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You must be at least this interested to vote

Earlier, I wrote a piece about Boston being sued for not doing all they should to help people who don't speak English well to vote. That started an interesting discussion, and got me thinking again about a subject I've given a bit of thought over the years: voter turnout.

As a philosophical principle, I have decided that I don't like high voter turnout, don't like efforts to more easily register voters, don't like efforts to get more people to show up and vote. I loathe some ideas that have been floated for increasing voter turnout, such as making it mandatory or paying people to show up and vote.

Harlan Ellison once opined that "Everyone is not entitled to an opinion. Everyone is entitled to an informed opinion."

Under the 1st Amendment, we all have the right to say whatever we like (within a few reasonable exceptions, of course). But that has seemingly involved to "I have a right to say whatever I like, and you don't have the right to argue with me or contradict me, or you're trying to suppress my right to speak."

As the old saying goes, "the best answer to bad speech is more speech." I don't support dealing with people who say stupid things by shutting them up. I prefer to either ignore them or confront them and demonstrate exactly how and why they're wrong.

What does this have to do with voting? Voting is expressing an opinion. It's the most fundamental way we can state just how we want our government to function. And it's the single most important duty of any citizen.

With that in mind, I don't think something that powerful should be pushed on people. It OUGHT to take a little effort to vote. It ought to be a self-selecting process, where only those who care enough about the issues to do their homework, to put the effort in ahead of time to register and show up to vote. Because if you don't want to take the time to discover how to register, actually register, and then show up to vote on election day, then you shouldn't vote.

That's why I get exasperated at such efforts as "motor-voter bills" and registering people to vote when they sign up for public benefits. It makes it too easy.

I don't have a problem with voter-registration drives, though. Those are put together by groups outside of the government, usually with an eye towards garnering support for a party or cause. Those, at least, have a concrete goal beyond "getting more people to vote."

I take my right to vote very seriously. And when I haven't done my homework and don't understand an issue or don't know a damned thing about the candidates, I simply skip that one. I'll leave it up to the people who have done their homework; I won't cancel one of their informed votes with my ignorance.

My ideal would be for voter registration to be open all year at the town or city clerk's office, during regular business hours. If you want to vote, find a time when you can go down and do so. If a group wants to hold a voter-registration drive, they can pay for the clerk's office to send some officials and paperwork to the rally. I'd abolish "motor voter" laws and any other program that allows people to "bundle" voter registration with any other government registration program.

The best defense against tyranny is an informed electorate. And the greatest threat to democracy is, as P. J. O'Rourke pointed out, the point where 51% of the electorate realizes they can screw over the other 49% with impunity. We have a great deal of protections for the rights of the minority in our Constitution and laws, but they can't prevent them all.


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Comments (16)

In the early 80's there was... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

In the early 80's there was a disc jockey in West Texas that commented after a "Vote as you please, but please vote." PSA that it should have said, "please educate yourself sufficiently to make an informed choice". He was fired less than a week later for saying it. All 9 democrats in the county showed up and picketed because this comment was somehow an attack on minorities (democrats in this case) and insulted their intelligence. He didn't make suggestions of who they should vote for. The same thing would probably happen today if a Rock the Vote spokesman said the same thing. What those PSA's really mean is "go vote like we say, don't bother to learn any facts". I've always wanted to ask them why they assumed he was advising only democrats to learn a little something before they voted instead of telling everyone they should.

The point of motor voter la... (Below threshold)
Angela:

The point of motor voter laws is to make it easier for people who maybe don't have the time to go stand in line at yet another office, or the mobility to go easily do so. Without such laws many people (those juggling multiple jobs, captive transit riders, etc.) would be disenfranchised.

I couldn't stand the ad cam... (Below threshold)

I couldn't stand the ad campaigns during the last election, getting people to vote. I don't like feeling like I'm being forced into something. Once I feel like I'm being forced, I will refuse to participate at all, just because.

"only those who care enough... (Below threshold)
Ben:

"only those who care enough about the issues to do their homework" is the key phrase for me.

With the rise of the internet some kind of coherent voter decision support system, as suggested by Dr. Scott P Robertson of Drexel University should be evolving.

Yet it is not. My observation is that political leaders, specifically on the right, do not want more people involved in the process.

The logic is clear - the more people involved - the greater the difficulty to control. Raise the threshold of emotional convenience for people to participate and you get apathy. How many people feel completely comfortable about opposing a priest or other religious leader on issues?

Which side of the political spectrum is more likely to use a holy pulpit as a bully pulpit?

Angela, those same people f... (Below threshold)

Angela, those same people find time somehow to register their motor vehicles, file tax forms, and pay their traffic tickets. They can find time to register to vote.

Don't throw the tired old "disenfranchised" argument around. It doesn't fly.

I personally think people should re-register every four years, to keep the voting rolls up to date.

Of course, the no-brainer regarding election reform would be to require someone to produce proof of identification before they cast a vote. Democrats oppose that too, under the "disenfranchisement" meme. The national voter ID card would be the most straightforward way to do this, and a renewal every four years would be very easy to implement.

