Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Nonvoters in America
December 18, 2012 4:38 PM   Subscribe

In 2012, 40 percent of Americans didn’t vote. The research on this website is an attempt to determine why so many citizens opt out of this fundamental civic duty, using extensive survey research as well as interviews with nonvoters to give a voice to those who are often ignored or marginalized by politicians and the news media. [via this phys.org article that provides a nice summary]
posted by cthuljew (63 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
When they're talking about solutions, I wonder if they'll address the concern of voters like me that the major parties are far too conservative, and lock out any other parties from meaningful participation in the race.

(I voted Jill Stein, fwiw.)
posted by dunkadunc at 4:46 PM on December 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


How about "mathematically knowledgeable?" Which is to say: I live in a district in a state that was going to go the opposite way from my preference, so it does me no good to vote and wastes a couple of my hours. I'd rather spend them with my family.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't think everyone is obligated to have an opinion or to care about who is going to be the next president.

Not sure if I understood the nomenclature and the subdivisions of the non-voters, but here goes. If you look at the Too Busys, Strugglers and Tuned Outs, you have 55% of non-voters there who basically are telling you they don't care enough. Pessimists are a mixed bag, I'd bet that a sizeable chunk of the pessimists complain about politicians, say they're disappointed, but have no fucking idea what's going on - they pose as Pessimists because they fear looking ignorant (it's probably the same with the Doers). Fact is, they don't care. So we have a majority of non-voters who don't give a shit.

That leaves us with the rest of the Pessimists and the Doers (who are basically the same kind of people) and the Active Faithfuls, also known as "the Batshit Insane". This is a minority of non-voters.

When you have these kind of numbers who can't muster the energy to go vote because they don't care enough, to me that looks like the system is working - everything is stable enough and the impact in day-to-day lives is small enough that people feel justified in not giving a shit.
posted by gertzedek at 5:00 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The majority of those categories could be lumped under "too dumb to vote", in which case, do we really want them voting anyway?
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


it does me no good to vote and wastes a couple of my hours.

Wrong and wrong. Next?
posted by DU at 5:02 PM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


sonic meat machine : if fully 40% of citizens aren't voting, though, is it not even reasonably possible to change that outcome with active participation? if 40% of your state decided to seize that moment instead of accepting defeat as a forgone conclusion, is there really and truly a zero percent chance of that outcoming being different?
posted by radiosilents at 5:04 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wrong and wrong.

How, exactly?
posted by cthuljew at 5:04 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't vote, maybe when some candidate represents my values (or at least doesn't violate them repeatedly) then maybe I'll be bothered to get off my ass for them.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I vote, but I feel like it's awfully ritualistic beyond the local and state level. And of course, my vote for the presidency means nothing in blue NJ. Knowing how the electoral college works really takes the shine off of it.

That said, I do get the smug satisfaction of knowing I cancelled out the vote of someone who I disagree with. It's simple payback for having to see bumper stickers saying the government can't do anything right in the public library's parking lot.

YES, I KNOW IT'S PETTY.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:11 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


sonic meat machine: if fully 40% of citizens aren't voting, though, is it not even reasonably possible to change that outcome with active participation? if 40% of your state decided to seize that moment instead of accepting defeat as a forgone conclusion, is there really and truly a zero percent chance of that outcoming being different?

You make the mistake a lot of people make, which is to assume that the 40% of people who don't vote will necessarily agree with their position. If they are like the population at large, the 40% of non-voters will break roughly 48-48, with 4% up for grabs. My district has been gerrymandered to the point that it's essentially worthless for me to vote for national offices below the President, the state is currently riding a Republican wave, and if it had been feasible for Obama to win North Carolina he was winning in a landslide anyway and had plenty of support. Furthermore, very few meaningful races were being run in local politics.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not how the system works. You don't get to sit around and wait for your dream candidate to come along. Agitate for what you want in local elections and primaries. Donate money and time before that. Government by the people means constant work.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2012 [21 favorites]


Also, back on topic, I think compulsory voting is a terrible idea. I'm not comfortable with people being forced to vote when they aren't interested enough to send a vote willingly. Not being interested means they either don't see a meaningful difference between candidates, don't care about the impact of who runs the government, or simply aren't informed enough to make a decision.

