Whereby we examine why some people don’t vote, and offer remedies for this situation, including one utilized by none other than the first president of the United States.
While the cable news networks argue that the coming midterm elections are “the most crucial in our lifetime,” it’s still likely that a vast swath of registered voters won’t bother to show up. This despite a plethora of well-meaning public service announcements, editorials, cold calls, and celebrity tweets. Even if the turnout is high for a midterm, we can anticipate 40% of the electorate missing in action.
For those of us who will cast a ballot on November 6th, it’s easy to feel morally superior to the no-shows (especially if their votes could help our favorite candidates emerge victorious). But rather than look down our nose at our fellow citizens, perhaps we should examine why so many people fail to exercise their constitutional right — and then do something to improve this situation.
First off, election day isn’t a holiday, but it should be. While white collar urban professionals need only walk a few blocks from their doorman buildings to their polling places, many of the working poor must travel a good distance to cast their ballot. When you consider that many are working more than one job to feed their families, taking a few hours out of a day is not an option.
This is on top of the costs associated with voter ID requirements. A study from Harvard Law School estimates that when everything is tallied up, the cost of voting can run between $75 and $400. Free country, you say? Not for the 99%.
How can we rectify the injustices of our current election system? Perhaps we should take a cue from our founding fathers and mothers. In the early days of our democracy, they respected the effort it took for farmers, laborers and townspeople to trek to the ballot boxes. Political candidates would offer voters food and drink, evenhandedly giving “treats” to opponents as well as supporters. A barrel of flour or a live pig could also used as an enticement.
Perhaps you believe such “pay to play” activity is morally wrong. Certainly George Washington did when he refused to supply free booze during his first run for office. But after he lost his bid for a state seat in Virginia, he earmarked a tidy sum for refreshments for his followup campaign. Needless to say, he was more successful the second time around.
Another option is to take the grog out of the hands of the candidates, and put it into the restaurants of the people. Again, back in the 1700s, quite a few polling places were located inside saloons. And why not? Showing up to a cold, cavernous public school, library or town hall doesn’t exactly send the spirit soaring. We could just as easily tap our local pizza establishments and barbeque joints to host election day. Simply produce your ballot stub and the first pulled pork sandwich is on the government!
If offering sustenance to voters still makes you uneasy, how about combining the act of voting with the chance to win a large cash prize? Say, institute a national lottery which offers every voter who casts a ballot the opportunity to win a few million bucks. It’s not as outrageous as you think; this very notion was on one state’s ballot in 2006. The “Arizona Voter Reward Act” proposed that one lucky voter would claim the grand prize every time there was a major election. Proposition 200 would have provided the money by transferring unclaimed lottery winnings into a separate Voter Reward Fund, to be overseen by the Arizona State Lottery Commission.
Alas, the measure was defeated, 67% to 33%, thanks to the naysayers who wished to protect “the integrity of our elections.” They argue that inducements such as lotteries and giveaways would get more people who are ill-informed to participate in our elections. But ill-informed according to whom? Sean Hannity? Rachel Maddow? A law professor from ASU? And what of the large sums of cash given directly to candidates by the well-heeled, the corporations and their lobbyists? Are we to assume that’s a fair way of buying an election, but a free meatball hero at the polling station is verboten?
Let’s sidestep the sanctimony, and put the fun back into fundamentals of democracy. If we start the campaign now, we can look forward to a 90% turnout in 2020!
*At the very least, making it less onerous to vote would be a step in the right direction. Many countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Chile, make voter registration automatic for every citizen. Take the time and expense of travel out of voting would also be welcome. Oregon, Colorado and Washington have instituted vote by mail systems and in the last midterms, turnout in these three states was 65.7%, vs. 48% nationally. (They also save their taxpayers millions of dollars by doing it this way. Which could be put towards the lottery idea. Just saying.)