Sunday, October 28, 2012

Election Day should be a Big Disruptive Deal

on line to vote.jpg
Does this look like voter suppression?

Phil Keisling, a former Secretary of State for Oregon -- that means he ran the state's electoral apparatus -- thinks he has the answer to raising voter turnout. And he is certain he knows that what impedes voting:

In 48 states, there’s a far more effective voter suppression strategy than requiring photo IDs at the polls. It’s requiring polling places, period.

In 1998, Oregon voters decided to abolish these Norman Rockwell-esque patheons to civic virtue - and force the government to send their ballots directly to them. (Washington switched fully to this system in 2012).

The result? Consistently high - often, the nation’s highest - turn out rates of registered voters. If all 50 states used this system, at least 20 million additional votes could be cast nationwide each two-year election cycle- and perhaps as many as 50 million.

While I don't doubt having the government send a ballot to registered voters increases turnout, especially among people who would probably vote anyway, I wish enthusiasts like Mr. Keisling would acknowledge the weakness implicit in this, called by some political scientists "convenience voting."

First off: note that important word registered. That's where the true voter suppression takes place: citizens are forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops (of smaller or lesser extent depending on the politics of their state and locality) just to get into the registered voting pool. If you are a citizen, you should be able to vote. Period. More on this topic here.

Also, universal vote-by-mail -- and universal vote-from-your-home-computer when it arrives as I am sure it will -- undermines the experience of collective civic participation that is central to democratic citizenship. If voting is something we do alone, whenever we get around to it, how much sense of solidarity do we feel with our community, with all that messy, sometimes fractious, group of folks who make up our democratic polity? Not much.

The era of highest turnout in U.S. history was the latter half of the 19th century when

political machines created grassroots organizations to mobilize their supporters. While much of the folklore about this era focuses on the abuses of voting buying and other corruption, it is instructive to understand that modern political scientists regard these sorts of grassroots organizations as the most effective means by which to get people to vote.

There wasn't any convenience voting in those days: people had to be got to polls on Election Day. The day itself was a Big Disruptive Deal! Some jurisdictions closed the bars; others opened them early. Nobody thought citizenship, doing the voting thing, was a minor inconvenience in what was otherwise a normal work day.

If we were serious about democratic participation, Election Day would be a holiday. We would create civic festivals to celebrate our enthusiasm for our democratic exercise of the franchise. Want a parade? March around on Election Day. We would also implement universal, adult citizen voter registration. We might even imitate the Australians who fine (lightly) people who don't vote (though it is perfectly legal for individuals to secretly spoil their ballots if they don't like the choices.)

Voting shouldn't only be made easier -- it should be made more universal, more collective, more prominent in our lives. (That's not the same as saying we should be more afflicted by campaign ads. After a fairly low bar, those are about how much money campaigns can corral, not about democracy.) When a voting reform is suggested, let's stop looking at whether it can "increase turnout" and look, instead, at whether it aims toward increased civic participation. If it doesn't increase social solidarity -- the awareness we are all part of the same diverse country -- it is not about democratic reform. It is just tinkering at the edges.
Off to another day of getting out the vote for Prop. 34.

1 comment:

Rain Trueax said...

Oregon voted in an election to determine it would go to vote by mail. Majority ruled. I actually voted against it because I enjoyed going down to the polling place here-- no long lines generally; but my mother had long since gone to absentee because as an old woman with limited vision, she liked having the time at home to be sure she got it right.

As for the community aspect, we talk it over with each other, read the sizable voter pamphlet, discuss the pros and cons and did it with our kids as well as each other. We had also some complicated ballot measures including legalizing pot as well as tax changes.

I didn't favor vote by mail, but I do now. I also think that when someone gets a social security card, which happens to most as babies, they'd get a voter registration card. This would work for citizens then with the mailing to the same address, it makes sure you are still where you said until you move and change it.

It's not just about convenience or lack of. It's about doing it; and if more do it, I think it's a plus. A lot of citizens in other states are getting absentee ballots even without the system we have.

I also like that we have a paper ballot which I trust more than the machines where some states now have no paper trail to do any recount or if there is a supicion of fraud. We mark ours with a pen or pencil. Old fashioned, no hanging chads, but it feels good. I am happy we could do it early and get it done.

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