• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments: Silver Linings Edition

Of ballots, tests and ties.

October 16, 2020

TW and I voted this week, which felt a little strange. It’s the first time I’ve voted in October since college, when I voted absentee.

Each state is handling voting differently this time around. We had the option of mailing ballots or dropping them off in a designated county office. We chose the latter, partly for the ritual, partly to make sure it got there and partly for the sticker. Given that it was about three weeks before the election, I was surprised to see longish lines of cars in the parking lot and longish lines of people to get in.

In prior elections in New Jersey, we used booths with buttons. In Massachusetts, we used paper ballots similar to Scantron forms. I liked the Massachusetts system a lot more, if only because it offered the security of a paper backup if there was a dispute around counting. (Jennifer Cohn, @jennycohn1 on Twitter, is very good on this.) I don’t know if the machine in the voting booth recorded my vote accurately, but in a pinch, if the Scantron counter was hard to believe, you could always wade through the paper ballots and verify.

This year, New Jersey has sort of backed into a variation on the Massachusetts system. Whether you mail it in or walk it in, it’s a paper ballot marked by hand. The double-envelope system seems ripe for misunderstanding, but at least there’s a paper trail. That’s a silver lining of sorts.

In my doctoral program in political science, back in the ’90s, there was plenty of examination of voter behavior, but literally no mention of the mechanics of voting. None. Zero. When the whole “hanging chads” thing happened in 2000, I remember wondering why I had never heard of it before. At this point, I’d argue that any examination of voting patterns that neglects the mechanisms of voting is malpractice.


This week The Girl took the PSAT.

Alert and faithful readers will recall that she already took the SAT. Which she did.

In olden times, the “P” in “PSAT” stood for “practice.” Now, I don’t know why it’s there, other than as a qualifier for National Merit Scholarships. The scholarships themselves have remained at an inflation-proof $2,500 since at least the mid-1980s.

Honestly, if the pandemic spells the end of the tyranny of standardized tests, add that to the silver linings list.


Along with the demise of ties, about which my post generated quite a bit of feedback. On Twitter, the feedback I get on any given piece is usually pretty gender-balanced, as near as I can tell. But this one brought forth the men.

Which makes sense; we’re the ones who have to wear the things. Most seemed relieved that someone had finally said it, but a few took exception for various reasons. To them, I say that the key word in the phrase “I hate wearing ties” isn’t “ties,” but “wearing.” I don’t give two hoots if you wear them. If you enjoy them, knock yourself out. My objection is to the de facto requirement of wearing them. The same is true of hats. I’ve got nothing against them, and even wear them from time to time. But I’m glad they’re truly optional. That’s the status I’d like to see for ties.

It’s 2020. Take wins where you can find them.


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