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Hummel Column: None of your business

By the time you read this, you will know all the results of the Nov. 4 election. But as I write, the voting will take place tomorrow and I don't know what the results will be. Today the pollsters think they know how we will all vote -- broken down into all categories the mind of man can conceive: men, women, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, young, middle age, old, blue collar, white collar, urban, rural, eastern, midwestern, western, southern, wealthy, middle class, poor, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Evangelical, college educated, high school graduates -- and that's not the end of the list.

Most of these polls are based on asking people how they intend to vote or, in the case of exit polling, how they just voted. Then they ask further questions to put the voters into categories. And -- the people answer.

Nobody has ever called me to ask how I intend to vote or how I just voted, but I can tell you what my answer would be: None of your business. I could be an oddball on this subject, but I believe in the secret ballot, and how I vote is a private matter when a stranger (or most anyone else) asks me.

I just witnessed a friendly conversation between two people who were becoming acquainted and having a friendly talk:

Q. Do you plan to vote tomorrow?

A. Yes, definitely.

Q. And will you be voting Democrat/Republican?

A. (With a big smile) Maybe. In other words: I'm not telling -- none of your business.

I am uncomfortable with the excessive accumulation of voter detail and voting habits. It seems to me to be the first sign of manipulation, and I don't see political manipulation as a healthy development. Freedom and manipulation are not on the same menu.

Exit polling bugs me most. Why should people tell who they just voted for on a secret ballot? What is most offensive about exit polling is that the networks then broadcast projections. The projections are not based on actual votes counted, but on what voters have just told them. And the projections from the east will be broadcast before the voting is completed in the west. So the "projected" results from, say, Delaware and New Jersey may very well be on the air while the polls are still open in the west, like California. By the time the polls close in the far western states like Alaska and Hawaii, the presidential winner may already have been announced. I like my news as early as possible, but there is such a thing as too early.

The trouble is, as I see it, the marketing forces out there -- whether they are political parties, auto makers, Saks Fifth Avenue, Wal-Mart or cereal makers -- want to "peg" all possible consumers and tailor the marketing process to our demographic pigeon holes. They do that by observing our buying habits, but even when we buy a camera they want us to fill out a card that tells our age, occupation, and -- if we fill out the card -- our income.

The second part of the problem is that most of us are all too willing to share our private data. We not only give answers to pollsters, we fill out cards when we buy watches and provide information when we sign up for drawings. By now, there's probably some marketer out there who knows more about my buying profile and habits than I know about myself. That may be OK with you, but I'm not comfortable with it -- I resent it. I would prefer not to be in the cross hairs of somebody's computer program.

But why should it be surprising that folks share private matters? They go on TV shows and spill the most intimate details of their lives, details that should be embarrassing. They write books about past husbands and lovers. No detail seems too private to share. In most cases, nobody has to ask to get the information -- it gushes forth from total strangers sitting side by side, wherever it is that strangers end up side by side: planes, trains, buses, restaurants, bars or wherever.

So please respect my privacy, and I'll respect yours. Don't ask me who I voted for, don't ask me about my income, don't ask about my sex life, don't ask how much I paid for my lawn mower and don't ask me about my divorce. Don't tell me your secrets, because they're none of my business, and I won't tell you mine -- because they're none of yours.