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Should We Try To Increase Voter Turnout?:

I have always wondered why so many people are concerned about voter turnout and and so few are concerned about the fact that most of the voters know little or nothing about what they're voting about.

The state of Arizona has established a $1 million dollar lottery for the purpose of trying to increase voter turnout. Each voter will, in effect get a lottery ticket that gives him or her a chance of winning. I don't know whether the Arizona plan will increase turnout or not. In the last off-year election in 2002, some 1.225 million Arizonans voted. If the same number turns out in 2006, this means that the expected winnings of each voter will be about $1 (1/1.225 million or possibly 2/1.225 million if there is a separate jackpot for primaries). Doesn't sound like much of an incentive to me, though perhaps some people might come just because they enjoy participating in lotteries.

The more important question, to my mind, is why we should care about turnout levels at all. Obviously, a nation where only 1% of the people vote is likely to have serious problems because the voting population will be highly unrepresentative of the public as a whole. However, in the real world, we are not talking about the difference between 1% and 80% turnout, but about the difference between, say, 50% and 70% at most. In theory, even an electorate with 50-60% turnout (roughly the US average in recent presidential elections) might be highly unrepresentative. However, numerous studies show that, at least in the US, the partisan and ideological affiliations of nonvoters are roughly similar to those of voters (see, e.g., Democratic Party election consultant Ruy Teixeira's important book, The Disappearing American Voter (1992)). The 2004 election, which saw an increase in turnout from about 51% in 2000 to 59%, is not an exception to this rule. To make a long story that I cannot fully document here short, the Republican turnout operation essentially offset the Democratic one and vice versa.

I follow the academic literature in this field fairly carefully and I have yet to come across a study that provides any evidence that countries such as Australia and Belgium, which have turnout rates over 80% as a result of compulsory voting laws, have better public policy outcomes or stronger democratic control of government as a result. On the other hand, one of the few advanced nations with turnout levels lower than the US is Switzerland, which has turnout of about 33-40 percent in its national elections (comparable to US off-year elections and much lower than US turnout in presidential election years). Switzerland, of course, is usually considered one of the best-governed nations in the world. I am NOT claiming that this success was caused by low voter turnout, but low turnout certainly has not inhibited it.

Efforts to raise turnout cost money, including but not limited to Arizona's $1 million. If increasing turnout within the parameters that are relevant in the real world does not produce any significant benefit to society and does not change electoral outcomes, those resources might be better expended elsewhere.

Moreover, the non-problem of low turnout diverts scarce media and academic attention away from what I have repeatedly argued is the far more significant problem of widespread political ignorance (see, e.g., here). I don't worry about whether turnout in this year's election will be 40% or 50%; I do worry that most of the voters are likely to be ignorant of very basic facts about many of the candidates and issues.

UPDATE: My most recent article on the harm caused by widespread political ignorance can be found here.

UPDATE #2: Some commenters claim that nonvoters are disproportionately likely to be Democrats. This is a common claim in the public discourse, but it is contradicted by every serious study conducted by political scientists over the last 30 years or more. The Teixeira book I mention in the original post is just one of many such analyses. I should also note that the claim seems to have been falsified by the 2004 election, where there was a major increase in turnout (from 51 to 59%), but the Republican vote increased just as much as the Democratic vote, or even slightly more. If the (nonacademic) conventional wisdom was correct, we should expect a large increase in turnout (some 15% in this case) to benefit the Democrats, yet it strikingly failed to do so. Regular readers of this blog know that I don't have any great love for today's Republican Party, but it is simply not true that they stay in power because a disproportionate number of Democratic-leaning voters fail to turn out.

David Chesler (mail) (www):
Others have suggested that a a failure in the current Iraq operations is that The People were not asked to help -- that WWII Victory Gardens weren't really necessary for food, but they helped because everybody felt they were doing something for the wartime effort, and thus owned part of the war.

I think the same applies to efforts to get out the vote. Even if people don't get out and vote, they like being asked because it means they are part of the process. Some of the ugliest emotions in recent memory, as regards voting, have come from the recent US Presidential elections, when people felt that votes that mattered weren't counted. Most of the time (and I'm writing as a non-Democrat in Massachusetts) voters go away as good sports about losing when their candidate lose, because they were active participants in a relatively fair game, or intentional non-participants. Even a losing voter or non-voter can think that the elected official represents the will of the people.
8.17.2006 9:04am
Paul Karl Lukacs (mail) (www):
I have always found it humorous that the same goo-goos who wring their hands about low voter turnout become positively beside themselves when candidates like Jesse Ventura increase turnout from the "wrong type" of voter.

