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NURSE THE VOTE:

Associated Press had a story last week about a toy creator named Ken Hakuta (known as "Dr. Fad" to kids), whose Adopt-a-Vote campaign aims to give the underage set a real voice in this election:

According to Hakuta... children and parents [could] enter into an agreement pledging that the parents will vote according to their children's preference as long as the children have done their homework.

Right, that's what we need in politics: more pandering. It's bad enough MTV's Rock-the-Vote campaign frantically urges 18-to-30-year-olds, no matter how ignorant, to get to the polls.

Look, voting is a privilege as well as a right and if you don't vote, you should be ashamed of yourself. But the reason you should be ashamed of yourself is that not voting is lazy and idiotic. Should the lazy idiot constituency be encouraged to influence society even more than it already does? Should contemporary parents fool children even more into thinking that the world revolves around them?

In his book "The Vanishing Voter" (based on the Vanishing Voter project at Harvard), Thomas E. Patterson admits tht "in most locations, it takes about as long to drive to the video store and rent a couple of movies" as it does to vote. Yet he agrees with the theory of increasing voter turnout by coddling. Taken to the logical extreme, his solutions -- making Election Day a national holiday; eliminating the Electoral College; keeping polls open even longer -- might include assigning government workers the task of physically carrying citizens to voting booths and then singing them to sleep that night with politically informed lullabies.

Many things in life are hard; voting is not one of them, and parents promising to vote the way their children want in return for finished homework sends a message about as useful as school principals who eat worms if a class improves its grades. In the eternal words of Marge on "The Simpsons," "One person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't."

jenny:
"It's bad enough MTV's Rock-the-Vote campaign frantically urges 18-to-30-year-olds, no matter how ignorant, to get to the polls."

oh, cathy, you are sooooooo right. and isn't it dreadful how MTV has a "voting 101" guide that actually walks users through the american electoral process? i mean, we really don't want those ignorant kids to learn something about their government! all manner of chaos could ensue!
7.19.2004 3:40pm
Michael Williams (mail) (www):
My heart and soul are overflowing with profound agreement. Lazy and ignorant people: please stay home.
7.19.2004 3:45pm
dan reines (mail):
I wouldn't characterize keeping polls open longer or making Election Day a national holiday as somehow "coddling" voters. Sure, voting is easy, particularly when you're a freelance writer who sets her own schedule. But it's a lot less easy when you leave for work at 7:30 in the a.m., get home at about the same time in the evening, and aren't allowed to vote near your office. Make Election Day a national holiday and watch turnout surge. Short of that, at least allow people to vote at whichever polling place happens to be nearby, say, when they're on their lunch break. With these newfangled computer things, is there any reason this can't be done?
7.19.2004 3:51pm
David Nieporent (www):
Jenny, since I assume you're being sarcastic, you're missing the point. Of course it's a good thing to educate kids about voting and the electoral process. But Rock The Vote encourages its target audience to vote even if they don't know anything about the election. There's some sort of strange sentiment among certain advocacy groups that voting for the sake of voting is noble, regardless of whether the voter has any idea what he's doing.

覧覧覧覧覧-

Make Election Day a national holiday and watch turnout surge.

I don't think so. For one thing, there's a big difference between making something a government holiday and requiring that employers give their employees a day off. Unless you do the latter which is going to be awfully expensive and hard to administer who's going to care that it's a holiday?

For another, you'd have to show some evidence that most people who don't vote don't do so because they have to work for the twelve hours or so that the polls are open. I'm sure that's a small segment of the electorate, but not enough to represent a "surge." (Of course, if you know in advance that this is the case, you can always vote absentee.)

As for why your "let people vote on their lunch break" solution can't be implemented, it could 擁f all people worked in the same jurisdictions in which they lived. Or if all elections in the country were centrally administered.
7.19.2004 4:06pm
Jason (www):
"Many things in life are hard; voting is not one of them"

Amen. In fact, it's relatively easy. It's way easier than jogging or registering a vehicle. All this mental energy going into figuring out the absolute easiest voting system for everybody I think is just an absurd waste of time. If you can't punch in between the lines, and read a line of straightforward directions, I don't particularly want your policy analysis forming the world i live in. In fact, I think ballots should get trickier, with big flashing lights saying "this candidate is a liar!" and "punch here to start making money now!" in order to form a healthier democracy. lol.
7.19.2004 4:20pm
jenny:
David,

But Rock The Vote encourages its target audience to vote even if they don't know anything about the election.


actually, it appears that rock the vote (have you checked out their website?) is trying to get young adults involved in and aware of the political process. i hardly see why that is such a bad thing. if our schools aren't providing the civics education they should be, what's so horrific about MTV doing it?

i can't find a single spot where rock the vote says, "you don't know anything? don't bother to learn! just step into the booth, flick a switch, and pull the lever!" (oh, how i personally long for the old-style RI voting booths. who knows what agony awaits me this year in virginia...)

