Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seriously? Really? Just Figure It Out

Ever read a lede and spend a few minutes confused over what side it's on? Like, is it aghast at things as they are or at things as proposed?

Here's an example of what I'm talking about (via):

America’s system of voter registration, in which the responsibility is placed almost solely on individuals, took center stage in this election cycle. In the wake of historic interest in voting, and after months of controversy surrounding nonprofit registration drives, America’s leaders, journalists, and voting rights experts are calling for a new registration system that reduces the need for third-party registration drives and shifts responsibility from the individual to government[.]
Wait, individual responsibility for enfranchisement good or bad?

Ah, bad:

The Washington Post editorializes: “It's time to rethink another vestige of an earlier era -- a voter registration system that not only prevents people from voting but causes myriad troubles for election officials…There's a growing clamor by voting rights advocates to shift the onus on registering from the individual to government. Not only would this remove the single biggest obstacle to voting (consider that in 2004, 28 percent of eligible Americans were not registered to vote), but it would make manipulation of the system harder.” (“A Better Vote,” November 9, 2008). . . .

Rick Hasen, election law expert, writes at Slate: “The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government…Finally, universal voter registration is good for the country, not only because it will make it easier for those who wish to vote to do so, but because it should end controversy over ballot integrity that threatens to undermine the legitimacy of our election process.” (“Registering Doubt: If we can nationalize banks, why not our election process,” October 27, 2008).
Okay, see, I'm about to go maverick, so stick close.

I don't think the problem is third-party registration efforts threatening the fabric of democracy (per John McCain) as they fake cards to get enough money to eat. The problem is that people don't voluntarily register to vote to begin with.

Clearly, even when the stakes are high and the effects personally felt, you cannot force someone to care. You just can't. You can register them, but you can't get them to drink.

I can't help but get a little federalist over this issue. While the Constitution may grant Congress authority over congressional elections, those congressional elections account for a relatively small number of races facing voters every election cycle.

If you could invent one thing that would make you millions as a field organizer or campaign manager it would be a magic word - or pill - that makes people care about voting. This attention currently comes from how people are raised and educated. No amount of federal oversight into the mechanics of voter registration is going to increase interest in voting. I wish that it would.

Yes, it sucks a lot that many people who were excited to vote a few weeks ago couldn't do so because they either never registered or forgot to update their registration and weren't educated about how to fix the problem (or work around it by simply heading to the old polling place or casting a provisional ballot). Yeah, it's all easy for me to say with my organizing, college degree, and slight background in election law.

But do you know where 99% of my voting knowledge and drive comes from? Two places: my parents and the junior high pentatholon team where I poured over the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and learned that voting was, like, the coolest, most grown-up thing you could do. And I was merely a team alternate - think of how enfranchised-in-waiting I'd have been if I really made the team.

You have to want it and it isn't too much to ask for people to pick up the flippin' free, widely available voter registration form at any post office or DMV and fill it the f out. I would endorse happily a move to allow fully online registration as well. But let's keep it local.

You have to want it.

For everyone afraid of the gays coming to teach preschoolers how to bang and marry princesses, perhaps they should be more concerned that no on is teaching Sally or Bobby to vote later in life.

In fact, maybe that was the real source of the Yes on 8 side's fears: that their kids would be ill-equipped to vote for a change in laws we passed today, since no one will have taught them how.


Anonymous said...

In Australia, everyone is automatically registered and they fine you if you don't vote. In the opinion of most campaign professionals, that keeps the costs of campaigns down over there because they don't have to pay for GOTV.

Anonymous said...

If we were to fine those who didn't vote, perhaps I'd then be down with a federal registration scheme.

I used to believe deeply that everyone SHOULD vote and was WRONG - in a moral sense - for failing to vote.

Now, while I still believe people should vote, I don't think they SHOULD vote.

In fact, in most cases, it's fine if people don't because it makes my vote worth more. So, thanks, y'all, your grant of power is most appreciated!