Voting Is Easy,
Showing Up Is Hard
by Mad Dog
It was so bad in Jessup, Iowa recently that no one who lives
in the Black Hawk County part of the town — yes, the town is split
between two counties — bothered to vote on a local sales tax
referendum. Not even the mayor.
Voting is a privilege. It can
also be a big pain in the butt. Elections are held on a work day, you
have to go to an assigned polling place which is by your house and not
where you work, and if the last presidential election is any indication,
you could wind up standing in line for a long time if you want to cast a
ballot. No wonder the turnout is worse than opening night for Fat
Albert - The Opera.
It doesn’t help
that there are too many elections. Every year we have an Election Day,
and most years there isn’t anything to draw voters. The big one, of
course, is the presidential election, which is nonstop. Just kidding.
It’s actually held every four years, it just feels like it never ends.
In between those are state and local elections that our civic duty tells
us we should participate in but our hearts and minds scream with agony
at the thought. Then there are the oxymoronic special elections, which
are becoming more and more common. In California, Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger liked being elected in a special election so much he’s
threatening to call one in November, this time so the people of the
state can vote on — yawn — merit pay for public-school
teachers and — yawn — curbing state spending. Excuse me, but
we have more than enough elections as it is, we don’t need to vote on
these things. That’s why we elect State Senators and a Governor. If I
wanted to vote for every little thing that came up I’d run for office.
Of course then I’d be involved in an election and I wouldn’t want to
inflict that on my fellow citizens.
That’s why it’s encouraging to find
out that confused voters in London can now get decision-making help from
a web site. You rate how much you agree or disagree with each statement,
push a button, and it tells you which party you’re most closely
Is it any wonder then that voter apathy runs rampant? It was so
bad in Jessup, Iowa recently that no one who lives in the Black Hawk
County part of the town — yes, the town is split between two counties
— bothered to vote on a local sales tax referendum. Not even the mayor
who said he got busy at work and forgot. Whoops! It’s true there are
only 27 people living in that part of Jessup, but still, that’s a 0%
turnout. Hey, that’s even worse than the turnout TV Land got for Chasing
Farrah, yet another “reality” show that is doing a public
service by employing unemployable celebrities. If this trend keeps up
there’s going to be a shortage of unemployable celebrities, which
means they’ll have to start employing unemployable non-celebrities.
This would result in a huge drop in unemployment and the government
saving enough money to clear up the federal deficit and keep Social
Security afloat. I smell a Nobel Prize in economics nomination in the
Part of the problem with voter apathy
is that it takes effort to decide who to vote for. The candidates dish
out four-word slogans that sound good as long as you don’t parse them.
There are so many political commercials from organizations that have
nothing to do with the candidates — wink, wink — that it makes it
hard to know who stands for what and why you should even bother getting
out of the car to vote. Is it any wonder 40% of the under-30 crowd gets
their political news from late night talk show monologues? That’s why
it’s encouraging to find out that confused voters in London can now
get decision-making help from a web site, www.whoshouldyouvotefor.com.
The site lists 23 political and social issues ranging from “The UK was
right to go to Iraq” to “Prince Charles should be made illegal.”
Just kidding about the second one, actually it does say “Foxhunting
should be made legal again.” You rate how much you agree or disagree
with each statement, push a button, and it tells you which party
you’re most closely aligned with.
picture a day when everyone sits at home and hits a button at the same
time, watching the polling numbers on a graph on the TV screen, much
like the audience lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
This is a great idea except they didn’t take it to the next
logical step. It should store your preferences and, when election time
rolls around, you wouldn’t have to bother going to the polls — it
would automatically cast your vote. Of course you could return to the
site anytime you wish and change your preferences, like if you change
political affiliation, come out of the closet, or decide you were wrong
about sending a country to war because you could have sworn there were
weapons of mass destruction hidden all over the place.
This really isn’t far from what
many people do anyway. A few years ago my parents moved to Florida and
when I was visiting I noticed there was a local election coming up. I
asked who they were voting for and they said they didn’t know who any
of the candidates were but, “We’ll vote Democrat, of course.”
Wouldn’t it have been easier if they didn’t even have to get out of
their La-Z-Boys to cast a ballot? Imagine the turnout we’d get.
If online voting by proxy is a little
radical, we can always start the E-Z-Voter Reform with smaller steps.
Move election day to the weekend so we don’t have to take off work,
lose our lunch hour, or worry about how we’ll be able to pick up the
kids on time. Let us vote by postcard, online, telephone, or SMS. Just
look at the voting turnout American Idol gets by phone and
they’re choosing someone to get a record contract, not run our
country. I picture a day when everyone sits at home and hits a button at
the same time, watching the polling numbers on a graph on the TV screen,
much like the audience lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
The winner could come onstage, the loser would get a recording contract,
and Simon Cowell would say something nasty and be arrested for
threatening the President. Yes, I have seen the future and the ratings
will be huge.
©2005 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
Read them while standing in line at the polls.