That said, voting should be as easy as safely possible, in my honest opinion. If internet voting were more secure (I've heard most prior attempts at doing a dry run of it have been disappointing), I'd be all for it. That way, anybody who wanted to vote wouldn't be dissuaded by inconvenience (as you see in places where the polls are poorly run or population is dense enough or both, leading to 3 hour lines).
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:15 PM on December 18, 2012


My dream candidate did come along. The media consistently ignored or mocked her, and she was denied a place in the debates, which were run by the Democrats and Republicans.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:16 PM on December 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


My dream candidate did come along. The media consistently ignored or mocked her, and she was denied a place in the debates, which were run by the Democrats and Republicans.

This is the reason I almost didn't vote this year.

I know a lot of my family didn't vote because they don't feel like their vote matters.
posted by Malice at 5:22 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Estonia votes via the internet.

I think it is naive to believe that non-voters would break down 48-48 and 4, of course they aren't a monolithic bloc but they most likely represent views outside of what is being offered.

Don't know what straw man "dream candidate" is meant to take down, but (as argued before) sometimes the behavior of a candidate is so terrible or *gasp* evil that voting for him or his counterpart is a non-starter.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:23 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've gone in and spoiled my ballot more than once and felt pretty good about it. Maybe not the strongest act of protest, but at least it doesn't sound like I'm rationalizing my laziness.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:25 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


You make the mistake a lot of people make, which is to assume that the 40% of people who don't vote will necessarily agree with their position. If they are like the population at large, the 40% of non-voters will break roughly 48-48, with 4% up for grabs.

But they are demonstrably not like the people at large. They are younger, less white, and less affluent for starters. If higher turnout was good for Republicans, do you think they'd be working so hard on voter suppression?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


If internet voting were more secure (I've heard most prior attempts at doing a dry run of it have been disappointing), I'd be all for it. That way, anybody who wanted to vote wouldn't be dissuaded by inconvenience (as you see in places where the polls are poorly run or population is dense enough or both, leading to 3 hour lines).


My objection to internet voting is the same as my objection to mail voting. There is no way to prevent voter intimidation, ensure ballot secrecy, and ensure the chain of custody of every ballot from the moment it is handed to the voter to the moment it is counted without the use of closely monitored, neutral in-person polling places. Obviously those who cannot vote in-person should be given the opportunity to vote absentee, but we should be encouraging in-person early and election day voting first.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see a category for those who didn't vote because they were disenfranchised by last minute changes to voter registration requirements, changes designed to influence election results by excluding those least likely to vote for one or another party candidate.

On another note, if you really want to increase voter turnout, offer a binding "none of the above" voting option -- if that choice wins, then all of the candidates on the ballot are rejected and a follow up election is held with entirely new choices. "But noone would ever get elected", they say. My response is that if you can't win an election against NOTA, then you don't have enough support to be in office.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:41 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it's strange to make a moral issue out of voting. Why should I vote, if my district has been gerrymandered to guarantee a Republican win in the House, no Senate or major local offices are up for grabs, the Democrat governor is the most unpopular governor in the country, and my state is not going to matter in the presidential election?
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:50 PM on December 18, 2012


It's not a duty, it's a privilege. If you don't feel like exercising it, don't.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:57 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not a privilege, a right. A privilege can be taken away.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:07 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's not how the system works

The system works?
posted by pompomtom at 6:08 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


And that's the problem. it's not something that you have to do. The lazy is strong with people. Yeah, people in the good old USA. If they don't have to do it they probably won't.

Make voting in a presidential election mandatory. Give people who vote $100 to do it. Hell even $10. Watch the numbers then.

Why is this not possible? Because the present 'political parties' don't want the guy/gal on the street to vote. If they did, if nearly 80 or 90 percent of the people voted it would completely screw up the the entire political system.

I wish something like this would happen.
posted by Splunge at 6:11 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry for the double post. Even better, charge people that do not vote $100 on their tax return. A single line

Did you vote in the last presidential election:

Yes
No

If you pick no you get dunned $100.

