I was reading through a lot of different things this evening. I was over at the Huffington Post reading some of the hoo ha that is offered there, and I stumbled across an article from Mark Green, President of Air America Media. He was discussing the fact that America has such a dismal voting record, especially at the lower levels of government. And he seemed to be willing to come right out and say that Americans should be forced to vote. He also espoused the merits of automatic registration. Given the vigorous debates that have occurred within this site over whether voting is effective, relevant, or necessary, I found his article to be interesting, while at the same time a bit disturbing. So I figured I would offer the article he wrote to all of you, and offer my thoughts on the concepts he discusses. I am sure Black Flag will have to weigh in on this topic, as will several others. But it seems to me that I can support the thoughts from Green on one part of his topic, but not on the other.
I attempted to put aside my thoughts on Green that jumped out after seeing that he is the President of Air America Media. We all know what a failure that was. And as a prize for its failure we have gotten Stuart Smalley as a United States Senator. Green is, after all a graduate of Cornell and Harvard. So I am sure he has some valid points, but I will let all of you make that determination. Green’s article appears here as it appeared on the Huffington Post:
Mandatory Voting? Automatic Registration? How Un-American!
by Mark Green (via Huffington Post)
If you have an election where the winner gets four percent of the eligible electorate, is that a functioning democracy? Having just lost such a runoff contest in New York City, I congratulated the winner for running a skillful campaign according to the rules. But are there better rules?
When there were similarly pathetic turnouts in local school board races 20 years ago, such elections were ridiculed and then abolished. When there are 70-80 percent turnouts in British, French, Swedish and Israeli elections — or 60 percent in our own 2008 presidential election — no one questions whether they broadly represent popular will in a functioning democracy. A seven percent turnout, however, risks choosing city-wide officials more in a private selection than a public election.
Instead, let’s expand Instant Runoff Voting and automatic registration, and even consider mandatory voting laws:
Instant Runoff Voting. Under IRV, voters rank their choices for an office, 1 or 2 or 3 depending on how many are running. Then after the first and only round of voting, any candidate with a majority of course wins the election, whether primary or general. But if no one has a majority, second and third and choices are automatically allocated until someone gets 50 percent + 1 of all the votes. With the tabulation occurring electronically, a majority winner is guaranteed on election night.
Besides assuring majority rule, IRV saves taxpayers money and cuts the costs of campaigns since there’s only one primary and no runoff; reduces negative campaigning because candidates will want to be an acceptable second choice for their opponents’ supporters; increases turnout since the electorate needs only to show up to the polls once; avoids winners only working their narrow geographic, racial, religious or organizational niches; and frees people to vote their consciences without the worry of wasting their vote on an admirable though arguable long-shot (a Ralph Nader, a Libertarian) since their ballots will be re-cast for their next choice.
San Francisco has been using IRV since 2004, and recently Aspen, Burlington — and Australia, Ireland, Great Britain and New Zealand — have adopted it. It’s now been used in 46 American elections in six counties, cities or towns. Analyzing the first IRV election in San Francisco, FairVote, the Center for Voting and Democracy, concluded (PDF) that “winners received significantly more votes than winners in [past] December runoffs (and especially more than winners in conventional plurality elections), more votes were cast in the decisive election and winners received more votes both in real terms and as a percent of the vote than the old ‘delayed’ runoff system. And that means more voters had a say in who their supervisor [mayor] is.”
Automatic Registration. According to recent U.S. Census data, 30 percent of eligible Americans are not registered vote. So instead of hoping that high school graduates will find their way one by one to Boards of Elections to register as all American jurisdictions do, many countries use their census or tax data bases to create a voter registration list or engage in direct mail or even door-to-door registration drives (Germany, France, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Belgium). According to the Brennan Center for Legal Justice’s report, Voter Registration Modernization, “Although the United States does not have a residence registry or a national health care system [yet] that provides a list of all eligible voters, states have a variety of databases that compile information about their citizens – databases maintained by motor vehicle departments, income tax authorities, and social service agencies. Many of these lists already include all the information necessary to determine voter eligibility…” With everyone registered and then encouraged to vote by mailings and public service ads, turnouts increase.
Mandatory Voting. When I used to routinely ask applying law students in interviews what they thought of this idea simply to test their ability to think on their feet, about 98 percent would object to it as coercive, big-brotherish, un-American! “But if we accept the days it takes to sit on juries as a condition of citizenship, why not the few minutes it takes to vote?” Um, oh. Indeed, Australia (since 1924) regards it as much a part of their civic obligation as we in America (for the most part) do paying taxes.
Other countries which require voting includes Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Ecuador and Switzerland. While rules vary, in nearly all there’s a penalty of some $15, which citizens can avoid paying by providing a legitimate excuse for not voting (religious objections, travel, illness). And voters can still write-in a name or vote for none-of-the-above.
So why bother? Because such a system could help create a habit to use the franchise rather than just cite it on July 4 … help assure that elected officials more truly reflect their constituents … and encourage candidates to concentrate on convincing 50 percent of the total vote, not just pulling out four percent of the eligible electorate. Or as a store window sign down my block once actually put it, “Democracy is like sex — it works best when you participate.”
You can find this article, which was presented in its entirety here, originally at the Huffington Post, or you can go and view it along with a more extensive biography of Mark Green by clicking HERE (will open a new window).
First let me say that I don’t necessarily have a complete grasp on the concept of Instant Runoff Voting. I think I understand it. And if my understanding is correct, I guess I don’t necessarily oppose it. But I will wait and see if someone here can provide a better explanation of how it works. I will reserve my judgement until someone does. Has anyone participated in an Instant Runoff Voting format in the past? If so, what did you think of it?
As for automatic voter registration, I have no issue with it. I have long felt that in a country where you can check a box to give away your organs to donation (but only voluntarily and by your choice, not government’s assumption!!!) while renewing your driver’s license, I fail to understand why every person getting a driver’s license could not automatically be registered to vote. After all, you are already sitting in the dang DMV for hours waiting, the least they could do is let you knock out as many things on your “to do” list as possible in one sitting.
I tend to see the fact that registering to vote has been made to be an extra step as an un-needed hassle for Americans that want to participate in the process. I know it isn’t that tough to do, but it is a step. In the past I have provided voter registration forms to all my employees that they can fill out and I will ensure they get mailed. I don’t look at their information (they would seal it before they give it to me), and I really don’t care who they support or which way they might vote. Even those who don’t plan to vote, I hope to eliminate the last minute decision that they want to participate being trumped by the fact that it is too late for them to register. I have stopped doing this in recent years in an effort to ensure there is no misunderstanding about my bringing politics into the workplace. But I tend to still like the practice.
The bottom line is that being registered to vote allows you to decide whether on election day you want to participate or not participate. It is still your choice. As an extra value for me, the idea allows voters to let politicians know where the population as a whole falls in the political spectrum. I admit that this is self-serving for me. It is my contention that folks who have no party allegiance tend to not register, thus the number of those registered as “independent” would probably be far larger if voting registration was automatic. A much higher number of independent voters would send a more clear message to the jackass and the overweight forgetful elephant that there are more people who don’t agree with them than those who do. As an added benefit, should election day come around with everyone registered and only 10% show up, Washington would get a more clear message that 90% of the people read Black Flag’s blog comments. So automatic registration is a “go” for me.
But when we get to the idea of mandatory voting, I could not disagree more with Mr. Green (a politician of course). There is no way that I can support the idea of mandatory voting. Especially in the format of voting that we see in today’s political spectrum. From a basic standpoint, I vehemently object to being offered two pieces of shit and told that I HAVE to choose one. So from the start there would have to be, no ifs ands or buts about it, a none of the above box so that those who vote can strongly say that both choices are crap and I want none of them. But even with this box, the idea of mandatory voting goes against the very principles of freedom that we espouse here. I am free to participate, or not participate.
Mr. Green offers jury duty as an example of where service is already required. For the record I oppose jury duty as well. Until the day that jury duty pays the same salary of the citizen being forced to serve, I object to government getting in the way of my ability to maximize my earning potential. It seems as though Mr. Green sees the need to legitimize the steps that government takes, even when they have no legitimacy. And I think that forcing the people to choose a leader, in Green’s eyes, means that the leader chosen will be more legitimate. And I can’t help but think that the only folks who want voting to be mandatory are those on the left (I of course have nothing to back that up). And this is because as the left “appears” to be the champion of the poor. And as government works to make a larger percentage of Americans poor with each passing administration, the left thinks this will equate to continued success.
I see it as a continued march towards the famous statement from Thomas Jefferson discussing democracy ceasing to exist when the public learns they can vote themselves money from the public treasury (As a side note I have looked to find this phrase and where Jefferson said it, including all the derivatives of the statement. I don’t think he ever did. The closest thing that I CAN find in this realm is “To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.'”)
And for the record, I think a “none of the above” box should be a mandatory addition to the ballot anyway. And it should be tabulated and reported. If “none of the above” has the most votes, neither candidate gets in, and the process has to start over. But I imagine that politicians in America will never allow that to happen, for both sides of the aisle fear the day when one of them is actually defeated by none of the above and the result is that they are no longer eligible for the office they spent their entire term in office working to keep. None of the above is a nightmare addition for politicians in today’s environment where both sides are full of shit and not worth the ink to print their name.
So what say all of you?