Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should US Simplify Voter Registration? Motor-Voter Bill Is a Solution in Search of a Problem

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Should US Simplify Voter Registration? Motor-Voter Bill Is a Solution in Search of a Problem

Article excerpt

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 fear 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. …

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