There's some sort of strange sentiment among certain advocacy groups that voting for the sake of voting is noble...


trying to cure youth apathy about the political, social, and economic future of the country is, in my mind, a very noble cause. if it takes working with musicians and entertainers to get kids interested, what's wrong with that?

regardless of whether the voter has any idea what he's doing.


you know, that argument has a familiar ring to it... oh, wait. i remember. it was used to justify keeping women from voting! and blacks!
7.19.2004 4:25pm
dan reines (mail):
The only evidence I have that voter turnout is suppressed by long workdays or other logistical conflicts is anectodal that is, it's true for me, and I'm sure I'm not alone. I generally make it out to vote, but it's an effort, especially when I've just spent an hour on the freeway after ten hours at work and another hour of driving in the morning. At that point, my wife stays home with our sleeping daughter while I walk around the corner to the elementary school, then I do the same for her. We usually get in just under the wire擁t really isn't the same as stopping by the video store to rent "Freaks and Geeks." Again, I speak for myself only, but I suspect others are in the same boat.

Which is why I don't think it's "coddling" to look for a way to make it easier to get to the polls. Regarding the difficulty of enforcing a holiday, point taken葉hough that still seems to me to be a matter of Would it work?, not Is it worth it?

But perhaps you can explain further the problem with voting away from a home district? I mean, couldn't different jurisdictions share their databases? I'm envisioning a process in which I go to whatever polling place is nearby and give the pollworker my name and address. They access a database, and their computer prints up (or puts onscreen, if that system is certified) the same ballot that I'd get if I went to the elementary school around the corner from my house.

I understand that there would be problems of logistics and security that would need to be worked out, but doesn't it seem like that would be worth the effort? If it's constitutionally unviable, can you explain that? I may read a legal blog, but I'm no lawyer.
7.19.2004 4:29pm
Brock Sides (mail) (www):
Taken to the logical extreme, his solutions making Election Day a national holiday; eliminating the Electoral College; keeping polls open even longer

Umm... So what does eliminating the Electoral College have to do with "coddling" voters?

Of all the arguments I've heard for (and against) eliminating the Electoral College, I've never heard anyone claim that it inconveniences voters.
7.19.2004 5:24pm
asg (mail):
"jenny" Exhibit A in the case "Why the Volokhs Were Right Not to Have Comments."
7.19.2004 5:34pm
Daniel:
Yeah, its so hard to get out and vote. Especially going the route of absentee voting by mail. I'm grateful for the effort and sacrifices of our founding generations and all, but jeez, to actually have to bubble in the form and (gasp!) seal the envelope and mail it? Its just too much sometimes.

Nevermind the reality that passing a basic civics test should be required for voter registration. If you don't know how many branches of government there are, and there roles, should you really participate in the electoral process?
7.19.2004 5:44pm
Lucas Wiman (mail):
I don't see how eliminating the electoral college is coddling to voters. Because of it, I can be assured that my vote will never count at all. I already know that Kerry is going to win Illinois; I will be quite shocked if he doesn't. Whether he'll win the nation is something I don't know, but my vote won't influence that one way or the other. This means that the only way my vote matters is if I vote for a third party as a "protest vote". I'm not ridiculously enthusiastic about Badnarik, and I'm certainly not going to vote for Nader. So what, exactly, is the purpose of my voting in the presidential race. In terms of congressional races, Obama is almost certain to win (after the Jack Ryan scandal and his subsequent dropping out), and Tim Johnson is not up for reelection. That leaves state senators and local elections, and even there I've never seen a state senator (in Illinois at least) who is substantially in favor of smaller government. This means that *all* of my possible electoral choices would be protest votes or totally worthless.

Perhaps I should be ashamed of myself, but I think I'd rather rent those movies.
7.19.2004 6:04pm
Philip:
The entire argument of this post seems quite muddled to me. Someone would have to properly characterize the degree of ignorance tolerable in casting an "informed vote" to then say that being ignorant or uninformed is an undesirable situation. That, it seems to me, presupposes some rational valuation of voting, which I doubt anyone can construct. It's doubtful that rock the vote people, "no matter how ignorant," are voting randomly. Thus they have some valuation system for choosing their candidate.

Without a rational valuation of voting, then, the argument seems to reduce to "their values are different from mine, and therefore they shouldn't vote."

