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
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
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. …