Roundtable: Voter Fraud, Workplace Bullying Guests discuss the possibility of post-election legal challenges; Haiti tops the list of "most corrupt" countries; and a new survey shows some employees feel bullied in the workplace. Guests: Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Glenn Loury, social science and economics professor at Brown University; and Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist.

Roundtable: Voter Fraud, Workplace Bullying

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. On today's Roundtable, Haiti tops the list of most corrupt countries and political parties ready to rumble.

Joining us today from our New York bureau is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist, is at our Chicago bureau. And from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island, we've got Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and economics at Brown University. So welcome to you all.

I know it's premature because it's still Election Day, but Republican and Democratic campaign strategists are counting on a close election, already have hired lawyers. In Ohio, lawyers for the Democrats are asking postal workers to process absentee ballots that aren't stamped. People looking at long lines, Republicans watching out for people who are not eligible to vote. Sounds like some nastiness coming up.

Laura, what do you think?

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Well, you're right, Farai. Everyone is indeed lawyering up. In one sense I'm glad to see this because the parties spend, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars trying to get their messages across through individual candidates and the party organizations, they can spend some money trying to protect the vote and make sure that folks get the right to vote, no matter who they choosing.

The problem with the parties leading these kinds of efforts is, of course, they're partisan groups and I think that some of these efforts can be tainted. It's just natural that these parties are going to focus on - as you said in the case of the Republicans, the Republicans are maybe going to focus on folks that they think may not be as prepared to present their registrations in terms of making sure that they're dotting Is and crossing the Ts. And they're not necessarily being fair; they're taking sort of a one-sided position.

And I think the other thing here is there's a little bit - I think a little bit of hypocrisy in seeing these parties stepping forward and saying we're outraged by, you know, voter suppression and distortion of the vote and the right to vote when some of these parties are surreptitiously backing some of these very methods.

We've heard these things about flyers being passed around to immigrants telling them they'll be arrested if they try to vote, if they're illegal immigrants. People who have parking tickets being towed. You show up at the polls, you've got to pay your parking tickets.

These things are coming from the parties and from the candidates. In the one hand, they're trying to suppress the vote and they're trying to defraud vote. On the other hand, they're being outraged and they're lawyering up. So I think it's a little interesting.

CHIDEYA: Glenn, I want to point out a specific example. In Maryland, Democratic lawyers got a Republican manual for poll workers that gives instructions in challenging voter credentials. And so the Democrats are poring over this, trying to make sense of whether everything is legal or whether it's partly illegal. It sounds as if there's a lot of different tactics that have gone into play long before Election Day.

Professor GLEN LOURY (Social Sciences, Economics, Brown University): Indeed. You know, there's nothing pure about democracy. I mean the vote doesn't speak for itself. There's so many points of discretion. There's so many ways in which the person with the wrong intent can mess around with the process.

So, you know, I'm concerned. That 2000 election where George Bush was basically elected president by the Supreme Court, where the governor and secretary of state in the state of Florida had a lot to do with who became the next president of the United States. It really dealt a blow - I'm not blaming anybody. I'm just making the observation to the sense of trust that Americans can have in, you know, in our electoral processes.

When John Kerry decided to concede the election in 2004 rather than challenge in Ohio - as he might have done along many different dimensions, including the fact that in black communities there didn't seem to be as many voting machines and the lines were longer and so forth, and that really suppressed the black vote, which might have helped Kerry - when he decided not to challenge, he did us all a favor. But we're not out of the woods by any means.

CHIDEYA: Michael, I mean is this just, you know, part of the understandably messy process of creating a democracy, or has there got to be a better way to do this?

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Well, the guy who said that the future ain't what it used to be is absolutely right. Nor are elections. These charges of voter suppression versus efforts to detect and depress election fraud, you would think that there wouldn't have to be schizophrenic to have an interest in terms of both access to the ballot and insuring the integrity of the ballot.

You know, when you have electronic voting machines regarded as unreliable mainly because data can get lost, computer data can bet lost because there are no paper receipts. Touch screen voting is unreliable. These raise concerns about the integrity of the ballot.

At the same time, you know, I have to say that I live in New York City. I do not have long lines at the polling place. I'm not asked for ID, and ID is certainly not demanded. I vote on the old, ancient lever machines where the curtains don't even close. And my candidates still usually lose. I don't go to court.

But my point is that - is a corollary to Laura's, although she was doing a little Republican bashing. The civil rights groups, it seems to me, are covering, too. They're acting in a partisan fashion and acting like Democrats in the way that they talk only about access and not about ballot integrity.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, what I was going to ask is should independent groups, civil rights groups or other groups, be the ones that are relied on to do this, or should there be some function of government that actually checks itself? I mean is that even possible.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, you do have that. You have the U.S. Justice Department.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yes, and we have the local election officials. And I think Michael's right in that every one of these groups, whether it's NAACP or whether the Republican Party, they do have an agenda. But I think, you know, we had to - there's some voters out there and voters are not stupid, especially folks that take the time to vote. So that we have to rely on them and we have to encourage them to get voter education.

