Public disservice

Overblown reactions to minor mistakes can discourage office-seekers

Whatever Lee Benedict is – political gadfly, conservative flamethrower, fly in the party ointment – he’s hardly a criminal.

Why are they treating him like one?

The politically overactive Columbia Countian acted out of overzealousness, certainly, and perhaps whimsy when he used a cell phone July 11 to photograph his own name on the electronic ballot while voting early in the July 31 primary. He posted the photo on Facebook and another platform or two.

It was a lark, and no doubt a bit of self-promotion.

It also was quite illegal, owing to a ban on both cell phone and camera use in voting places. You need not imagine why the law is needed. It is.

But it seems to us that Benedict could have simply been notified of his innocuous blunder and been allowed to rectify it. It would’ve been easily done.

It appears a critic thought it would be more fun to cast a net instead.

So the county Board of Elections held a meeting and turned the matter over to the sheriff’s department for investigation. The district attorney’s office will now decide whether to prosecute him for the misdemeanor.

That would be penny unwise and pound-of-flesh foolish.

This was a harmless violation. A strongly worded letter and a furrowed brow would have been enough. Benedict feels bad enough as it is.

Unfortunately, once a complaint is made, elections officials probably don’t have the discretion to let someone off with a warning.

Prosecutors do have that choice. We hope they take it in this case and decline to prosecute.

The reason: We have a hard enough time convincing good people to run for office already. Between the news media and the nasty dealings of political operatives, public service has become an unnecessarily unpleasant chore. We need not make it more so by treating each other like underhanded criminals when we make the least little mistake, particularly out of sheer fancy.

Besides, Benedict’s offense is no more offensive, indeed mark-
edly less so, than the illegal posters placed on telephone poles or the candidate yard signs put in the public’s right of way. Who’s getting rung up for that?

Politicians like to raise funds with an occasional fish fry. Well, in this case there are a lot bigger fish to fry.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon