Racist Election Officials

Let People VoteI’ve heard it said that we are the world. I’ve even heard it said that we are the children. And lest we forget: we are the ones who make a brighter day, so lets start giving. The problem is that this is total bullshit. We are parochial; we act like children; we are the ones who make everything worse, so let’s just give up. If there is a choice we’re making, it is whether we should focus on helping only ourselves or on hurting others. We normally split the difference.

For example: racist election officials. These people are not trying to be awful human beings. It is just that being awful is our way. It worked for our fathers. And our fathers’ fathers. But not to labor the point: and our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.

A group of three graduate students performed an experiment to judge just how awful election officials are. The three — Julie Faller, Noah Nathan, and Ariel White — are undoubtedly awful in their own ways. But the experiment was pretty cool. They created two characters: Greg Walsh and Luis Rodriguez. Then, they sent out email from the two accounts they created for these guys. The email asked for information about what kinds of voter identification they would need at the polls. The only difference in the email messages was that one was from a very white-sounding name and the other from a very brown-sounding name.

The study was a bit more complicated than this. If you want to know more, check out Dylan Matthews’ article on the subject. But all you really need to know is that the election officials were more likely to just ignore the email from Rodriguez. What’s more, when they did reply, the responses were “likelier to be non-informative, less likely to be ‘absolutely accurate,’ and even less likely to take a friendly tone.”

Other researchers have found the same thing regarding people with black sounding names. I don’t think this means that people are blatantly racist. But we are less in control of what we think and do than we normally assume. I know what it’s like to get a lot of email from people you don’t know. And it is easy for stuff to get lost or to at least put off dealing with email. In my case, the only bias I’ve noticed is that if someone writes me a long letter, I will often take a much longer time getting back to them. But it is entirely possible that other factors affect me in more subtle ways.

But this study has made me wonder about my name. Whether people recognize “Moraes” as a Latino name or just some bizarre “other” name, it could affect how people look at my email. Maybe I should change my name. How does “Craig Johnson” sound?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Racist Election Officials

  1. You know what I think of when I see the name Moraes? I think of other names: Jobim, Gilberto, da Silva, Saramago.

    For my part, you go right on being "Frank Moraes." Nothing wrong with that.

  2. I’ve thought about putting Mark on my resume instead of Mary – trying to get ahead in the computer tech world, just to see how many more responses I got, but I never did.
    Thinking on your last name reminds me of the Married W/Children episode where Kelly burns the couch and the guy she gets the replacement from is called Mary, but he keeps pronouncing it maurrae or something.

  3. @May – That would be an interesting experiment. My experience in the high tech world is that the men are very excited to work with women but also afraid. If I had to guess, I’d say the fear would win out and you’d get more interest as Mark. You could also do a "Pat" and give them an androgynous name.

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