Today as people are going to the polls, I know there's a lot of information out there, and wherever it's coming from is very valuable advice. You know, make sure you have your ID card with you, make sure you have your registration card with you, make sure you have a cell phone with you so that if you get into trouble or somebody gives you a hard time, you can call one of the election authorities and get some help.

You know, voters need to take control of their own environment and make sure that they get their opportunity. And I think that all of these groups in many ways are putting that kind of information out there. The voters just have to be discriminating about what they hear and where it's coming from.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, it's not just voter ID in a sense of show your picture ID. Sometimes these new laws require government-issued photo ID. And a lot of people don't have government-issued photo ID. So there has to be…

Ms. WASHINGTON: Then they need to get them.

Mr. MEYERS: There has to be reasonable methods for making sure that the person who comes to you is eligible to vote, and I don't think that's conspiratorial.

Ms. WASHINGTON: No, I agree. But my point is voters need to take some responsibility here. They need to get them. This is not the first time we've heard about needing to have government-issued IDs. These are used in every walk of life. And you need to take responsibility and be prepared.

Mr. MEYERS: And stop whining.

CHIDEYA: Okay. So that's the message to the voters: Stop whining and be proactive.

Mr. MEYERS: In the workplace, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WASHINGTON: We're not going to talk about that.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Well, actually we can move right along to the workplace, the workplace being a war zone. There's a new report, a new study that says 25 to 30 percent of employees say they experience bullying some time during their careers. We're talking about screaming bosses, rude colleagues. Office bullies can create a war zone that makes even kindergarten seem like it was a lot more fun to repeat, or high school.

So how important is this problem to address? I mean, Glenn, I'll turn to you as an economist. Do you think for example this is actually decreasing productivity? Are people cowering in the bathrooms waiting for the bullies to go by?

Prof. LOURY: Well, I don't know what one means by address. If you're running a company or any office, you want to have, you know, good morale and you want to have a well functioning workplace. So a decent manager will do the things that are necessary to do in order to achieve that objective.

Sometimes, quote, “bullying,” close quote, might be productive and effective, no? I mean sometimes - I'm not saying, I'm not, you know, advocating hurting people's feelings, but I'm saying being a demanding boss can easily be interpreted by a slacking worker as bullying. I'm not sure what one wants to do about this other than to, you know, to whine, as Michael would say.

CHIDEYA: Okay. So that's one of the stop whining team. Laura, what - Michael, go ahead.

Mr. MEYERS: Yeah. The science of this I have to question, by the way. I thought it was a study. It was a very small sample. The science from that, you know, I think I agree with Glenn Loury, believe it or not. You know, this broad definition of bullying, it's jut too broad, it's too metaphorical.

You know, some orator once said that we are living in a nation of sissies, and this is the same in the workplace. This sounds like old-fashioned office politics. It can be backbiting, it can be a war zone. But to have a boss is to be bossed and it's not to be bullied. It's just utter nonsense to equate supervision, direction, orders as bullying.

CHIDEYA: All right. Laura, is anyone going to stand up for the shy flowers in the office?

Ms. WASHINGTON: No.

CHIDEYA: Stop whining?

Ms. WASHINGTON: An office is an environment where people have to work together or not work together. Glenn made the point, which I think is a good one, about leadership. You know, there's bosses, and the bosses need to - if they're good bosses, you don't have that kind of activity in the office. If they are bad bosses, oh, well, go find some place else to work because it's all about leadership. It is…

Mr. MEYERS: Or get a union.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Yeah, well. Yeah, but you know I…

Mr. MEYERS: Who can also be bullies.

Ms. WASHINGTON: I also teach and I deal with this all the day. I'm the boss in my classroom and you wouldn't believe - though all of you would probably believe because we've been all students one time - the kinds of things that students try to pull. And I'm trying to prepare them to deal with real-life job situations. So you have to show up on time. You have to deliver your material or your work product on time.

Mr. MEYERS: Yes.

Ms. WASHINGTON: You have to be respectful. And I think that, again I'm talking about leadership here, but I think to defend the bosses, the kinds of employees that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis and the dynamics they have to deal with make it very complicated. But there's some simple basic things you can demand. And if folks think that that's bullying, so be it.

CHIDEYA: All right. So three people say cowboy up and zero say here's a tissue. All right, moving along to Haiti.

According to a new study by Transparency International, this anti-corruption organization based in Berlin, Haiti is the most corrupt country in the world today. Burma and Iraq rounded out the top three. And the results showed the correlation between corruption and poverty.

At this point it makes me wonder what is the relationship of other nations to nations that will be going through periods of corruption and government instability. Should we try to reach out and provide good governance as the United States, or is this an internal problem?

Mr. MEYERS: Well, the United States is on the list of those countries that are creeping up in terms of the levels of corruption, you know. With respect to Haiti, I'm not surprised by Haiti. Haiti has a historical context of voodoo economics, where you have one percent of the population owning more than half the wealth. That's a situation ripe for corruption and rebellion, and also drug trafficking, et cetera.