Prof. Somin accurately de-couples the two issues.
8.17.2006 9:46am
Michael Parker (mail):
Might the Arizona voting lottery be an attempt to increase the right type of voters in an ostensibly politically agnostic way? Are there any studies that examine the correlation between lottery-playing and political preferences?
8.17.2006 9:59am
bellisaurius (mail):
I agree in large parts with the CATO analysis, but it feels a bit like a jeremiad, castigating the system for ignorance in issues it actually might be legitimately disinterested in (it's main thrust for an explanation seems to be more about the rationality of not voting, as opposed to the rationality of not caring).

In fact, I think people aren't wired at all to balance all the manifold issues out there. I seem to remember a study that talked about people only being able to track about five physical items at a time(this is a vague memeory, I'll add, so please don't be hard on me if you find the actual piece), so it might make sense we can only balance a few items for choosing purposes as well (who hasn't done one of those pro/con things, and then just gone on a hunch anyways?). One can argue that political parties solve this, but it seems this website shows where people feel rankled by being forced into positions by a party thay have little power over.

Because of this feeling of mine that people can't weigh everything accurately, it seems better to have groups of people (both sides, that is. say enviros, societal, buisiness, etc...) who have a legitimate interest. One would hope that those small sections 'push' the 50/50 mostly random split of someone voting yes or no, into an actual relatively informed decision.

But then again, this hopeful explanation could just be the triumph of hope over reality...
8.17.2006 10:05am
JRL:
I for one would like to see the repeal of the prohibition of the poll tax.

A nominal poll tax of say $1 would discourage the uninformed and help pay for all these new-fangled touch screen voting machines.
8.17.2006 10:20am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
and I'm writing as a non-Democrat in Massachusetts

But you've elected four governors in a row! (unless you've been voting for the green or libertarian candidates ...)

Contra Teixeira, I've always been under the impression that the marginal voter votes Democratic. This explains why polls consistently show that registered voters or actual voters are more conservative than the general adult population.
8.17.2006 10:26am
Enoch:
Voting should be made harder, not easier.
8.17.2006 10:44am
Dennis Nolan (mail):
It's been a long time since I've looked at the professional literature on the question, but I recall that earlier studies showed that nonvoters were much less informed about candidates and issues; in other words, simply increasing the percentage of the population that voted would decrease the knowledge level of the average voter. If you go down much beyond the next few percentiles, the degree of ignorance is likely to be astounding.

Do any readers know of recent studies on this point? If the thesis remains correct, how would forcing everyone to vote improve election results?
8.17.2006 10:47am
Ken Summers (mail):
8.17.2006 10:57am
Justin (mail):
The problem with low voter turnout is that many people disagree with Somin's implicit statement: "However, numerous studies show that, at least in the US, the partisan and ideological affiliations of nonvoters are roughly similar to those of voters." (It's implicit because Somin's not directly claiming the point, only saying that many studies show the point).

The United States is a country that appears to generally disregard many of the problems of the poor and the underclass - since the voting class does not pay the price of the drug war, the huge gap in primary school education, the costs of gang violence, etc. - and that engagement by politicians of this class would be the first step in removing the United States from a country, that with such great wealth, has no business leading the developed world in both income inequality and capital punishment and leading the whole world in incarcerations - with the vast majority of the cost of those three things affecting african americans, regardless of intention.
8.17.2006 11:04am
Justin (mail):
David Chesler,

The failure of the Iraq war was that it was never winnable, particularly (but probably not only) without a plan for postwar operations and/or such a small military force and rebuilding budget. What people mean when they say "owning the war" is not about the chances of success of the war but simply the popularity of the war. People do not like to admit that something they actively supported was a miserable failure, which, in MY view, goes a long way to explaining the vicious attacks on (Gore and) Kerry's military and foreign affairs record in 2004 and since.

