I’ve been asked by numerous quarters whether I think Senator Harry Reid engaged in voter intimidation by having casinos send letters and emails to employees urging support for Reid. This wasn’t voter intimidation. Reid might have survived through all sorts of shenanigans, but intimidation wasn’t one of them.
Voter intimidation is a term of art. It doesn’t mean a voter was annoyed or unsettled. It doesn’t mean pressure was put on a voter to act a certain way. Federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation rely on an objective standard. Simply, would a reasonable person find the behavior a threat that might reasonably result in bodily harm or other imminent harm? A letter from an employer or union urging a vote for a particular candidate does not fall into this category.
Of course, the content of the letter may make a difference. If the letter says: “If you don’t vote for Harry Reid, the casino may burn down your house,” that’s another matter. But that isn’t what the letters said.
Indeed, it may even be protected political speech. Why shouldn’t an employer be allowed to communicate with employees about an election? Why shouldn’t an employer be allowed to communicate objective truth to employees about what the outcome of the election might mean for their business? Hardly intimidation, such communications are protected by the First Amendment and would serve the important purpose of informing an employee about what is best for the company, and therefore for the employee’s employment.
Harry Reid was a strong supporter of gambling interests, and the employees benefit by knowing this factual information. If it is true the casinos would lose a strong Washington ally if Reid lost to Sharron Angle, then the casinos have every right — and perhaps, to some, an obligation — to communicate this message to employees.
Telling employees the truth about the outcome of an election isn’t voter intimidation. If electing a certain candidate will result in harm to an employee’s health care plan, employers should tell their employees that ahead of the election. If electing a certain party will result in harm to the employer’s ability to meet payroll, the employers should tell their employees that too. It’s called the truth wrapped in political speech. In this country, we still protect the right to say it.
Some think that there is a strict prohibition against employers urging their employees to vote a certain way. There isn’t, though the predictable quarters would like Americans to think there is. Notice that those who scream from the rooftops when this behavior usually occurs have fallen silent about the casinos’ actions.
There have been no cries from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights about the communications to employees.
The uncommon silence in this instance reveals the partisan motive behind previous efforts to characterize employer politicking as voter intimidation. Keep it in mind the next time employees are lobbied and the beneficiary isn’t the Democratic Senate majority leader.
There was a time in this nation where a sharecropper economy made an employer’s electioneering to employees a cataclysmic threat. Being tossed from your home and ripening crops is a form of economic devastation unknown today. Some think these obsolete economic relationships still predominate, and therefore any employer electioneering threatens ruin still. These ideas are stuck in the past, where the dynamics of the Mississippi Delta in 1963 are found all over the nation a half-century later.
If an employer wants to hire only Republicans, that’s the employer’s right in most places. If an employer wants to hire only Democrats, that’s also the employer’s right in most places. Ideology isn’t a protected class. Otherwise most of the nation’s newspapers and broadcast networks would spend more time defending discrimination lawsuits than reporting news.