Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ross Miller's "Jiu-jitsu"

Much has been said about a Japanese martial art known as Jiu-jitsu. It helps to know what one is speaking of.

Jujutsu is a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon or only a short weapon. [1][2] The word jujutsu is often spelled as jujitsu, ju-jitsu, jiu-jutsu or jiu-jitsu.

"Jū" can be translated to mean "gentle, supple, flexible, pliable, or yielding." "Jutsu" can be translated to mean "art" or "technique" and represents manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force. [1] Jujutsu developed among the samurai of feudal Japan as a method for defeating an armed and armored opponent in which one uses no weapon, or only a short weapon. [3] Because striking against an armored opponent proved ineffective, practitioners learned that the most efficient methods for neutralizing an enemy took the form of pins, joint locks, and throws. These techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it.

And it most certainly helps to know how to practice it. We know Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) has incredible MMA skills. So is it possible that he's now putting those to use in pursuing election reform? Doug Chapin from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs seems to think so. In fact, he's now calling Ross Miller's proposal "Election Geek Jiu-jitsu"!

I'm not sure that the issues of cost and lack of fraud are enough to kill the proposal, however. Indeed, it looks to me like Miller's goal in making this proposal (and spending the money) is not to prevent fraud but rather to end the voter ID debate in a way that simultaneously improves the state's election process.

By itself, ending the voter ID debate is a huge boon for states. I can't even begin to imagine how much time and money was spent legislating, litigating and fighting about voter ID in the last election cycle alone; this bill essentially settles the argument at what might end up being a fraction of the cost. Moreover, the electronic poll books the state is proposing are popular with local election officials like Clark's Lomax, who are looking to upgrade from the traditional printed poll books, and activists like Ramirez, who are tired of their voters becoming Election Day pawns in the voter ID battle.

Viewed from this angle, Miller's proposal could be described as an effort to use the momentum on voter ID to enact other desirable changes in Nevada's election system. Indeed, you could call it a kind of jujitsu, the martial art that "uses an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it."

I know this is something we already explored here earlier this week, but I think it's worth exploring some more due to the ongoing confusion over Miller's idea. And since Doug Chapin is from Minnesota, where this idea originated and where progressives are still battling radical right demands for voter suppression, he has some good insight on what this is really about.

This may indeed be a brilliant strategy to secure progressive election reforms that otherwise would never be considered. Elections officials have wanted to replace those printed poll books with something more 21st century for some time. But because of the ongoing budget brawl and more pressing funding demands, they've been left in the dust. This may indeed be the best, and perhaps the only, way for Ross Miller to deliver the goods and upgrade our antiquated system.

And as we've discussed before, this may very well solve logistical problems that have stood in the way of expanding voter participation. How can extreme "tea party" outfits keep challenging and intimidating legal voters if poll workers can instantly verify those voters? And how can those same outfits continue arguing against reforms like same-day voter registration if the equipment is available to register and verify those new registrants right on the spot?

What may be tricky is execution. Can poll workers be transformed into IT professionals? Will poll workers be able to handle voters whose looks may have changed since the last time they checked in with the DMV? And will the technology ultimately work? These are questions that may be worth exploring some more.

And of course, there's another matter hampering this, a matter that Doug Chapin should have perhaps took into stronger consideration. Remember that our state government is notoriously cheap. And because Carson City is gearing up for yet another extended budget brawl, who really has an appetite to "spend money on a nonexistent problem", as both Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Mo Denis have put it?

And it's still unclear as to Pat Hickey's true motives in talking up Miller's bill. Is he really considering supporting it? Or is he just (mis)using it to drive a wedge between Ross Miller and Democratic Legislature leaders? May he also be (mis)using this bill to simply muddy the waters on the issue of granting some sort of driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants? This is certainly something to consider.

But without a doubt, there's a method to what has seemed to be Ross Miller's "madness". And as I've found out the hard way, there's more than initially meets the eye here. Perhaps Ross Miller can even turn all this angst and confusion over his proposal to his advantage by appealing to Brian Sandoval's and Michael Roberson's desires to score some "moderate" looking "bipartisan" achievement. And perhaps while he's doing that, he can figure out a way to ease Democratic concerns regarding his proposal.

So maybe this dude from Minnesota is onto something. Perhaps this is "misunderestimated" brilliance in political martial arts. We just have to see if and how it becomes practical good politics, as well as actual good policy, here in Nevada.

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