Two thoughts (neither of th... (Below threshold)
Toby928:

Two thoughts (neither of them mine)

I think it was George Will who said, some years ago, That low voter turnout in a society was a sign of political health. The reasoning being that non-voters trust their fellow citizens not to impose an intolerable burden upon them. When there is broad aggreement in the polity, there is less incentive or need to vote.

Point two, regarding an 'informed opinion', I think it was Joe Sobran (curse his articulate but anti-semitic soul) who said that 'man is a reasoning creature, not a reason giving creature'. By this he meant that even an inarticulate opinion is a valid opinion. (I read that as 'Trust your predjudices' until proven wrong) I will give the benefit of the doubt to the voter as to his informedness.

Tob

Hmmmm.Ok here's a ... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmmm.

Ok here's a question.

Who is so bad at english that they are:

1. Citizens
2. Eligible to vote

???

Isn't basic proficiency with english still necessary to get naturalised? And how much english do you need to vote? Most political ads aren't run just in english, many of them also include whatever local languages are used too.

So who, in BOSTON, is a CITIZEN and is ELIGIBLE TO VOTE and somehow incapable of voting?

Or are we talking about illegal aliens here?

Why gee, I would've thought... (Below threshold)
Vanshalar:

Why gee, I would've thought it's the other way around. Sure, the more people involved, the more difficult it is to control, but whose side does that really benefit? As exhibit A I bring you the blogosphere -- both its impact on media in general as well as its stratification among the different political tendencies.

The more people are involved, the more people are willing to actually discuss and study the issues in depth instead of just listening to sound bites because they're only tangentially interested in voting.

My economics professor said that people not voting (within limits) actually is a good thing, because it means that people are sufficiently satisfied with their life and how things are going that they feel the difference between the candidates' positions are not reason enough to vote. Lots of people voting means lots of heated opinions.

Ben,All the church... (Below threshold)

Ben,

All the churches I went to during the 2004 election kept completely silent on the issue for fear of losing their tax-exempt status.

Really, with people like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton running amok, why should we little church people be allowed to speak on an issue without fear of punishment?

I have to agree. The numbe... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

I have to agree. The number of people who vote uninformed bothers me (even when they are voting the way I would).

I am not totally opposed to moter voter type laws, you have to register someplace, but what I don't like is the insistence by those on the left that simple things like requiring voters to show a picture ID and their registration card is somehow voter suppression. Um no, looking to suppress the non citizen and dead voter block is good citizenship.

An easy poll test: who was ... (Below threshold)
mesablue:

An easy poll test: who was the first President of the United States. If they can't answer that, no way they should get to vote.

Unfortunately that would rule out half of the people under 21. Most of them don't vote anyway, but at least the really stupid ones would be stopped from keeping the Green party alive.

/sarcasm off

'Without such laws many peo... (Below threshold)
LOSER:

'Without such laws many people (those juggling multiple jobs, captive transit riders, etc.) would be disenfranchised.'

They're not disenfranchised. If they're too lazy to register to vote then they're LOSERS. They didn't lose their right to vote, they weren't prevented from voting they're either too lazy or it isn't a priority for them.

Hey Ben: Remember John Ker... (Below threshold)
BorgQueen:

Hey Ben: Remember John Kerry, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami (Oct. 10 2004)? And that the church's pastor, Rev. Gaston Smith, introduced Kerry as the 'next President of the United States?' AND that said pastor even referred to Kerry at one point as 'President?'

Oops.

"those same people find tim... (Below threshold)
Leslie:

"those same people find time somehow to register their motor vehicles, file tax forms, and pay their traffic tickets. They can find time to register to vote."

If you don't make the time to do those things, you face fines &/or imprisonment. So you MAKE time. If you have limited time you're gonna do those things first. The comparison w/registering to vote is flawed.

It's not about being lazy either.

I've thought for a long tim... (Below threshold)

I've thought for a long time we need to add something like a multiple-choice question next to the selection for each candidate and issue on the ballot.

For candidates, something like "This candidate supports xxx", with 3 wrong and 1 correct choice. Votes for the candidate with incorrect answers don't count.

- As an aside I've noticed ... (Below threshold)

- As an aside I've noticed its usually the party who thinks they're losing that start caterwalling about voter turnout, shortly after they mount voter irregularity claims and demand recounts. Actually come to think of it the loser libs were so convinced they would get dumped in the last election they started early, way before election day. But thats not whats funny. Whats funny is that in almost every instance when they got their "recounts" or "investigations" or whatever, BushMcChimpy ended up with MORE votes than before. Lets see. They bombed and trashed voter offices, broke arms, slashed tires, issued as many lies as the liberal MSM could print, published a bogus exit poll with the help of that same liberal press/TV, and demanded more investigations and recounts than Madonna has bras. What's left. Reading the angry, mindless rants by the resident trolls maybe we shouldn't ask.....




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