But you know it's interesting, the corollary of that is the country that canes the buttocks of offenders is supposed to be the least corrupt of nations in my judgment, in my polling. But it, which is Singapore, is bettered by Finland, Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark. So why is Singapore so far down in terms of less corruption?

CHIDEYA: I don't know if caning - you know, I've always thought of caning as something that definitely draws headlines. I'm not sure it fights corruption.

Mr. MEYERS: Oh it hurts, believe me (unintelligible). It hurts.

CHIDEYA: Oh, I'm glad…

Mr. MEYERS: And don't do it again.

CHIDEYA: I'm glad I missed that. All right. Glenn. I mean at this point, if a country really is kind of stuck and needs something to push good governance forward, who can actually push that ball?

Professor LOURY: It's a very difficult problem. You know, the rule of law, the sanctity of contract, the mutual expectation that public officials are actually going to do their jobs and are not for sale, these are hard won and precious qualities in a society.

Note that the United States of America is not at the top of that list. I mean, you know, physician, heal thy self one might say. Before we go around trying to teach other countries about good governance, we might do something about those earmarks that are for sale and those lobbyists on K Street, et cetera, et cetera.

But I just want to say, it's - everybody knows that this is one of the barriers to getting business to come in, to reviving developing economies in many places in the world. But it's really hard to turn it around once you've sunk down into a culture where everybody expects that pretty much anything goes.

CHIDEYA: You know, Laura, I noticed that five, half of the 10 most corrupt states were African nations, which is definitely, you know, a huge burden on the continent.

Mr. MEYERS: I didn't say that.

CHIDEYA: I said it.

Mr. MEYERS: I did talk about…

Prof. LOURY: It's true.

Mr. MEYERS: …the other part that's less corrupt, which is mostly white.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. Well, Laura, what do you think about the fact that, you know, certain regions are really hampered by these issues of institutional corruption which retard, you know, good governance, economic growth, international development, all of those things?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, obviously, you say that five of the countries on that top 10. And I wonder, I'd like to know more about the criteria that was used to determine what constitutes corruption and how they ranked them. But yes, Africa is a very poor continent overall, in general. And as the studies point out, there is a direct correlation between corruption and poverty. So it's not surprising to me that African nations would be high on the list.

I think, though, there's also this issue here of governance - which we've talked about a little bit in terms of different standards, different values of governance, different cultures - you know, we're coming at it from a Western perspective in terms of the way we govern.

Look at a place like Iraq, which I think was third on the list. And I think Iraq's on that list not just because it's in the middle of a war but because it has a different way of governing. It's been run by a dictator up until that last several years, and you're seeing the results of that now in the prosecution - successful prosecution and the death penalty that's been levied on Saddam Hussein.

There's a debate in that country right now about whether or not that process has been fair because there's a belief that whatever you think about Iraq, Iraq is not in control of its governing process. It's not in control of its legal system. And therefore you have a huge number of people in that country that don't buy that verdict, and they believe in fact that verdict is corrupt.

And so you have to deal with the perception and the definition of what people see as being the legitimate governing forces in their country, and you have to respect that.

CHIDEYA: Glenn.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, dictatorship itself is a form of corruption. I think we have to remember that.

CHIDEYA: Sure.

Mr. MEYERS: Just like in democracies or elected government, people can also be corrupted by the influence of money, by the influence of a police officer who looks the other way when he sees cash coming into his pockets, and drug trafficking, et cetera. So both dictatorships as well as elected democracies are subject to the forces of corruption.

CHIDEYA: Glenn, one final word from you before we wrap this up. Do you think that it is the political corruption - people have mentioned Abramoff, et cetera - or could it be income inequality or both that are driving the U.S. actually falling in these rankings and being more corrupt?

Prof. LOURY: Oh, I think it's greed. I think we have to look…

CHIDEYA: That's another whole Roundtable.

Professor LOURY: …beyond politics. No, no. Hold on. I mean somebody was just charged with the backdating of these stock options for executive compensation so that, you know, they could basically steal from other stockholders in the corporation and pad their own pockets. These are people who already are being paid in the eight figures in terms of salary who still don't have enough. I mean I think…

Mr. MEYERS: Like Martha Stewart?

Prof. LOURY: …I think that the root of the thing is greed. So, you know.

CHIDEYA: All right. A systemic…

Mr. MEYERS: The United States is…

Ms. WASHINGTON: The great American way.

Prof. LOURY: Exactly.

Mr. MEYERS: …a nation of sissies and the greedy.

CHIDEYA: Oh, my gosh. Anyway, on that note, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times, and Glenn Loury of Brown University. Thank you all for a spirited discussion.

Prof. LOURY: You're welcome.

Mr. MEYERS: Thank you.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Welcome.

CHIDEYA: You can always send us an e-mail by logging on to npr.org and clicking on Contact Us. And next on NEWS & NOTES, our Africa update: China invests in Africa and raises human rights concerns. Plus, a new book on Nelson Mandela from a friend's point of view.

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