Voting, Here and There

| Present

Now that we’ve voted… Or at least some of us have voted. Many Americans, once again, stayed home; the latest statistics reveal that only about 52% of eligible voters exercised their right.  (That’s the lowest turnout in two decades – very sad…) Many Americans may have felt intimidated because of the many attempts at voter suppression that have taken place. Other eligible voters didn’t go to the polls because they could not get excited about either presidential candidate. Despite the fact that the majority of those who did vote for President voted for Hillary Clinton, the Electoral College system has elevated Donald Trump. vote-button-md

Now might be a good time to examine how Americans vote and how citizens of other advanced Western nations – democracies – vote. Once again, I would argue that those nations, whom we consider to be our peers, have many ideas from which we can learn. I have been very heartened that a number of American municipalities and states have begun to implement creative ideas to increase voter turnout. Let’s build on them between now and mid-term elections in 2018!

Kate Samuelson in the November 14, 2016, edition of Time lists these ideas:

  • Move Election Day from Tuesday to Saturday or Sunday. Samuelson notes that Brazil, Greece and other nations vote on weekends. Sen. Bernie Sanders has argued for having Election Day (on Tuesday) become a national holiday, but I would argue that weekend voting would be more effective.
  • Make election-day registration uniform across the US, as happens in Canada. Currently 13 states allow this.
  • France and Switzerland, and now Oregon, automatically enroll eligible citizens as voters. When someone turns 18 and automatically becomes a registered voter, that young person can vote much more easily.
  • Follow the lead of many other nations in shortening the campaign season. Singer Sheryl Crow is now sponsoring a petition about this, although it is unclear how it would work in practice.
  • Add a “’none of the above’ option on ballots, which allows voters to indicate disapproval without sitting out the election.” Samuelson notes that this happens in Nevada, India and Greece.
  • Australia and Ireland have a system whereby voters rank their choices, thus allowing for a third-party candidate or another second choice to “get the vote in later counts.”
  • Samuelson notes that over 22 countries have mandatory voting! While this may not fly in the US, it is an intriguing idea.

Other ideas that have been floated include:

  • Expand absentee balloting where it is currently restricted. In my community, the town alerted citizens via various media a month in advance that ballots were available. One does not need an excuse to request an absentee ballot. They can be mailed back or submitted in person, and the town provides free parking for voters at town hall.
  • Many states have been pushing to allow people to register online, a proposal that has bipartisan support. As of December 2015, 20 states had implemented online voter registration and four others had passed legislation to implement the technology.
  • Talk up the importance of voting in schools, especially among non-English-speaking and low-income students. (Many schools and teachers already do a wonderful job in this area – bravo!) If students know about voting, they might talk about it at home with their parents to encourage them to vote.
  • Restore voting rights to ex-inmates who have served their time. As Michael Moore shows in Where to Invade Next, many other nations do this (some even allow current prisoners to vote!), with few negative results. Current processes to restore the franchise, as recently seen in Virginia, are much too onerous.

Voters in Maine made that state the first to pass ranked-choice voting, their Question 5. In this system, “rather than simply voting for one candidate, voters rank their candidates by preference—first, second, third, and so on. Then, if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote after the first choices are counted, the candidate with the least first-choice rankings is eliminated, and the voters who preferred the last place finisher have their vote reallocated according to their next choice. The votes are then recounted and the process is repeated until one candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.” Will other states follow suit?

I hope it is obvious that, no matter what, the nation needs to eliminate all forms of voter suppression. We are a democratic republic that is based on the ability of citizens to vote. When conservatives (and others who purport to support our country and Constitution) contrive frivolous reasons to limit the right to vote, when there is no actual data to support claims of voter fraud and the like, the supreme hypocrisy needs to be called out. Let us all find ways to increase voter participation – the franchise has been a hard-fought victory for many of us, and we must not throw it away.