As an aside, regarding the issue of voting where you work rather than where you live, one of the Federalist papers dealt with this subject (Hamilton, as I recall), but I don't recall the number, and there doesn't seem to be a good synopses of the papers on the web that I could find. Does anyone know which it is?
7.19.2004 6:09pm
Carl Keller (mail):
Dan, my heart bleeds for you. I get up at 4am on election day to get to the poll by 5am so that it can be open at 6am for people to vote. We don't close until 7pm. Your poll is close to your home. Just leave 15 - 30 minutes early one day a year.
Carl Keller
7.19.2004 6:12pm
dan reines (mail):
Carl, I'm not asking for sympathy. And like I said, I do manage to make it to the polls despite the inconvenience. I just don't quite see why it can't be made easier--or why making it easier amounts to "coddling" voters. The hardest thing about voting ought to be choosing sides, not getting to the polls.
7.19.2004 6:26pm
Phil (mail):
Look, the point of a democracy is that any citizen's vote is as good as any other's, no matter how lazy and idiotic Cathy Seipp happens to believe that person to be. A corollary to that is that interested parties are free to attempt to mobilize any group of voters they please, even the stupid-and-lazy vote. Barriers to voting, no matter how inconsequential they may be to Cathy Seipp--renting a movie is not a trivial exercise for someone reliant on city buses and living in an economically depressed neighborhood--therefore have no place in a democracy; this is why we now have such things as multi-lingual ballots, which no doubt would have horrified our illustrious and elitist forefathers. Giving Cathy Seipp the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she's not expressing a desire to live in an oligarchy, therefore assuming that she's not seriously attempting to dissuade political organizations from turning out their constituencies, what is left of her post? Only someone who imagines herself to belong to a better class of person bemoaning the existence of the rabble. How incredibly boring; you can get that brand of tripe at any number of blogs written by self-absorbed self-aggrandizing angst-bunnies (cf. Williams, Michael).
7.19.2004 6:31pm
neil:
Very good idea, Cathy. I agree entirely: the lazy and stupid must be prevented from voting. And the young. And people who can't pay a poll tax. And immigrants. And blacks. And women. And those who don't own land. Yes, and then we would truly have a great and wonderful Democracy.
7.19.2004 6:35pm
Josh_Jasper (mail):
Australia has a system under which you're fined if you fail to vote. I'm becoming more and more in favor of that idea, at least for national and statewide elections. An absentee ballot isn't hard to aquire.
7.19.2004 7:12pm
jag (mail):
Want more people to vote? Make it MORE difficult and something "exclusive". Then people will feel "special" about participating in the experience.
People who think that the voting process should be dumbed down to the lowest possible common denominator of laziness should ask themselves; would they want people as lazy as this making decisions for their families or their businesses? Should a democracy cater to the laziest simply to up another "feel good" statistic?
Tell America to show up at a given time, with registration and documentation of identity or forget it and they will come out in droves....as long as it appears they might be "deprived" in some way.
7.19.2004 9:21pm
amliebsch:
I think it is a pretty sad statement that the very idea that the ignorant shouldn't vote (as opposed to being prevented from voting) is, to some people, beyond the pale.
7.20.2004 12:31am
DZ:
Well, amliebsch, who exactly is ignorant? Someone who can't name the three branches of government? Someone who hasn't graduated college? Someone who hasn't read Burke and Mill? Everyone is clearly ignorant of something, to varying degrres, so I don't think "the ignorant shouldn't vote" is a valid or even possible statement. If the point of voting is to further your own self-interest, do the ignorant not have that right? Or do they not know what their own self-interest is, by virtue of being ignorant?

Absentee voting would be a pretty good cure-all except that absentee ballots are discarded by the thousands on various technicalities. Maybe if that system were improved, we'd be in business, but barring that if often remains a hit-or-miss process (especially in highly rural areas).
7.20.2004 12:50am
Lonsdale:
Heinlein had a few good ideas.. One of them was something like this: Make people pay 20 dollars to vote, and before voting they would have to take a basic math test or whatnot. If they fail, they lose their 20 dollars and can't vote.
Democracy is rather inefficient as it is, if you must have it you might as well limit the voting to people who have some clue. Elitism is underrated. At the very least it would stop a lot of the mtv kids and their older equivalents from voting.
7.20.2004 1:34am
kc2ixe:
Dan,
Voting is easy for those of us who work too - I leave for work at 6:00am every day, on on election days, I usually don't get home to the next day (I work for the media helping with the coverage) - Get up early and VOTE. I'm usually the 1st voter at my polling place - I'm there before the polls open at 6:00am. Too hard? Use an absentee ballot
7.20.2004 9:15am
dan reines (mail):
kc2ixe,

I think you and Carl are missing my point. I wasn't looking for good advice as to how to find my way to the polls. I do vote, thank you -- as I explained in two posts.

