Senator Kerry was opposed to Internet voting, and hasn't told me he's for it. But now the organization's going to make it work and they're going to play the hand that they're dealt. So we'll make it work.
|Moving beyond the opposition to work together|
|TERENCE SMITH: So the
JOEL FERGUSON: Oh, yeah. Once we lost the appeal, we moved
on. I mean, I'm not going to be part of a party to where I'm going kicking
and screaming after I had my day in court.
TERENCE SMITH: A final thought here -- when it's over,
how will you analyze the success or failure in terms of the participation
by different communities that you're talking about?
JOEL FERGUSON: Well, I hope that the participation is
high. And what I'll really analyze this thing in the general election,
is all those folks that we used as an organizational tool, that they're
still there and they're voting in the election in the fall to defeat
TERENCE SMITH: Right. But I was asking sort of the other
side of the same coin, which is what about the participation by, let's
say, the African American community. What are you going to look for
when you study the results?
JOEL FERGUSON: African American participation will not
be as high as when I ran Jesse Jackson's campaign and we set the benchmark,
the number they're still trying to exceed. We will exceed it with the
number this time, but it won't be higher African American participation.
The African American participation won't be at the benchmark it was
when Jesse Jackson was on the ballot.
TERENCE SMITH: So you may not be objecting to it anymore,
but you still believe there's a fundamental inequality here?
JOEL FERGUSON: Absolutely. And the, and the African American participation when they analyze it will not be to -- that our numbers were in '88. But our numbers were driven because Jesse Jackson was on the ballot.
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