Enoch,

While I definitely agree with Somin's point of widespread political ignorance (though I also believe the problems may be interrelated insofar as the lack of "ownership" by "the people" in the political process to some degree), I'm pretty sure that theory which you support (and to a lesser degree Somin) is really just about self-interest: the people you'd prefer to be elected, either out of political or financial self-interest, are more likely to get support from people like you, who are less likely to be "disenfranchised in aggregate" (the way black men have been) by making voting harder, though by no means impossible.
8.17.2006 11:13am
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I have yet to come across a study that provides any evidence that countries such as Australia and Belgium, which have turnout rates over 80% as a result of compulsory voting laws, have better public policy outcomes or stronger democratic control of government as a result.

It seems like the government would have more legitimacy if more people voted, and that this would only be a good thing. Also, I imagine that people who expect to vote would pay a little more attention.
8.17.2006 11:13am
Houston Lawyer:
We have reached the point where some polititians are encouraging noncitizens to vote. I can see where interest groups want to increase the turnout of their voters. However, so long as someone is not hindered from voting, there is no reason to believe that the marginal utility of the next vote is always positive. There are a lot of ignorant people out there, why nag them about voting.
8.17.2006 11:28am
sierra (mail):
This whole discussion reminds me of those who wrung their hands over America's low turnout relative to recent Iraqi elections, in the face of death threats no less. To which I say: let us hope that Iraqis may one day achieve our level of apathy!

Slothrop, "legitimacy" concerns peoples' attitude towards their government, generally not whether that government produces beneficial outcomes. (Of course if a government is considered illegitimate where democratic institutions are weak, the outcome may be a civil war or a coup, but I don't think we're talking about that here.)
8.17.2006 11:40am
non_Lawyer:
Clearly, uninformed votership is a huge problem.

If I went to an auto shop, I'd hate for a bunch of liberal arts majors to vote on how to fix the car. If I entered an art show, I'd hate for a bunch of mechanics to vote on how much my piece was worth.

Obviously, the average citizen cannot be expected to be an expert in every aspect of politics. But there has to be SOME level of informed-ness for a vote to be worth anything more than the paper it's printed on.

The key questions are, I believe: WHO is to do the informing (eg. who can be trusted to impartially provide meaningful information), and HOW do you enforce an informed-ness requirement?

Perhaps the answer to both is that voters must affirm that they have read the entire Voter Pamphlet before they are allowed to vote. Perhaps that is a little Draconian, but at least the votes would be more meaningful.

Using a lottery to entice voters would have the ironic effect of using randomness (a lottery) to produce essentially random votes (uninformed votes are as good as letting a computer randomly generate the votes).
8.17.2006 11:49am
tomjedrz (mail):
My answer to Somin's question is a resounding NO. More people voting because they care about issues or their representation is a good thing. More uninformed people voting for no other reason than to vote is a waste of resources, and in my opinion de-legitimizes an election. As has been noted elsewhere, the vote of an uninformed citizen is a wasted vote, and negates the vote of an informed, involved citizen.

Clearly, we can't impose poll taxes or literacy tests or other means to try and determine if someone is qualified to vote. But we can refrain from making it absurdly easy to vote, and from encouraging voting for those who choose to be uninformed.
8.17.2006 11:57am
John Armstrong (mail):
[M]ost of the voters know little or nothing about what they're voting about.

[T]he expected winnings of each voter will be about $1... Doesn't sound like much of an incentive to me.

Oh, silly man. People don't participate in lotteries because the expected payout is large. They do it because they're stupid or reckless. The very fact that you estimated the expected payout puts you leaps and bounds above the people who would be enticed.

If anything, this is trying to get the irrational and undereducated voters to the poll (no comment on the partisan subtext), which will only increase the problem you note of people voting when they have no idea what they're voting about.

Incidentally, the payout here is far better than most other lotteries, being positive for once.
8.17.2006 12:03pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
As far as average winnings.... casinos (and cities and state budgets) are built on the principle that some people will willingly lose money in exchange for the thought that they might (at however low a level of probability) become suddenly wealthy.