All I'm saying is that it could be much, much more convenient. If I could choose the polling place closest to my office, or the daycare, or the dry cleaners, then it would be an awful lot easier to vote. Not just for me, but for everyone. And I think that would result in a significant increase in voter turnout. I'm not sure that increased voter turnout would make everyone in here happy, but it seems to be a goal that many embrace.
7.20.2004 12:22pm
Theofanis Lekkas (mail):
I would like to echo the sentiment of Lucas Wiman. I also live in Illinois. Outside of Jack Ryan I am pretty much discouraged by the choices presented to me. Now that Jack Ryan has been forced out by vested interests, what exactly is my motivation to vote? Should I compromise my beliefs in order to say that I voted? I think not, I may just submit an empty ballot as a protest of sorts or a vote against all the candidates.
As far as being a democracy, we are not. We are a democratic federal republic (thank you John C. Calhoun for the description.) We have democratic institutions that allow us to choose our representatives. We are not, however, a democracy. It was never the intention for this nation to be a democracy. Democracies vote directly on all policy matters and vote directly on who occupies each public office (not merely senators, reps., and Pres.)
7.20.2004 2:15pm
Sigivald (mail):
Brilliant, Neil. Cathy apparently argues that maybe only those who are willing to take a tiny bit of effort to vote should do so, and suddenly she must want to remove the ability of everyone that isn't a rich white male to vote.

That follows, doesn't it?

Democracy (such as we have one; as Mr. Lekkas notes, the US is not "a democracy") may not be best served by making voting the easiest thing in the universe to do; this does not imply that arbitrary groups should be disenfranchised, and I find it difficult to believe you could honestly get any other message from what Mrs. (Ms.? Miss?) Seipp wrote.

Phil: While all votes "count" equally, why should it be that effort and expense should be expended to get people who do not care enough to vote to do so? Is there some magical principle I'm missing that makes their obviously otherwise worthless to them votes so important that they must be garnered? I've personally considered that the best thing one can do if one doesn't care about the outcome of a vote, or doesn't know which way to vote, is to not vote.

Random "because I can" voting might make someone feel good, but it's not very good at doing what voting is for, which is presenting a picture of the thoughtful desires and preferences of the electorate.

All the "easier" I think would be helpful would be vote-by-mail in every state - it works nicely enough here in Oregon. No need for another federal holiday. (A holiday? Nobody working? For something that takes 10-15 minutes in person or 5 by mail? That's a great idea.)
7.20.2004 2:34pm
rounsav (mail):
In Texas, there is Early Voting. For a week or so, One may vote at Shopping Malls and at other places. I use it most of the time and find it very convenient. If you are going to be "out of pocket" vote absentee. Or vote to change the law so "early voting" is convenient in your state.
7.20.2004 3:06pm
neil:
Sigivald, I feel it does follow, because "ignorance" as laid out in Cathy's post is just as subjective, inaccurate and unfair a measurement as any of those which I listed. I didn't make any attempt at a substantive argument because other people had thoroughly demolished her point by the time I got to it.

Here's a question for Cathy, though. Would the country be a better place if all the fools who believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stayed home on Election Day out of shame of their ignorance? Should we discourage these dangerously gullible people from influencing society any more than they have to? And if this isn't a qualifying example of ignorance, could you please propose one that is?
7.20.2004 4:09pm
Handy:
Cathy wrote "...if you don't vote, you should be ashamed of yourself. But the reason you should be ashamed of yourself is that not voting is lazy and idiotic."

Four points.
1 I kinda doubt that this is Cathy's most deeply-held political conviction.

2 The above supports the Rock The Vote argument, does it not? i.e. : not voting per se is simply dumb.

2 Strictly speaking, isn't the above an example of petitio principi? Laziness and idiocy are not caused by non-voting. The latter is a symptom of the former.

4 This is my first visit to these pages (I'll be back). The bottom line is that the State shouldn't discriminate between the qualifications of its potential electors, and nor should it prefer the interests of those who turn out on polling day.
7.21.2004 11:12am
Xrlq (mail) (www):
I disagree that not voting is lazy and idiotic. Not educating yourself well enough to cast an intelligent vote is lazy and idiotic. That's the part to be ashamed of, not the part about not voting. Not voting is the one thing the lazy and the idiotic generally do RIGHT.
7.22.2004 7:35pm