Nov 9, 2012

Science wins small symbolic victory in Georgia vote

A bit of a political protest is becoming apparent as the ballots are tallied in one North Georgia congressional district: a protest on behalf of science.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Charles Darwin received nearly 4,000 write-in votes in one of the 24 counties that make up the state's 10th Congressional District, where the unopposed Republican incumbent had declared the theory of evolution to be the work of Satan. How many write-in votes went to Darwin in the 23 other counties of the district is not clear, as not all of the counties report write-ins, yet the symbolic protest was sizable enough to attract the attention of national news outlets and, Darwin supporters hope, attract a real challenger to the race in 2014. 

Broun's broad dismissal of science -- from evolution to the Big Band to embryology -- at a political rally in a Baptist church was especially inflammatory because he sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. In the viedo released by the church, Broun stood in front of a wall of mounted deer heads, and said that science was opposed to the Bible, which is the "manufacturer's handbook."

Echoing the ideas of Christian Theonomists such as R.J. Rushdooney, who taught that the world is divided into four spheres and that God is king of all four, Broun explained that science is a blasphemous attempt to displace God. He told the audience he doesn't accept the authority of science, but of the Bible, which "teaches us how to run our lives, individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions for how I vote in Washington D.C."

The brouhaha that followed the congressman's version of theocratic government was turned into a symbolic protest at the polls, last week, in part due to the work of a UGA professor. 

Jim Thompson of the Athens Banner-Herald reports:
"A campaign asking voters to write-in Darwin’s name in the 10th Congressional District, which includes half of Athens-Clarke County, began after Broun, speaking at a sportsmen’s banquet at a Hartwell church, called evolution and other areas of science 'lies straight from the pit of hell.'

"Jim Leebens-Mack, the University of Georgia plant biologist who started a 'Darwin for Congress' Facebook page in the wake of Broun’s remarks, said the number of Darwin votes cast in the race were 'in the ballpark, a little bit more' than he had expected.

"The Darwin votes, Leebens-Mack added, made it 'clear to me, and I hope everybody, that Paul Broun is vulnerable' in terms of continued re-election to Congress. Broun was first elected in a special 2007 election, and won re-election in 2008, 2010 and again on Tuesday in a newly drawn 10th District, reconfigured as part of congressional reapportionment." 
Broun won re-election fairly easily, though, garnering more than 200,000 votes in his district, more than he won in 2006, 2008 or 2010. 

Even in 2008, in the context of the massive turn-out for Democrats inspired by Barack Obama's first election, Broun managed a decisive win. The Democratic challenger Bobby Saxon won only about 39 percent of the vote.

Nevertheless, the write-in votes can be read as a core of opposition to Broun, or to conservative evangelical candidates more generally, even in the deeply Republican districts of deeply Republican states like Georgia.

The Flagpole, the University of Georgia Athens paper, reports that in addition to the votes for Darwin, there were about 2,000 other write-in votes in the congressional race in Athens-Clarke County. Another 23,000 voters reportedly ignored that part of the ballot entirely.

Other write-in votes from those dissatisfied with Broun included votes for: "Carl" Marx, Burning Bag of Dog Shit, Doritos, Michael Stipe, Ron Paul, Satan, Stephen Colbert, and Taylor Swift. A fictitious candidate from a previous protest against Broun, "Pete McCommunist," also won more than 100 write-in votes. An actual person who also ran a write-in campaign, Brian Russell Brown, won 238 votes.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has come out in opposition of teaching creationism to children and slammed Broun for his anti-science statements, also won some of the one county's write-in votes.

Not all of the opposition to Broun, notably, was from the left. Georgia's libertarian-leaning talk show host Neil Bortz, who's most significant political foray to date was probably promoting fellow Georgian Herman Cain, came out strongly in opposition to Broun. Bortz said Republicans like Broun were "hurting the brand," making the party look like it consisted of un-evolved Neanderthals and redneck hicks.

The radio show host encouraged listeners to write-in Darwin.

The coalition of libertarians, UGA faculty and students and others who want their government officials to accept science didn't carry the day, in North Georgia, but the small symbolic protest was nonetheless noted when they went to the polls in Athens-Clarke County.