As far as do we want to increase voter participation by idiotic schemes like this -- NO. A voter who shows up only for a chance to win money is likely to be the worst imaginable type of voter.
8.17.2006 12:03pm
MnZ (mail):
There are certain people with a bizarre desire to have as many people as possible vote on every office and every proposition. Thus, the ballots have become insanely long. I recently had a ballot with over 50 offices or issues to vote upon. I am a pretty well informed voter, but even I couldn't cast a vote in most instances.
8.17.2006 12:09pm
Tim (mail):
Two different thoughts.
1. I would like to retain my "right" not to vote.
2. For all the talk about the importance of voting, not requiring a photo id shows how much the government really thinks YOUR vote is worth keeping accurately. In their minds it is more important to control the distribution of tobacco products than it is to figure out who is voting.
8.17.2006 12:19pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
The idea behind increasing voter turn out is to bring out the moderates.
8.17.2006 12:28pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I do think that it will pass, and when it does, I do think that it will significantly increase voter participation. After all, it is a possibility to get rich for free. Something for nothing (except of course, the time involved).

Indeed, if I weren't voting, I would vote for what is essentially a free lottery ticket, despite the fact that I have never purchased a lottery ticket, and have only played slots as part of my job, and never personally.

I also don't think that it is a good idea. I am of the school that believes that we probably have too many people voting, not too few. I can't help but think that our government would run better if those voting knew more about what was being voted upon. Nevertheless, I don't see a viable, easy, way of testing this, so am quite comfortable with the status quo (assumming positive identification of voters and prosecution of illegal voting, neither of which is applicable in many states today).
8.17.2006 12:36pm
pete (mail) (www):
The other problem is that many ballots have too many people/issues on them for voters to make an informed choice. Ballots in Texas for instance can have dozens of different races on them besides the federal office holders including school board members, judges, railroad commissioners, city council members, mayor, state representatives and senators, governor, lt. governor, etc. plus state propositions and local bond issues. Even after paying attention to the news and reading voter guides I am not informed enough about some of the races and usually leave several choices blank. I remember one ballot with over a dozen judge races on it. How is adding more voters who are probably much less informed than I am going to help make government work better with this many choices?
8.17.2006 12:39pm
jonzyx (mail):
I think llama may be correct. I remember reading on VC previously that the more extreme voters tend to be the more educated voters. Perhaps it is better to have a large portion of the electorate who care more about "the middle" than issues. I doubt it.
8.17.2006 1:06pm
Enoch:
I'm pretty sure that theory which you support (and to a lesser degree Somin) is really just about self-interest: the people you'd prefer to be elected, either out of political or financial self-interest, are more likely to get support from people like you, who are less likely to be "disenfranchised in aggregate" (the way black men have been) by making voting harder, though by no means impossible.

My theory is that everyone, including the "disenfranchised in aggregate", benefits when those who vote are both knowledgeable about the issues, and care enough to vote. The quality of the outcome will not improve if the stupid and lazy are encouraged or required to vote.
8.17.2006 1:12pm
jimbino (mail):
Seems to me that enrolling someone involuntarily in a game of chance is a clear civil rights violation. If they were really serious about increasing voter turnout, all they'd have to do is put "none of the above" as the last choice on every ballot.
8.17.2006 1:18pm
bellisaurius (mail):
I think Heinlein said in Starsgip Troopers, "Democracy favors neither the lazy or the incompetent." I think it should be a guideline of sorts.
8.17.2006 1:21pm
R:
Stan: Puff Daddy?
Puff Daddy: Your friend Kyle told me you don't understand the importance of voting. Apparently you haven't heard of my vote or die campaign.
Stan: Vote or Die? What the hell does that even mean?
Puff Daddy: What do you think it means, bitch?

Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
Rock the vote or else I'm gonna stick a knife through your eye
Democracy is founded on one simple rule
Get out there and vote or I will muthafuckin' kill you

Yeah

I like it when you vote bitch (bitch)
Shake them titties when you vote bitch (bitch)
I slam my jimmy through your mouth roof (mouth roof)
Now get yo' big ass in the polling booth

I said vote, bitch, Or I fuckin' kill you

Vote or die muthafucka, muthafucka vote or die
You can't run from a .38 go ahead and try
Let your opinion be heard, you gotta make a choice
'Cause after I slit your throat, you won't have a fuckin' voice

Vote or die
VOTE OR DIE!
8.17.2006 1:32pm
Lively:
2. For all the talk about the importance of voting, not requiring a photo id shows how much the government really thinks YOUR vote is worth keeping accurately. In their minds it is more important to control the distribution of tobacco products than it is to figure out who is voting.

