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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

 

ED 2015: Illegitimi non emasculatum

by Tom Sullivan

It's five o'clock somewhere, friends say. On the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, it's Election Day somewhere in the United States. Don't you have someplace to be?

If Americans were really as exceptional as we think we are, we might vote at a higher rate than we do. Because as democracies go, we suck [Pew Research]:

Nicholas Stephanopoulos makes the case for compulsory voting for the Atlantic, and for how we might get there in spite of herculean efforts by some to keep us away from the polls:

Compulsory voting isn’t as draconian as it sounds. No one is dragged to the polls against his or her will, and no one is thrown in jail for refusing to cast a ballot. Instead, a modest fine (about $20 in Australia) is levied on people who fail to show up and have no good excuse for their absence. There also isn’t any danger of political speech being compelled—a no-no under the First Amendment. People are free to do what they like with their ballots, including turning them in blank.

To find out what effect compulsory voting has on turnout, I used data from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance to compare participation rates in countries that do and don’t require voting. Between 1945 and 2015, turnout hovered around 85 percent in compulsory voting countries (like Australia, Belgium, and Brazil). But it fell from 75 percent to 65 percent in countries with voluntary voting. Results like these may be why President Obama recently said, “If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country.”

Which is why powerful people don't want you to.

How we get past the poll taxes, the literacy tests, the photo IDs, the Tuesdays, and the T-party Congress, Stephanopoulos suggests, is by making voting compulsory first in the cities. In a blue city in a purple state, say, and by holding city elections on the same day as federal elections:

Why would the city make this switch? Partly to save money; it’s cheaper to administer one election than two or three. Partly because higher participation is itself a democratic good. But also for the sake of partisan advantage. Registered non-voters lean substantially more Democratic than registered voters. If they were required to go to the polls, election outcomes would shift markedly to the left.

At this point, redder jurisdictions would face enormous pressure to follow the blue city’s lead. Not doing so would award the Democrats an electoral bonanza: a surge in turnout in their urban stronghold unmatched by greater participation in suburbs and exurbs. To get a sense of how strong the Republicans’ incentive would be, think back to the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, both of which came down to a single swing state. Bush prevailed in Florida and again in Ohio. But he likely wouldn’t have won if Miami and Columbus had required all their eligible voters to go to the polls.

I like it. One can easily come up with a dozen reasons why this would never work. Stephanopoulos mentions just a few.* But then, you could have said the same about ending slavery, women's suffrage, civil rights, marriage equality, or legalizing marijuana. Eventually, as trends that start in California have a way of migrating east, the federal government would have to follow suit. That is, assuming Roberts court constitutional originalists don't smack down the idea as an infringement of a right they just discovered in the centuries-old text. Courts are already rather selective about the right to be let alone.

Still, a 2012 quote from former Colorado Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon (D-Denver) expresses the gist of the argument for a more perfect democracy:

“We think that voting actually is not just a private vote for the person who gets the vote, but a public good, and that the more people who vote, the more legitimate the elected officials are, and that they represent the actual values of the electorate.”

Don't let the bastards take your vote from you. It is one of the few powers you have left.


* including the fact that in non-Home Rule states, GOP-controlled legislatures can simply prohibit cities from doing this.