While I’ve spent quite a bit of time ranting about ACORN and their attacks on our electoral infrastructure, there’s been something nagging at the back of my mind the whole time. Something bothering me about the fundamental assumptions and presumptions at their core that doesn’t sit well with me. And I’ve finally figured it out.
ACORN’s voter registration efforts involve chasing people down wherever they can find them and persuading them to register to vote. Indeed, their very economic model is based on that — they pay their people and assign them quotas on the numbers of registrations they collect, with absolutely no verification or quality control, and no penalties for submitting fraudulent ones unless the authorities get involved.
What bugs me is that I do NOT think that record-high voter turnout (or voter registration — numerous areas have reported registrations well in excess of 100% of the number of eligible voters living there) is necessarily a good thing.
In the United States, political participation is strictly a voluntary thing. No one is obligated to register or vote; if they don’t care, then so be it — their voice will not be heard if they do not speak up. And I’m just fine with that.
Right now, the requirements to register to vote and actually cast ballots requires a minimal amount of effort. One must fill out the form, provide some kind of tangible proof of identity and residency (in most cases), then show up on election day (possibly again proving your identity) and take your ballot.
When I moved almost two years ago, I walked to City Hall (it’s a few minutes from my new home) with my driver’s license and lease. I waited in line behind three people registering their cars, took the registration form, filled it out, showed my proof, and left. I think I spent less than five minutes in City Hall.
Then, when I went to vote for the first time here, I lucked out: there was no line. I gave my name, verified my address (which I could read upside-down from the checklist anyway), and was handed my ballot. In and out in about three minutes, counting the time filling the thing out.
And that seemed just about right.
To exercise my franchise, I had to put a little effort into it. I had to take the fifteen minutes (walking time included) to register, and I had to take another ten minutes (again, walking time included) on election day.
Some people think that that process is too burdensome. To be blunt, I think they’re full of shit. Voting is important, dammit, and it should require at least a token effort to exercise.
People tend to value things more if they have to put at least a little work for them, and show no appreciation for that which is handed to them (or, in ACORN’s case, shoved into their hands.)
I have a friend who worked with her church to get computers for families that lacked one. At first, they gave them away — and soon found that they were getting them returned, broken, in record numbers. Then they started charging a token fee (largely based on what the families could afford, and utterly unrelated to the actual value of the machinery), and it was amazing how much longer those systems survived when families had actually paid for them, and knew that there wouldn’t be another free one if this one got busted.
Further, if people have had to put a little energy into getting registered to vote, then they would be a bit more inclined to actually do a little bit of thinking and research and study into the candidates and issues. No, it’s not guaranteed, but it’s a bit more likely than someone who’s been given a pack of cigarettes to fill out an ACORN worker’s quota suddenly discovering a deep and profound interest in matters of state.
There’s an old saying that everyone is entitled to an informed opinion. Likewise, everyone is entitled to an informed vote. I would never deny the ignorant their right to exercise their franchise, but I see no great compunction to compel them to exercise it if they don’t want to.