We are hip-deep in our quadrennial passion for Get out the Vote activities–from politicians to rock musicians, everyone’s reminding us of the importance of casting a ballot. It’s a nice sentiment, but have you ever wondered how things would change if we really believed that everyone should vote?
We are hip-deep in our quadrennial passion for “Get out the Vote” activities—from politicians to rock musicians, everyone’s reminding us of the importance of casting a ballot.
It’s a nice sentiment, but have you ever wondered how things would change if we really believed that everyone should vote?
We would start by reforming our process so that everyone’s vote counted—beginning with our “winner take all” Electoral College system. There are pros and cons to the Electoral College itself, but there really is no reasonable argument for keeping the system used by most states, which awards all of that state’s electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. In Indiana, even in the unlikely event that John Kerry were to get 49.9% of our popular vote, every one of Indiana’s electoral votes would still be cast for George W. Bush. That’s a powerful message to Kerry voters in Indiana—or Bush voters in California—and the message is: stay home.
There is no constitutional reason to use a winner-take-all system; Nebraska and Maine allocate their votes, and Colorado is in the process of deciding whether to do likewise. The decision is left up to each state. Failing to count losers’ votes while you are telling everyone how important voting is sends a decidedly mixed message.
Then there’s gerrymandering—with today’s computers, it’s an art form. Both parties draw boundaries that cram the other party’s voters into the fewest possible districts, while awarding themselves “safe” ones. As a result, we have fewer and fewer real contests—and most of those we do have are in the primary. Talk about disincentives for voter participation. “Come out and vote for the candidate who is for all intents and purposes unopposed!” lacks something as a slogan. It’s another mixed message.
We did get rid of the Poll Tax—the mechanism that in the bad old days kept “undesirables” from voting. Or did we? A recent report by the NAACP has numerous examples of our more sophisticated, modern versions. There are “ballot security” teams that only “secure” minority neighborhoods. There are tactics like those employed two years ago in Baltimore, where leaflets informed people that they couldn’t vote if they had overdue rent or unpaid parking tickets. In Louisiana, fliers in minority neighborhoods assured people that they had three extra days to vote if they couldn’t get to the polls on Election Day. In South Dakota, poll workers turned away Native American voters who lacked photo identification. In Texas, a district attorney who knew better told college students they could not register to vote from their college addresses.
This year, the Florida Secretary of State has decided that new voter registrations that don’t have a citizenship box checked are invalid—even though the form elsewhere requires the registrant to swear that he or she is a citizen. For a time, Ohio rejected registrations that didn’t come in on 80 lb. paper.
But everyone should register and vote.
Can we spell “mixed message”?