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Today's vocabulary lesson

The word "disenfranchise" is very popular these days. Jesse Jackson alone uses it seven times in every sentence. Unfortunately, its growing popularity is accompanied by a pervasive confusion as to the word's actual meaning. Take, for example, the following headline from yesterday's San Jose Mecury News:

Unmarried women voted but still feel disenfranchised

Hello? If you voted, you weren't disenfranchised. "Vote or Die" spokesmoron P. Diddy seems similarly confused. Note his recent explanation on CNN as to why he felt "disenfranchised" in 2000:

HEMMER: Why do you say you were disenfranchised four years ago?

COMBS: Because politicians, they just didn't pay attention to us.

All right, we obviously need to clear up a few misconceptions here. First of all, let's be clear about a few things that "disenfranchise" does not mean. (This list is far from exhaustive, by the way.) Being "disenfranchised" does not mean:

  • Your guy didn't win.
  • You had to stand in a long line.
  • They didn't allow you to vote in the wrong precinct.
  • They didn't allow you to vote more than once.
  • You didn't get a limo ride to the polling place.
  • They didn't provide you with free danishes and decaf lattes while you waited.
  • They asked you to prove that you were actually "Buzz Lightyear."
  • Politicians didn't pander sufficiently for your vote.

Those are all wrong. None of these things constitute being "disenfranchised," okay?

So what does it mean? I'll adopt the approach of my fifth-grade teacher: Look it up yourself. You'll remember it that way.


Okay, giggling over the whole P. Diddy thing. Is he still P. Diddy? Didn't he go back to Puff Daddy? Or did he do that and then go back to P. Diddy? I mean really, "Vote or Die?" The heck is that even supposed to convey? No wonder it doesn't seem to have had much of an effect.

Anyway, I would argue that the possibility of disenfranchisement is there if you must wait for hours upon hours and cannot afford to take that much time off of work. Whether intentional or not, the inefficiency of the polling places in certain areas bordered on the criminal. I sincerely doubt that anyone expected to be feted for voting (except possibly those that maybe thought that P.D. would be their new best friend if they went out and voted) but they probably did (reasonably) expect that it wouldn't involve waiting on a line for hour upon hour, and in some cases, upon hour. I don't think that's such an unreasonable expectation.

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