If you lie you get audited.
posted by Splunge at 6:15 PM on December 18, 2012


Why should I vote, if my district has been gerrymandered to guarantee a Republican win in the House, no Senate or major local offices are up for grabs

For the "minor" local offices, for one thing.

I grew up thinking it didn't really matter who my state representative was, or my school board member, or my alderman, or my county executive, or my county clerk.

I live in Wisconsin. I now know better.
posted by escabeche at 6:15 PM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Don't forget the 0.73% of the nation who are incarcerated, and the 5 million felons who are legally barred from voting.
posted by deathpanels at 6:49 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Lazy" hardly describes the majority of reasons people don't vote, according to the summary. It sounds like it could be one out of multiple factors in the "pessimists" and "tuned outs" not voting. That accounts for 27+8 = 35% of non-voters (= 14% of eligible voters overall, if this figure that 40% of eligible voters did not vote is accurate). 28% of nonvoters (the "too busys" at 20% and the "doers" at 8%) cited logistical obstacles to voting. That's 11.2% of eligible voters who were prevented from voting, even though they wanted to, at least in part due to logistical difficulties. That should be pretty big news! A headline like:
Over 1/10 of eligible voters in the US were prevented from exercising their right to vote in the 2012 federal election for logistical reasons.
Seriously. This is a major problem.
posted by eviemath at 6:52 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The majority of those categories could be lumped under "too dumb to vote", in which case, do we really want them voting anyway?

I find this attitude appalling. I am too aghast and low on sleep to formulate a rational response at present. I hope I will have the time and lack of grar to get back to this later, but in the mean time I want to register my appalledness.
posted by eviemath at 7:02 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't see a category for those who didn't vote because they were disenfranchised by last minute changes to voter registration requirements, changes designed to influence election results by excluding those least likely to vote for one or another party candidate.

I think this is included in "didn't vote for logistical reasons."
posted by eviemath at 7:04 PM on December 18, 2012


I almost became a non-voter this year. (I wrote about my registration problem here.) I assumed at the time it was all quite innocent, a state admin mix-up.

And then I considered my voting district, King County's 43rd. We are almost completely Democrats - over 80% - with a demographic primarily of African-Americans and college-educated caucasians, with almost 30% of the district being QUILTBAG-identified. (Both of our state legislature pols are white gay men.) We voted for Nader over Gore, and this year, votes for Jill Stein exceeded those for Romney - her sole visit to Washington during 2012 took place in the 43rd. And... more than 10% of us had "issues" with our registration this cycle. Obama would have won anyway, but Jaime Petersen, our state Representative, probably not. Now, it's possible that had more to do with elderly African-Americans and flakey college students (Seattle University, Cornish College for the Arts, and Seattle Central Community College are in the 43rd). But... 10% seems like a lot of registration challenges to me.

I am now trying to find out from the Washington Sec of State's office what registration irregularities looked like across the state. If the percentages are higher in mostly Democratic districts (the more urban/suburban NW corner), something's not kosher. I'll have to parse the demographic info, too.
posted by Dreidl at 7:15 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dang, and here I thought that 40% number meant that anarchism was thriving but it turns out that wasn't even one of the options (not that a real anarchist would have answered that survey anyway).
posted by bfootdav at 7:16 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Which is to say: I live in a district in a state that was going to go the opposite way from my preference, so it does me no good to vote and wastes a couple of my hours."

What, there were NO state or local races for you to vote in?

"• The "tuned outs" —16 percent of nonvoters—are more likely to be younger individuals and/or students who have no interest in or knowledge of political or electoral events and little awareness of current events. They feel it makes no difference to their lives who is elected, consume very little news, believe their vote doesn't count and participate in no civic activity."

These people make me CRAZY. Not because they're not voting, but because they don't CARE. I have a very hard time understanding people who don't care. You can't make things better if you just say "everything is shit, whatever."

