Friday, February 09, 2007

Voting Randomly

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not in favor of mandatory voting. If the ignorant schmucks don't want to vote then they should not be forced to by the government.

In 1993, the federal government passed the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter Law) to make it easier for people to register to vote. Perhaps too easy. At one point, I had two cars; one registered in Santa Barbara and the other in San Jose -- the two places I spend a good part of the month commuting between -- and for the next two elections I received sample ballots at both addresses because the DMV registered me at both locations. If I were inclined, and I'm not, I could vote in the morning in one place and drive to the other to vote in the afternoon.

One man, one vote; one Professora, two votes....

It would seem that I'm not alone. The National Center for Policy Analysis reported that in Los Angeles County there were 78,000 duplicates out of the 3.6 million voters registered there. It would seem that a number of them took advantage of this and actually did vote multiple times.

If that weren't bad enough, the same report showed that the State of California estimated that between 14 to 24 percent of the registered "voters" were illegally on the voter rolls. Seems that the state, in its attempt to clean out possible fraud, sends out postcards to voters who haven't voted in a while, and only if the card is returned as 'undeliverable' by the post office is the voter struck from the rolls. I happen to know for a fact that the dead of Santa Barbara rise on Halloween to vote in the November elections -- my mother, who had been dead for two and a half years, voted in the 1994 election: "her" signature was there when I went to sign mine right below. Yes, I had visions of 1960 Chicago.

But even if all the "deadwood", as the Californian secretary of state calls the deceased voters, were eliminated from the rolls, it wouldn't change a basic fact: Californians, like most US citizens, do not do their civic duty on a regular basis. The state reported that in the last election, 56.2% of the registered voters went to the ballot booth. That seems impressive, except when you realize that the qualification is 'of registered voters'. Of a population just over 37 million people, fewer than 16 million are registered. What this means is that when calculating the percentage of people who voted against the total who are eligible to vote, the number drops to below 40%.

Some scholars like to point out that the reason why voter turn out has been so low is that the youth of the country cannot be made to care about politics. They may have a point. In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed, giving the right to vote to 18-year-olds. Thus it was that over 11.5 million voters were added to the voter rolls in one fell swoop. The following year, 55% of 18-24 year olds voted. Sadly, by 2000, that number had dropped to 37%. That was a presidential election year -- the trend is that more people, regardless of age, vote in those elections than in non-presidential elections. In 2002, a non-presidential year, youth turnout dropped to 19%.

The solution, says Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose), is to make graduating high school students register to vote or they can't have their diploma. Well, except if you're not old enough to vote. Or you're not a citizen. Or if you put your opt-out request in writing....

this could be as silly as the proposal put forward in 2004 by Senator John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) which would give 14-15 year olds a quarter of a vote and 16-17 year olds a half of a vote as a way of 'electoral apprenticeship', as "Training Wheels for Citizenship".

The problem isn't that the youth of America aren't voting -- that's a symptom of something greater: a severe lack of understanding of government and political issues. A survey of California high school students done by the California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools showed that "Despite taking a course in U.S. government in their senior year, students' knowledge ... is modest, at best. Students only averaged a little over 60 percent correct on the commonly used survey items designed to test civics content knowledge, a low 'D' on common grading scales." Their senior year!

I'm sorry, if the high schools are turning out students who barely understand the political process, I don't want these ignorant schmucks voting. So, let's not require them to register to vote in order to graduate; let's make them score higher on civics knowledge surveys before allowing them to graduate, let alone allowing them anywhere near a ballot box.

After all, we expect immigrants to pass a citizenship test before they're allowed to vote, why should we expect less from those ignoramuses who were merely lucky to have been born here?
Photo Credit: