Even though I don’t work in politics, I do think about how voter turnout could be improved. My thinking is that, in the midst of the 2016 election controversies and the current voter-integrity commission, we should be asking ourselves different questions about how to fix these problems, because as the old adage says, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
First, I wonder what might change if election laws stated that results could not be certified unless a certain level of turnout was achieved? It is a common practice for corporate, local, or nonprofit boards not be able to vote on substantive issues unless they have a quorum, which is a minimum number of members present. So, what if we had to have a minimum turnout – in effect, a quorum – for an election to be valid? Having a quorum before making major decisions just makes sense.
I’ve also wondered why voting, which is a responsibility of citizenship, hasn’t been tied to other privileges of citizenship. Why hasn’t registering to vote been a requirement, like we’ve had boys registering for the Selective Service? Why hasn’t failing to vote been like failing to appear for a court date or for jury duty? Why can the federal government withhold tax refunds from people who default on student loans, but there is no penalty for not voting? And finally, since voter fraud and crossover voting are criminal acts – effectively de-incentivizing those acts – couldn’t we incentivize voting by offering something like a tax deduction or credit to people who do vote?
I also wonder what might change if, instead of looking for lawmakers to solve the problems, we put some sharp people from the fields of logistics, marketing, and psychology to the task of improving voter turnout. Realistically, if Amazon can get any purchased item to our homes in two days, getting more eligible voters to cast ballots at polling places near their homes should be an attainable goal.
From a logistics standpoint: if the weatherman can have a mobile meteorology lab and the police can have mobile surveillance vehicles and public libraries can have bookmobiles, couldn’t we create mobile polling places that serve isolated rural communities and urban areas with inadequate public transportation? Or what if poll workers went to the front doors of people who didn’t vote, verified their picture ID, handed them a ballot, waited while they filled it out, and carried it back to be counted? The practice may sound far-fetched, but I’ve seen canvassers from the Census Department go to the homes of people who didn’t return the questionnaire.
Another viable logistics solution might be to keep polls open longer. What if polls were open for multiple days, or for twenty-four hours instead of twelve? That could better accommodate shift workers, truck drivers, and others who don’t work the traditional eight-to-five. Retails stores stay open longer at Christmastime when sales potential is greater, so it can’t be too difficult for polls to stay open longer on voting days.
I can already hear the fiscally conservative argument that doing such things would cost too much money. All of those extra poll workers and canvassers would need background checks, then have to be trained, organized, paid, and provided transportation. But if you ask me, any amount of money that we spend on improving our election system is money well-spent—because it empowers the people and gives greater validity to the results.
I don’t know whether any of those ideas are good ones, but I do know that we have a major problem when so many Americans aren’t voting. Sure, we could have long discussions about the oft-told tales of undesirable candidates and the do-nothings in Washington, but the real question would still remain: what are we going to do about it? There’s one thing we can do about it that would be more effective than harassing our representatives on Twitter: vote for people we do want, who can solve the nation’s problems.