But, someone might feel bad if you require ID.
8.17.2006 1:43pm
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat (mail):
Nonlawyer writes:

Perhaps the answer to both is that voters must affirm that they have read the entire Voter Pamphlet before they are allowed to vote. Perhaps that is a little Draconian, but at least the votes would be more meaningful.


Perhaps the answer is instead to offer a million dollar prize to the first voter who can shove an entire Voter Pamphlet up the arse of any government official with the temerity to demand that he read it.

A little draconian, you say? At least it would find a productive use for the Voter Pamphlet and the government official, while serving as a reminder to dimwitted authoritarians like Nonlawyer that one of America's founding principals was "piss off and leave me alone".
8.17.2006 1:54pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
I don't vote. The odds of something that I care about being decided by a single vote are essentially zero.

If everybody thought that way, of course it would be worth voting. But they don't, so it isn't.

The right to vote, however, is vital. (Consider stockholder voting. Nobody does it. Then one year along comes a hostile takeover offer for the stock at twice the trading price. Management sends out urgent mail saying under no circumstances sell you shares because it doesn't reflect the fair value of the company. Everybody sells, the hostile corp votes the stock, and throws out management. What they bought was your right to vote, not your stock. It's that that had the value.)

However, look what happens if you influence somebody else's vote. If he opposes your position, and you both vote, you cancel each other out. But if you persuade him, and don't vote yourself, it's 1 to zero your way!

Think what happens if you influence a hundred votes, or a thousand, or tens of thousands.

That's why the internet and some skill in making a point are likely to be a boon for democracy.

But don't bother voting.
8.17.2006 1:55pm
poster child (mail):
If it were up to me, I'd make the payment of a positive net amount of income tax a prerequisite to voting. In light of the fact that much of Congress' work consists of taking money from productive people and giving it to unproductive people, it would be nice to know that these transfers were motivated by actual policy considerations as opposed to buying other people's votes with my money. By restricting the right to vote to net taxpayers (as opposed to net tax receivers), we would at least have some peace of mind that the Congress was elected by people who had a personal stake in the matter.
8.17.2006 1:58pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
By restricting the right to vote to net taxpayers (as opposed to net tax receivers), we would at least have some peace of mind that the Congress was elected by people who had a personal stake in the matter.

So you'd also be in favor of limiting corporations' lobbying if they receive government contracts, right? For example, Microsoft is the recipient of millions of dollars in government contracts, yet paid no taxes in 2000.
8.17.2006 2:10pm
cathyf:
I think that abstaining from a ballot is completely reasonable in a democratic society. If you have a large number of people who at election time say, "whatever my neighbors choose is fine with me" then that can be simply a sign of social comity. It's not that they are completely disengaged, but perhaps engaged enough to know what the choices are and how much they trust their fellow citizens. The bumper sticker thought of "If you don't vote you have no right to complain" is probably the right level of social approbation for non-voters. An abstention is always a vote cast for the majority position, so when you don't vote it can also be said that you choose to let others vote for you. As long as you don't whine about how we voted for you, that's fine with me!

cathy :-)
8.17.2006 2:11pm
ray_g:
I once proposed, only half jokingly, that to get a larger turnout in national elections each person who votes is put into a drawing for an ambassadorship to some small, safe country.

I have no objection to attempting to persuade more people to vote, and hopefully ersuade them to become informed voters. But compulsory voting or lotteries is just asking for unserious, uninformed, and most likely randomly distributed votes. I don't see how that solves the problem, if a problem even exists.

Another, only half joking, proposal is a social custom (NOT a law) that if you are complaining about a government policy and, when challenged, cannot produce proof of voting in the most recent relevant election, you much immediately shut up.
8.17.2006 2:22pm
KenB (mail):
If it were up to me, I'd make the payment of a positive net amount of income tax a prerequisite to voting.

By that logic, shouldn't your vote count more the more taxes you pay? Why should someone who paid $50 in income taxes have a vote worth as much as that of someone who paid $5,000?

And I guess it also naturally follows that we should amend the constitution to forbid the government to take any action that doesn't involve income redistribution.
8.17.2006 2:23pm
John Armstrong (mail):
By restricting the right to vote to net taxpayers (as opposed to net tax receivers), we would at least have some peace of mind that the Congress was elected by people who had a personal stake in the matter.

It's sorta hard to figure out how a given person benefits from funds in actual dollars. I may not have children, but good schools in my area lower the crime rate, for instance. How much is that worth, even though my own family doesn't "get" any of the money?

I suppose you mean we'd have to do it on the state level. The federal government should be selected by the net-tax-loser states. Any state that receives more federal money than it pays in taxes gets no say.

You know, I really wouldn't mind it that much.
8.17.2006 2:39pm
Dan Simon (www):
I'm reminded of the scene in Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, in which butler/protagonist Stevens gets a politics quiz from his Nazi-sympathizing British employer, Lord Darlington. Stevens disavows all knowledge and understanding of the world, in appropriately obsequious fashion, and Darlington walks away satisfied that he's proven the foolishness of the democratic system, and thus, presumably, the superiority of rule by elitist aristocrats such as himself.

Nowadays, of course, it's widely understood that even the consensus of learned experts in a particular field can easily be badly misguided---particularly outside the hard sciences; that openness to corrective feedback is far more important, in the long term, than technocratic sophistication when formulating public policy; that "the wisdom of crowds" usually works much better than one would intuitively infer from the intelligence and knowledge of the average crowd member; and that as an empirical matter, democratic citizenries actually acquit themselves pretty creditably in retrospect—--particularly when compared with the alternatives.

So it's unlikely that any sensible, self-respecting thinker in 2006---let alone a self-professed market-appreciating libertarian---would ever emulate Lord Darlington's preference for expert knowledge over sample breadth in the market feedback provided by the electoral process.

Right?
8.17.2006 3:04pm
non_Lawyer:
Ming:

If you follow your own logic, you should also try to shove the State Driver's Manual up the rear end of the next Trooper who pulls you over, and tell him to "p*** off and leave me alone." I'd pay good money to watch what happened next...
8.17.2006 3:56pm
Joshua (www):
Ironic that this lottery proposal is coming from the same state that gave us Sens. John Kyl (best known for his crusade against Internet gambling) and John McCain (who supports Kyl's crusade, and also has supported efforts to abolish or further restrict legal sports betting in this country).
8.17.2006 4:36pm
Passing By:
Some commenters claim that nonvoters are disproportionately likely to be a Democrat because they are more likely to be poor, or for other reasons. This is a common claim in the public discourse, but it is contradicted by every serious study conducted by political scientists over the last 30 years or more. The Teixeira book I mention in the original post is just one of many such analyses. I should also note that the claim seems to have been falsified by the 2004 election, where there was a major increase in turnout (from 51 to 59%), but the Republican vote increased just as much as the Democratic vote, or even slightly more.
To the extent that he documents that the partisan and ideological affiliations of nonvoters are roughly similar to those of voters, Teixeira's book supports your point, But the 2004 election results are weak evidence of your point, as they tell us nothing about the party preference of the people who still remained home.
8.17.2006 4:41pm
Peter Wimsey:
While I agree with the general point that low voter turnout, without more, isn't really a problem, I do think that it can be a symptom of a real problem. (And if so, it is the underlying problem that needs treating, of course, not the low turnout.)

In my mind, the biggest problem with the American democratic system is gerrymandering has made the vast majority of it non-competitive. If you live in the US, your elected representative more than likely represents a district drawn specifically to be a safe seat for him or her. In many cases, there isn't even an opponent - during the last election, my state representative (a D) did not have an opponent; neither did my state senator (an R). Both legislators have snakily drawn districts that allow them to win handily, year after year after year after year. And when you factor in that the children of representatives very often end up replacing their parents when the parents retire...well, the whole thing looks problematic. And, among other things, that's going to hurt voter turnout.

The second problem that may be reflected in low turnout is the difficulty of voting on a workday. This is not usually a problem for white collar workers, who often have more freedom to arrange their schedule. It's also not a problem for most union workers, who typically (and very cleverly) include in their contracts a provision giving them election day - or half of election day - off. But many other people do have difficulty physically showing up at the polls (although many states have taken steps to make it easier to vote).
8.17.2006 4:42pm
Sebastianguy99 (mail):
It seems to me that we are really discussing three issues:

1)Raising the turnout of eligible voters;

2)the scheme(lottery)Arizona might employ
to increase turnout; and

3)is there some requirement of political
sophistication, or should there be a requirement
before one should be deemed eligible to vote


I would argue that in a democracy it seems that these are all valid points to be raised. If we read the Founding Fathers effects, it is clear that they settled on our form of government based on the assumption of a reasonably well informed polity. They assumed the self-governed would make well informed decisions because it was in their best interests to do so. I find it hard to argue with that logic in the 18th Century or in the 21st.

