Should US Simplify Voter Registration?
Motor-voter bill is a solution in search of a problem
WHAT I am about to say is heresy to some, blasphemy to others, and worst of all, politically incorrect: The so-called "motor-voter" bill is a solution in search of a problem.Others, although few dare say so publicly, have joined me in saying relatively low voter turnout is a sign of a content democracy. It is not indicative of a nation in decline or democracy imperiled. While people believe government at all levels is incompetent at best, they nevertheless perceive elections and voting as peripheral to their lives. Charles Krauthammer stated this view eloquently last year in an editorial for Time magazine: "Low voter turnout means that people see politics as quite marginal to their lives, as neither salvation nor ruin. That is healthy. Low voter turnout is a leading indicator of contentment. For a country founded on the notion that that government is best that governs least, it seems entirely proper that Americans should in large numbers register a preference against politics by staying home on Election Day." Like such observers, I do not advocate low turnout, I just recognize it for what it is. And what it is not. It is not the most pressing issue of our time. In support of this bill, we hear passionate speeches about higher voter turnout in other countries. Voices boom: "Even the Soviet Union had a higher turnout in their presidential election this summer than we did in '88." Of course. In the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, democratic elections are a novelty. Penalties also are an effective incentive. Italy, Austria, and Belgium have the highest turnout among Western democracies. They also punish non-voters. Americans have the right not to vote, without fea r of reprisal. There are two sure means of increasing turnout: coercion and bribery. The motor-voter bill embodies yet another method, which is to make voting so extremely easy that even political couch potatoes will roll out and vote. It would require state and local governments to register voters through drivers' license applications, the mail, and public assistance offices. To set up this uniform voter registration system will cost the states millions of dollars - money that might otherwise be spent on better health care, education, and child nutrition. The motor-voter bill dumps this huge expense on state governments at a time when many states are being forced to shut down vital services, furlough workers, and raise taxes. Proponents say the cost is worth it, because it will register more voters. But it does not follow that those so registered will actually vote. A study prepared by the bipartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate found that: "Declining voter participation cannot be attributed to problems in registration and voting law, since it has occurred during a time when registration and voting law generally has been altered to make registration and voting easier." There is no evidence that the bill will increase turnout; there is ample indication that it will not. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the motor-voter bill is its potential to foster election fraud and thus debase the entire political process Several provisions of the bill have caused alarm among state and federal officials charged with ensuring the integrity of our electoral process. That is why the motor-voter bill is acquiring a new nickname: "auto-fraudo." One of the most dangerous provisions is the "escape clause" for states that cannot afford to comply with the bill. States that have election-day registration would not be subject to the provisions of the bill. The Justice Department has said this escape clause "would greatly impair the ability of the Department and the states to combat voting and election fraud ... [and] would totally preclude meaningful verification of voter eligibility, and thus allow easy corruption of the election process by the unsc rupulous." Thus, not only is this bill burdensome on states, and probably useless in increasing turnout, it also may undermine the integrity of the electoral process. For that reason alone, it should be defeated. Proponents of this bill say they just want to make it easier to vote. We should ask ourselves: How easy should voting be? Is it too much to ask that people have a passing interest in the political process, 10, 20, or 30 days prior to an election and that they go down to the Courthouse, or the library, to register? If we just want to make voting as easy as possible, technology may be the answer. Imagine "VOTE-TV." Press the remote control button corresponding to the candidate of your choice shown on the screen and do your bit for democracy. You could get back to "Jeopardy" or "Entertainment Tonight" before the commercial ends. To stimulate turnout, voters could automatically be eligible for a national lottery. Or we could just pay people to vote. That's what they do in parts of Kentucky. These are extreme illustrations, but how easy should it be?