(When I have them in my classroom, I invite their military veteran classmates to tell them to GO FREAKING REGISTER AND READ SOME DAMN NEWS.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Weird. I would have thought, "My vote wouldn't have made a difference in the outcome of any of the elections," would be a much more common sentiment among non-voters.
posted by straight at 8:13 PM on December 18, 2012


Make voting in a presidential election mandatory. Give people who vote $100 to do it. Hell even $10. Watch the numbers then.

I don't think this is a good idea. Paying people to do things, especially things like fulfilling social obligations, can have counterintuitive effects. You might shift people from thinking about voting in terms of society and social good to thinking about it in terms of personal economics (e.g. "the trouble isn't worth $10" or "I can afford the fine and I need to do X").
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:14 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing can be done
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:15 PM on December 18, 2012


Honestly, I had the argument with a friend mine right before the election and I stand by what I told him. Too damn many people fought, died and sacrificed everything so people in this country who have been systematically disenfranchised can vote.

He tried to pull the whole "I am exercising my right to not vote. All the candidates are the same."

Bullshit. Try telling that to Herbert Lee, Medgar Evars, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Henry Schwermer and countless others.

You don't like who is on the ballot, run. You don't think your candidate can when, bust your ass to make it happen. The system doesn't change if you sit on the sidelines and whine. And you discredit the sacrifices of all those who gave everything so you could squander their gift.
posted by teleri025 at 8:26 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, I think the media discredits their sacrifices by only giving coverage to candidates from two parties, laughing anyone else off as "unelectable".
posted by dunkadunc at 8:30 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's see. They've got the Vapids:

Improvement will happen, Williams said, “maybe not tomorrow but it definitely will.”

and the Divine Right of the Divine crowd:

They believe the bible says choosing leaders is God’s domain.

and the Surprisingly Corrects:

“It feels almost irresponsible to not know what you’re voting about and still vote.”

The also have the Accidental Hypocrites:

"...instead of for himself like (Mitt) Romney. ...It happened the way I wanted it to so it’s OK,"

and the Put Between A Rock And A Hard Place By The Very Mechanism By Which They Are Given A Voice:

So, instead of heading to the polls, she spent Election Day caring for her 11-year-old daughter, who didn’t have school because of the elections.

and, finally, the You Had Me Right Up Until The End Of Your Blurbs:

When asked his opinion on the most-mentioned potential female candidate in 2016, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Orgeron did not hesitate in his reply: “I would vote for her in a heartbeat.”
posted by kengraham at 10:45 PM on December 18, 2012


Voting, also, is only the first phase of democratic participation; the second phase is protest, which is a slightly charged word for being the public pressure to which it is an elected official's duty to cave. Probably the best response to a lot of Pessimists is "You don't vote for the candidate who will do good things; left to their own devices, they won't. You vote for the person most likely to do what you tell them." A problem with current attempts at representative democracies is that fucked-up unaccountable private power has internalized this message better than the populace has, probably because those same interests have made it real easy for all of us to be Tuned Outs.

(The corollary is that, if a government takes serious steps to curtail mass public criticism, or to withhold information that the public requires in order to make that criticism in an informed way, then it's ceased to be democratic, regardless of how "free and fair" the elections are. In that event, voting does become genuinely pointless, since the best possible outcome is some type of civic coitus interruptus where you can elect somebody but can't force them to govern according to the will of the people.)
posted by kengraham at 10:59 PM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Voting is a duty. It is a duty and a privilege. If you don't engage with democracy it stops working. Sometimes, quickly. But more often by death of a thousand cuts. Gerrymandering. Campaign finance and vested interests. Voter suppression. Two horse race political systems. Corruption. Partisan judges. Bad laws.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:07 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Personally, I didn’t vote because I moved a couple months back and the state didn’t bother to update my voter registration until several weeks after the election, so I never even received a ballot.
posted by stilist at 11:09 PM on December 18, 2012


"the second phase is protest, which is a slightly charged word for being the public pressure to which it is an elected official's duty to cave."

What? This is the worst idea I've ever heard. An elected official has a "duty to cave" to public protests? What about when the protesters are DEAD WRONG such as about the integration of schools? Or when there are vehement protestors on both sides of the issues?

