I‘ve been reading lately of proposals to increase the U.S. voter turnout, which is, admittedly, pathetic. Suggestions run the gamut from making voting mandatory to paying people to vote.
In one interesting experiment, a media company in Philadelphia funded a $10,000 prize to a random person chosen from those who voted in a city election in 2015 - in effect turning an election into a lottery.
It’s true, cash works. Studies have proven it time and time again. Kids who are paid to get good grades tend to do a little better. A North Carolina program that paid teenage girls cash toward their college costs to not get pregnant finds its girls four times less likely to become one of those statistics than those in a similar control group. It even seems that paying people to quit smoking makes cessation more successful.
A Fordham study found that offering people $25 to vote raised municipal election turnout close to 5 percent instantly.
So yeah, I have no doubt. Bribe people to vote and you’ll get better numbers. The more cash, the better the turnout would be. Of course they won’t be voting for their country, but to line their pockets.
President Barack Obama, no less, has supported making voting mandatory - and he should know better. That dog won’t fly, fella - it’s a free county and people have the right to morally oppose an election if they so choose.
Obama suggested that it would take some of the influence of money out of elections. That makes no sense at all - just imagine the bombardment of innane TV ads if everyone was marched to the polls whether or not they knew who is running, or even what color the sky is.
Yale Law School’s Stephen Carter wrote a highly-quoted essay in Blomberg View calling for voters to be paid if we want to fix turnout.
Why all the fuss about folks not voting?
Well, clearly there’s a disconnect.
Presidential elections now barely pull over half the registered voters to take part, and average turnout around the country in local elections - city councils, county supervisors, school boards that make decisions all the time that directly impact people’s lives - is a stinky 20 percent.
The 2015 city elections in Buena Vista County had a turnout of 11.9 percent - barely over one person out of ten bothering to vote. For the hotly-contested 2016 primary, only 7.23 percent of voters in Buena Vista County cast ballots. For the school board elections in 2015, this county achieved an embarrassing 1.87 percent turnout - 247 voters out of 13,241 eligible.
There’s no getting around it here, if your idea of democracy is majority rule, that isn’t happening in most of our elections. It’s not “by the people” when only a small percentage of the people give a damn.
So it’s easy to see why people are calling voter turnout a “crisis” and coming up with revolutionary plans to lure people out to vote.
But, and this may shock you, who needs them?
If people don’t care, or more likely, just don’t invest the effort to learn about the issues and where candidates stand, why should they vote?
It wouldn’t be any more meaningful than the kid taking his state basic skills test and filling in the little ovals to make a pretty design. And flooding the precincts with unengaged, uniformed voters is just going to make it even more likely to put demogogues, egomaniacs and unqualified frivilous office-seekers in power.
The electorate seems plenty dumbed-down already.
And honestly, I don’t think apathy is the whole reason people aren’t voting. I’ll be the first to admit that I considered skipping the vote in the recent presidential race, not because of malayse or a lack of information, but because the entire race was a clown-car of juvenile name-calling and made-believe, and frankly, couldn’t imagine either candidate being trustworthy in office.
We might have been happier, I imagine, if we had put on headphones and a good album with a good book in front of us than to have endured the gut-twisting speeches, goofy debates, partisan newscasters and endless special-interest-funded ads that passed for information in our society this past year.
It’s not that shocking that people aren’t voting, when they see the state of our campaigns. It’s also not very shocking that people gravitate toward any shiny alternative candidate with wild promises, given the lack of achievement from the gnarled gridlock of the Washington beltway aristocracy.
On another note, I was talking with Tim Humes, a Storm Laker who always has some interesting ideas to float. He proposes doing away with all welfare, and instead paying everyone around $35,000 if they vote.
I’m not sure about the math there, but hey, if anyone wants to test that theory, I’m willing to bite the bullet and cash your fat check. Least I could do for America.
The questiion isn’t how to get people to vote. We know we could do that, by handing out hundred dollar bills or putting a gun to their heads.
The question is how to get people informed. And you can’t buy that.
Not informed with the twisted facts the parties and their pet media corporations hand out, but with truth.
Informed people will demand better candidates and ask better questions of them.
They will care, and they will vote.