Electoral agitator Cory Stephens became an instant celebrity this week after a number of web aggregators latched onto his seemingly absurd endorsement of “A GAY DOG” to be our new commander in chief.
Had the content scavengers bothered to do even a little bit of digging, they might have uncovered that: a) AGD is an actual person (who kinda/sorta campaigned for the job and everything), b) the stunt touched off a flurry of warnings from official/unofficial critics, and, c) the entire episode was not meant to demean or even to lampoon the voting process, but to fortify it.
For those unfamiliar with Stephens’ Election Day antics, the Missouri activist landed on the national radar after tweeting/instagramming a snapshot of his modified presidential ballot. The farce-seekers at Gawker and BuzzFeed feasted on the ridiculousness of it all, even if they'd only scratched the surface of what was really going on.
An aide in the office of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan confirmed that state law prohibits individuals from photographing completed ballots, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or fines not in excess of $2,500. The aide noted, however, that the law is actually a safeguard against voter intimidation, and that the office is well aware that the advent of social media has prompted some people to broadcast their voting preferences under the auspices of free speech. Still, the law is the law.
Initially, Stephens didn’t pay the haters too much mind; he even tried to defuse the situation with the old “You have to tell me if you’re cops” routine (a total urban myth). Then Stephen Siwinski, Carnahan's deputy director of communications, creative and social media, pinged him.
According to Stephens, Siwinski saw the recycled image online, issued a blanket warning to all and then reached out to him specifically.
“Mr. Siwinski sent a private message on [Facebook] restating the statute and confirmed I was not being accused of any wrongdoing,” Stephens told HOH.
This wasn’t the first time Stephens had forced the very same issue with local election officials.
Stephens suggested that the whole point of the exercise was to prove to Buchanan County Clerk Mary Baack-Garvey that votes could be rigged by anyone with a home computer, a process he said he began in September after suggesting that Baack-Garvey had attempted to recruit only tea party members as poll watchers.
Turns out the document everyone fawned over on the Internet was essentially a fake. Stephens admitted he printed out the blank form at home courtesy of information obtained from a county website.
“This also violates the statute Mr. Siwinski cited to me, as the ballots do not have a SAMPLE watermark,” Stephens said of the easily downloaded documents. “The ‘vote’ was to shine a light on accountability, as this isn’t the only crack in possible voter fraud.”
To wit, Stephens never actually pulled the trigger on the incendiary slip of paper.
“The ballot was not cast,” he assured HOH.
And even if it had been Stephen’s official ballot, the blogiverse would have still fudged his original intent. Because as funny as the idea of installing a homosexual house pet in the Oval Office might be, Stephens was actually throwing his support behind fellow activist @MoeWytchDog.
“’A Gay Dog’ refers to twitter user @MoeWytchDog, an Oakland, Calif., anarcha-feminist,” Stephens explained.
The seemingly anonymous AGD — Web searches suggest the owner of the account is someone named “Aimee” — is quite the iconoclast, spouting off at will about the Occupy movement and perennial presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). She has also been sought out by fellow tweeters seeking guidance about how they should vote this fall.
And while Missouri watchdogs appear disinclined to give Stephens the business for manipulating the system, a debate on Quora regarding ballot photographing bans (but not Stephens’ case, specifically) illustrates how the desire to over-share is further dividing our already badly fractured nation.
Forcibly peeling off people's hard-earned social media followers? There ought to be a law against that ...