Most Americans don’t really care about contemporary political issues or the rudimentary workings of their government. But they sure do love voting. And the biggest fans of “democracy” treat this orgy of vacuous lever pulling as if it were sacred or patriotic. It is neither. In 2013, President Barack Obama, who’s often argued that voting should be easier, issued a decidedly undemocratic executive order to create a commission that was tasked with investigating how to expand participation.
The report, for example, suggests that no one in the country should have to wait longer than 30 minutes to cast a ballot — or, in other words, voting should entail 15 minutes less exertion than ordering Chinese takeout. Nowhere within the recommendations — or elsewhere, for that matter — do we ever ponder whether voters have a civic responsibility to know who the vice president is before getting an “I voted” sticker.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that little more than a third of American adults can name the three branches of government, and 35 percent can’t name a single one. Only 38 percent of Americans could correctly identify which party controls the House or the Senate, and more than 40 percent “didn’t even feel qualified to guess at the leadership of each house of Congress.” There are dozens — hundreds — of surveys over the years that confirm the fact that the majority of Americans care more about anything than they do about foreign policy. And though there’s no shame in being turned off by the cavity of Washington, there might be something shameful about nullifying the vote of a citizen who took the time to figure out the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.
Accountability is a downer. Making things “easy” is empowering. Last week in Colorado, scores of negligent teachers and their pliable students took to the streets to protest the implementation of a curriculum that goes heavy on teaching the responsibilities of citizenship rather than romanticizing the state. (The curriculum, it should be mentioned, was implemented using the democratic process that unions claim to hold in such high esteem.)
Is it any wonder that so many young people have ridiculously outsize expectations about what government can or should be doing? Is it any wonder that so many people can be so easily manipulated with emotional appeals — and the kind of “bed-wetting” and scaremongering we hear every day? “Hence the concentration of power and the subjection of individuals will increase among democratic nations,” said Alexis de Tocqueville, “not only in the same proportion as their equality, but in the same proportion as their ignorance.” Sounds about right.
In Ohio, for example, a person can vote four weeks before the election. And if you forget to register, feel free to do it on the day of the election. As if that weren’t enough to degrade the sanctity of the democratic process, this week the Supreme Court had to stop the state from offering an extra week, which would have allowed people to both register to vote and vote. The Supreme Court also eliminated voting on theSunday before Election Day. This will make it more difficult for churches to organize their flocks to vote in lock step. We should be discouraging this sort of communal voting as much as we should be discouraging paper ballots, which not only are haphazardly mailed out but create a situation that leaves millions susceptible to manipulation by friends and family members. Ideally, an American should stand in a long line before being sequestered to ponder long and hard the gravity of the mistake they’re about to make.
Unlike others, I’m not worried about widespread fraud — though it certainly happens on occasion. I’m worried about too many uninformed and unmotivated people registering to vote. We should demand some effort. And despite perceptions, I’m not alone in these thoughts. According to the latest poll on the topic, Rasmussen found that only 17 percent of likely voters believe it’s too hard to vote in the United States, whereas 27 percent think it’s too easy — and 50 percent feel the level of difficulty is just right.
Now, it’s likely that this poll has to do with partisanship, fear of fraud or race. In addition to the recent decision in Ohio, the process of tightening voting procedures is underway in other states, including North Carolina, Texas and Arkansas. Some argue that these laws undermine the participation of African-Americans. Considering our ugly history on this matter, accusations such as this should not be taken lightly. And as Americans, we must do our best to make voting equally onerous for all races and creeds.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of “The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy.”