Duty to listen, sure, but duty to CAVE? Because someone can turn out a large cadre of protestors? You can't have any idea of the complexity of the decision-making that goes on even at the lowest levels of government; part of the purpose of having elected officials rather than direct democracy is that the complexity of these questions requires a certain amount of time and effort put into mastery of the details of both the process of governing and of the specific issue.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:20 PM on December 18, 2012


Many non-voters didn't like the candidates for president. I get that. What I can't fathom is that elections are also for state senate, state house, referendums, governors, federal house, federal senate, judges, city council, aldermen, soil and water commissioners, treasurers, etc.

Unless you've seriously decided you don't like any of the options for all those offices, you've got no right not to vote.
posted by Theiform at 12:57 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or you just think it doesn't matter enough to you who gets elected to dog catcher.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:33 AM on December 19, 2012


Anyway, if the US wanted to get really serious about getting voting levels up, it would make election days into national holidays.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:34 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that in an American election, Americans should be forced to vote is antithetical to the very document that grants Americans the right to vote in the first place. The right to not participate in civic life is one of the many mixed "Blessings of Liberty." Seriously, in the bogus contest of who is the better American, the person who doesn't vote trumps utterly the person who would force others to vote.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Americans seem to have quite odd (to me) views on what constitutes freedom.

I say this as a citizen in a constitutional monarchy with compulsory voting, preference voting, and no constitutional right to free speech. Australia, in other words.

I grew up with this system, so I just don't grok the idea of not voting. I had a high-school history teacher who didn't vote, and dared the government to come and fine him. I used to think that was fine, but now, well, I don't agree with that any more. But if voting was a pain in the ass, and I had a life to lead, and it wasn't compulsory? Well, yeah, I can see how you'd want to opt out of the system.

But when you do that, all the fired up weenies get to make the rules. And fuck those guys. Of course, it's a lot easier for me to say this here, because my situation is a lot different to that of others.

Voting here happens on a Saturday, the lines are well under an hour, and there are Delicious Democracy Sausages, and it's run by an impartial Electoral Commission, and it's all pretty simple and pleasant and nice, apart from the rabid politics in the media. It's all pretty painless, and good humoured, and we get it over with and then get back to living our lives.

Dang. Now I'm hungry for Democracy Sausages.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 4:18 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live in a district in a state that was going to go the opposite way from my preference, so it does me no good to vote and wastes a couple of my hours.

The local downticket races are almost always close enough to where a few extra voters can push the results one way or another. And, these are the races that will most directly affect you, making it, perhaps, more immediately important that you show-up and vote.

See: Indiana re:Richard Mourdock
posted by Thorzdad at 4:20 AM on December 19, 2012


Seriously, in the bogus contest of who is the better American, the person who doesn't vote trumps utterly the person who would force others to vote.

I disagree. It's a civic duty. It is a tax on someone's time in the name of democracy. We have other civic duties including sending our kids to school, paying taxes and jury service. It's not a competition about who is more American, and it's no more an issue of liberty than forcing someone to pay taxes.

Trying to bring about voter suppression or apathy is now part of the political campaign landscape. This disproportionately affects potential voters who are disenfranchised, ill-informed or with poor access to information. Compulsory voting increases voter turnout and is a key way to get disenfranchised voters over the threshold of participating in democracy. Voters can still spoil their votes should they choose.

It is a comparatively recent thing that we just take democracy as a status quo. The mistake we risk making is not understanding that democracy is like the axiomatic marriage. It needs to be worked at. When you look at countries like Tunisia, where the newly democratic elections in 2011 saw turnouts above 90% it brings home that voting is a privilege of democracies, and it cuts both ways.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ironically, everything at the local level goes easily Democrat, because my city has a large minority population. At the national level: useless and gerrymandered; at the local level: uncompetitive the other way.

North Carolina is an odd place.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:08 AM on December 19, 2012


What about when the protesters are DEAD WRONG such as about the integration of schools? Or when there are vehement protestors on both sides of the issues?