They made these assumptions without the benefit(?) of academic studies. They relied on experience, life experience. To that end, they thought(though many disagreed)citizenship and age where basically all that should be required to vote,though they did give the States an essential role in the process.

It seems to me that missing in this discusiion so far is the exploration of self interest. Many States, for various reasons, have sought to deny and restrict as many voters as they could get away with in order to lessen the chance that political power, and by extention economic power, would remain in the fewest hands as possible. Those hands of course where usually wealthy, land owners, better educated, Protestant,male and of course, White.

Erecting barriers to voting is not consistent with our nation's creed.These barriers to voting have never proven to serve well the nation as whole.

Low voter turnout is yet another barrier to the democratic process. Low turnout is due to a number of factors besides a general lack of information on the issues. It is also a result of when and how elections are held, and now, how or if, those who do vote have their votes counted accurately. For this reason, I think the proposed lottery scheme in Arizona might fall short of it's intended substantive benefits.

Should we extend voting eligibility to include a deeper level of understanding of the political issues at hand? I think not. We seem to assume that those who vote not only can name the issues(or a certain amount of them), but also understand them in such a way that we feel comfortable with lettng them vote. I haven't seen any data to dispute this and it stands to reason since knowledge is a highly subjective concept.

It seems to me implict in our laws that we want to eliminate subjective criteria as a means to gaining eligibility to vote. If we say that political sophistication/knowledge is an acceptable requirement, then what comes next?

Would those who now are comfortable in making an argument for such a requirement be so accepting if someone else said that service in the military should be a requirement also?

And if we do start adding such requirements, have we now started to go backwards to the interests of a few, and away from the self interest of all?

I can't help but wonder if what some really want is an oligarchy and not a democracy!
8.17.2006 4:44pm
John M. Perkins (mail):
To increase turnout we need either better candidates or more interesting single issues.

The voter turnout in 2002 Georgia shocked pundits. The belief is most of the increase was to keep the St. Andrew's cross on the Georgia flag. After the St. Andrew's cross candidate won the governorship and the cross went from a thumbnail to nothing has supposedly suppressed this year's turnout. The best runoff turnout this month was Hank Johnson's victory with the quality of the candidate getting the hoopla masking the little difference in potential House votes.

It seems to me that most nonvoters are of the "pox on both all y'all's houses", or the "it doesn't matter who wins, we lose anyway" types. It's elitist to claim they are uniformed or lazy.
8.17.2006 5:09pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also low voter turnout provides protection from the tyranny of the majority.

Consider the extreme case where 100% of the people vote. Suppose 60% of the population likes a measure (or particular canidate) that would benefit them slightly but totally screw over the remaining 40%. This measure will pass every time even though the 60% majority doesn't feel that strong about it but for the remaining 40% it is absolutely critical it not pass.

However, if we have voting turn out down near 50%. Now the 40% with the very strong interest in the measure not passing can just increase their turnout to defeat the measure.

In other words having low voting turnout means that how much groups care about an issue matters as well as just how many people care about the issue. Since this seems like a factor we really want to take into account it would seem low voter turnout is advantageous.
8.17.2006 5:26pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also I want to point out that we haven't come close to explaining why a very large fraction of voters think increased voter turnout is good.

The only decent argument I have heard for increasing the voter turnout so far is that those who vote don't reflect the populance at large. Yet this argument can't possibly convince a majority of voters.

Almost by definition one thinks the deciscions you make about voting are right. If you thought it would be better for more people to vote differently than you then you would simply vote differently. Thus even if there is a significant difference between the views of the people who vote and those who don't the majority of people who vote must think it would be worse to encourage these people with differing views to vote as they would be voting against what the current voters think is right (except for some really weird situations).

Thus this can't be the reason voters support get out the vote drives. My guess is it is simple irrationality but it certainly isn't explained by this.
8.17.2006 5:46pm
Enoch:
So it's unlikely that any sensible, self-respecting thinker in 2006---let alone a self-professed market-appreciating libertarian---would ever emulate Lord Darlington's preference for expert knowledge over sample breadth in the market feedback provided by the electoral process.

A market-appreciating libertarian realizes that the electoral "market" is hopelessly imperfect (a duopoly), and the "feedback" provided by the electoral process can never truly represent the "wisdom of the crowd" in any meaningful sense. How wisely can the crowd choose when only two firms dominate the market, and they have deliberately raised barriers to entry such that no other firms can survive?
8.17.2006 8:19pm
David W. Hess (mail):
I have never voted for someone who was either a Republican or Democrat and after I worked poll security for a couple of years (I plead youth and idealism) and discovered that third party votes were not even counted (at least where I lived) I lost all interest in voting at all. In retrospect after having studied the game theory that specifically applies to US politics I am even more convinced.

I suspect get out to vote initiatives are appealing because people do not want to think their effort is wasted. If a group of people joined a protest carrying blank signs, might the protesters believe the group is saying their cause is unimportant? What part of the half of the population that does not bother to vote simply believes that they can not be represented in the current system so the effort is useless and a waste of time?
8.17.2006 8:43pm
Sebastianguy99 (mail):
"In other words having low voting turnout means that how much groups care about an issue matters as well as just how many people care about the issue."


The Founding Fathers were very clear that they didn't want passion(i.e. how much people are made to care about an issue) to drive elections. They saw the destruction wrought in Europe by the inflamation of a mass of people and included such things as the Electoral College to put the breaks on such a thing.




"The only decent argument I have heard for increasing the voter turnout so far is that those who vote don't reflect the populance at large. Yet this argument can't possibly convince a majority of voters."


You don't find that in a democracy, the greater a percentage of people who come to a consensus on an issue, or a set of issues, is more convincing than if lesser percentages agree? Isn't there something to be said about stability and how it correlates with individual and collective liberty and security?

I guess to put it simply, the more people who have a piece of the action, the more we can count on them giving a damn about protecting their, an by extension our, interests.
8.17.2006 8:51pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Sebastianguy99,

It seems to me that missing in this discusiion so far is the exploration of self interest. Many States, for various reasons, have sought to deny and restrict as many voters as they could get away with in order to lessen the chance that political power, and by extention economic power, would remain in the fewest hands as possible.

I really don't think that sentence says what you wanted it to.

Low voter turnout is yet another barrier to the democratic process.

It's no such thing. An effect of barriers, sure; a barrier itself, certainly not.

Low turnout is due to a number of factors besides a general lack of information on the issues. It is also a result of when and how elections are held, and now, how or if, those who do vote have their votes counted accurately.

Good heavens. What exactly is required to make voting more convenient? You get sample ballots and polling place info in the mail. The polling places are always close by. If you don't want to vote in person, you can get an absentee ballot. If you do vote in person, no one will ask you for identification, although you might be asked to provide it, one way or the other, a few times a day in the course of less important stuff like cashing checks or boarding aircraft or buying beer. Voting is easy.
8.17.2006 11:03pm
Waldensian (mail):

I think Heinlein said in Starsgip Troopers, "Democracy favors neither the lazy or the incompetent."
Ah, Starship Troopers. Have you ever noticed how much the plot in that movie resembles the plot of All Quiet on the Western Front? Except one major hero in the former is a coward in the latter (the teacher).

And while I'm at it, the uniforms of the military in Starship Troopers are eerily Nazi-esque.

I'm telling you, there's weird things afoot with that flick.
8.18.2006 12:24am
poster child (mail):

It's sorta hard to figure out how a given person benefits from funds in actual dollars. I may not have children, but good schools in my area lower the crime rate, for instance. How much is that worth, even though my own family doesn't "get" any of the money?

I suppose you mean we'd have to do it on the state level. The federal government should be selected by the net-tax-loser states. Any state that receives more federal money than it pays in taxes gets no say.


If the Congress were to be elected by net taxpayers, then the House (which is based on proportionate representation according to population) would ensure that any imbalances of payments among the states would be based on genuine policy considerations. So, no need to go to the extremes that you suggest.
8.18.2006 12:43pm