The Recorder

Voter turnout problem won’t be easy to fix

Weaver’s World

By Dan Weaver

The movement to make it easier to vote is as much about dumbing down America as is the movement in academia to not give anyone a D or an F. While it is possible that in some parts of America it might be hard to vote—that is you might have to wait in line an hour–I have never found it difficult to do. Even if a person has to wait in line an hour, is that too much to ask? People wait in line longer than that for Black Friday sales and to get tickets for concerts and ball games.

Registering to vote is not difficult or time consuming either. In 1993 the Motor Voter Bill was passed which makes it easy for people to register to vote when they are transacting business at their local DMV office. The impetus behind the Motor Voter Bill and subsequent legislation is the dismal turnout at elections, particularly in New York State, which ranks 41 out of the 50 states. But after 24 years, the Motor Voter Bill has not increased participation in elections. So people who want to lead other people to the election booth and hold their hand while they vote have asked for more legislation to make it easier to vote. Many states have passed legislation to allow early voting and to make it easier to use absentee ballots. Several have also passed automatic voter registration legislation.

Automatic voter registration goes beyond the Motor Voter Bill, which only made it possible for people to register at DMV offices. Automatic registration means that if someone interacts with a state agency, he or she will automatically be registered to vote unless the individual declines. So far automatic registration legislation has passed in nine states and the District of Columbia according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

A number of bills have been proposed to bring automatic voter registration to New York, but so far they haven’t gone anywhere, primarily due to Republican opposition. I have no problem with automatic voter registration. As the Brennan Justice Center argues, “This policy boosts registration rates, cleans up the rolls, makes voting more convenient, and reduces the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.”

Where automatic voter registration is allowed, voter registration has increased dramatically, but did it lead to increased voter turnout? We only have to look to Canada to find an answer. According to an NPR report, when Canada moved to universal voter registration in the 1990s, voter turnout actually dropped.

Because there is opposition to automatic voter registration by NYS politicians, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in July making it possible for people to register to vote not only in DMV offices but in other New York State offices. Under this system, an individual has to opt in. Under an automatic voter system, a person has to opt out. In some states, an individual has only 30 days to opt out.

Some busybody do-gooders want to go even further and require citizens to vote. Norm Ornstein, writing for the Atlantic, cites Australia, where adults are required to vote and fined $15 if they don’t, as an example worth following. Australia has a 90 percent turnout rate. However, Australia also allows people to vote for none of the above. Ornstein would like to see everyone’s ballot entered into a drawing for a mega prize, cheapening voting by turning it into a lottery.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, in another Atlantic article, also proposes compulsory voting, arguing “There also isn’t any danger of political speech being compelled—a no-no under the First Amendment. People are free to do what they like with their ballots, including turning them in blank.” I disagree, people who opt out of voting are making a statement about either themselves or the system, a statement which can no longer be made if they are compelled to vote.

No legislation, especially legislation that treats people like helpless children, can cure the apathy of America’s voting age populace. An improvement in Civics education and school would help. In 2014 the NYS Bar Association issued a report which cited the decline in our understanding of democracy and urged officials to make teaching civics “an educational priority on par with reading and mathematics.”

But the problem goes deeper. It is anchored in the narcissistic, entertainment mad, anti-intellectual culture that has developed over the past 50 years. Fixing things will require a spiritual and moral reformation—a transformation of values.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that on the horizon.

Dan Weaver lives in the Town of Florida and operates a business in downtown Amsterdam.