Of course there will be vehement opinions that conflict; an elected official's main job should actually be decocting a prudent course of action from the aggregate of messages they are getting from the public. If the public doesn't exert constant pressure, then the behaviour of elected officials will, evidently, tend toward whatever behaviour certain lobbyists expect, at which point claims of democracy become false.

Also, what about when the elected officials are dead wrong, or motivated by their own electoral considerations? What if decisions are to be made about which many, many random folks are qualified to have an opinion, but no elected official is? It seems that this is very often the case. If the decisions involved in governance really are so complex, maybe the Active Faithfuls are right, and we shouldn't let the populace keep choosing their representatives, since they continually choose all manner of nutty, ignorant folks.

the complexity of these questions requires a certain amount of time and effort put into mastery of the details of both the process of governing and of the specific issue.

Routinely, elected officials fail to master the details of specific issues (about which they do not know shit -- the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is a climate change denier who is "more concerned about freezing"). That's why they should defer to vocal members of the public who are educated on these issues. Again, the main job of the elected official is to determine whom to listen to. The main job of members of the public who are not experts on a given issue is to make sure that the elected officials are listening to disinterested experts, to the greatest extent that they exist, and not to private power with no accountability to the public. On average, in large-scale politics, everyone is failing at their main job, except corporate spokesfolks.
posted by kengraham at 7:10 AM on December 19, 2012


Mandatory voting is like mandatory union membership. While both certainly have real, tangible benefits, having to implement either is a tacit admission that your society is fundamentally fucked.
posted by cthuljew at 7:14 AM on December 19, 2012


I don't think Australian society is fundamentally fucked. Australia has compulsory voting and it would also be a harsh reading of several of the other countries that have it and enforce it.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:20 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I mean, I'm an anarchist, and also East Timor.
posted by cthuljew at 7:30 AM on December 19, 2012


So, kengraham, you're walking back the claim that elected officials have a "duty to cave" to protests? Now their main duty is to find experts to listen to?

You're making some very broad claims about "democracy" and "elected officials" in general but talking specifically about Congress in this time period. You're also conflating all kinds of things about the political process, the setting of policy direction, and actual governance. I don't think you have a very clear idea of how the process of governing actually works. Certainly not at lower levels.

I'm also curious where you think magical "disinterested experts" come from, on issues other than science.

"If the decisions involved in governance really are so complex, maybe the Active Faithfuls are right, and we shouldn't let the populace keep choosing their representatives, since they continually choose all manner of nutty, ignorant folks."

I don't really think it's beyond the average person who can file a 1040 long form, but (assuming you live in a state with property tax) can you tell me the details of the process by which property taxes are levied and collected? Even most journalists who cover local taxing bodies have only the vaguest idea, but mastery of this complex process is required to, you know, actually levy the tax. It's not "too hard to understand," but a great deal of the actual work of governance is detail-oriented and requires a fairly time-consuming learning process.

I don't know too many "nutty, ignorant" folks in elected positions. Of the 600-some units of local government in my state, most of them work pretty much as intended. Only a small handful of the 15,000-some elected officials in this state are corrupt, incompetent, or nuts.

Of course if you're only talking about Congress, then fine, but if you're talking about "democracy" and "elections" in the U.S., the 500,000 local elected officials far outnumber the handful of federal elected officials.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 AM on December 19, 2012


Hollywood Upstairs Medical College: "There is no way to prevent voter intimidation, ensure ballot secrecy"

But there isn't a single instance of voter intimidation or ballot secrecy violation reported today!

(Isn't this the argument every time republicans talk about potential voter fraud?)
posted by gertzedek at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2012


The local downticket races are almost always close enough to where a few extra voters can push the results one way or another.

But almost never close enough to where one extra vote can push the results one way or another. And one vote is all I've got.
posted by straight at 9:17 AM on December 19, 2012


I consider voting to be the fee for being able to bitch and moan about the jobs the officials that are elected end up doing.

I also like to throw the curve in my staunchly Republican Tea Party stronghold district with my votes for Democrats.
posted by Leezie at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2012


gertzedek: But there isn't a single instance of voter intimidation or ballot secrecy violation reported today!

(Isn't this the argument every time republicans talk about potential voter fraud?)



The Republicans are pretending that you can effect mass voter intimidation or kill the secret ballot in a carefully monitored, in-person polling place. That's just a political ploy. Every time someone casts a ballot in a real polling place, not only are there pollworkers paid by the government, there are also Democratic and Republican observers on a hair-trigger ready to report any harassment or secrecy violation of their voters. Mutually assured destruction works. You can prove, decisively, that no one was looking over voter shoulders to see who they were voting for.

Ballot secrecy is the crux of any effort to stop voter intimidation or bribery because if the ballot is secret there is no proof. When mail-in ballots are cast in the voter's home, there's nothing preventing a husband from hovering over his wife and saying "vote for Bluth" and watching her to make sure it happens. In an in-person election, the wife can lie to her husband that she did vote for Bluth, and there's no way to verify it because at no point did anyone other than the wife observe the votes cast on the ballot while it was in her custody. Once it is cast, the link to her is severed: thus, secret ballot.

It is prevented because it is possible to observe and monitor the casting of ballots. Republicans abuse the specter of voter fraud to attack in-person balloting, which is a transparent and naked political ploy.

Virginia, for example, requires absentee ballots to be "witnessed" by another adult, but carefully stipulates that the witness cannot see the ballot. In a polling place, their ballot secrecy is ensured, again, by a set of pollworkers and observers from both parties. In a home, who could possibly monitor this?

Nearly all of the "voter fraud" and intimidation cases that do exist stem from mail-in absentee ballots. Let's talk about Florida, an example I know well, but hardly the only one.

In Florida, any partisan or campaign worker is allowed to take ballots from voters and deliver them to the Supervisor of Elections. In what functioning, competent democracy are campaign workers allowed to even touch ballots at an in-person site?

Let's say that we ban campaign workers from ever handling absentee ballots. Who could possibly monitor this law when the ballots are spread thousands of different directions.

So-called boleteros are a common part of South Florida politics, especially in the Hatian and Cuban communities. In the Haitian community, elderly Creole-speaking voters in nursing homes were instructed to "consult Teacher Caroline", who happened to be a boletero. There's very little preventing someone from filling out a ballot and pushing it in front of a voter to sign under pressure and duress. None of these things are possible in a carefully monitored polling place because the chain of custody of ballots is openly monitored.

With mail-in absentee ballots, there is no way to fix an overvote. If you vote in-person using an optical scan machine, it will kick your ballot back out if you have overvoted, and you can request a new ballot to cast. This function occurs in a manner that preserves ballot secrecy. Once your absentee ballot is mailed in, there is no way to fix errors or contest its rejection. Florida ballots are routinely tossed using signature verification, a subjective criteria that depends on how a staffer is feeling that morning. Worse yet, once these ballots are rejected, you can't fix it at all. At least with in-person voting, you can cast a provisional ballot.

It's very important to note that Florida Republicans slashed early voting in an effort to crowd out voters from 5 to 7 hour lines, but they did nothing to mail-in absentee voting. That alone should tell you what's going on.

I say this as a diehard Democrat who wants to encourage as much voter turnout as possible by extending Election Day polling hours so that every person who can votes in person that the Democratic position on absentee ballots is a very bad strategic move. Once you take the election out of 2,000 polling places and scatter it to 2,000,000 households, it becomes virtually impossible to monitor the casting of ballots. That should make any advocate of democracy shudder in fear. Clean elections happen because everyone that has a stake can see it happening. Take that aspect out, and what can you trust?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:33 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


But almost never close enough to where one extra vote can push the results one way or another. And one vote is all I've got.

I've lived somewhere with a race so tight that it was decided by 20 votes. Not the one vote you're holding up, but that's a very thin margin. Certainly thin enough that a couple dozen people thinking like you would have made things go very differently. Or, heck, a particularly nasty stomach bug.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:02 PM on December 19, 2012



You don't like who is on the ballot, run.


i'm younger than 35, i can't run for president.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:02 PM on December 19, 2012


when no party is close to a solution
posted by Addiction at 1:12 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older The tale of Fairytale of New York: the story behin...  |  Richard Wright & Pink Floyd - ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments