An expensively-produced, celebrity-sprinkled video has been spreading virally around the web, preaching to the already converted that they need to “get out and vote”. Apparently this is Google’s handiwork. But is Hollywood/Silicon Valley really concerned about shepherding to the polls the already-educated, civic-minded political addicts that are voraciously consuming every piece of election-related material that their feed readers cough up? This will be no more effective in reaching the disenfranchised than offering free iced cream at the polling station.
So why are we spending millions making and positioning TV commercials and magazine ads encouraging people to vote rather than addressing the root of problems? As usual, it is the usual Khafkaesque penchant of Americans to re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while averting their eyes from the largeish gash in the hull.
Besides, online politics junkies are really not the people whom the reform-minded need to speak to. There are a large (increasing) number of disenfranchised, hope-bereft Americans living in the margins of society, just barely scraping by. Most of these people don’t know how to navigate the chicanery that is the U.S. Electoral process, and so are left out even when they are able to see enough light at the end of the tunnel to vote. According to a U.S. Census study, 25% of eligible voters are not registered to vote in the election.
Topping the list of controversies surrounding the 2004 election is the failure of the voter registration process to service the voting public. It is a convoluted, clunky, error-prone, and eminently corruptible system that is administered differently in different states, precisely because it is operated by state electoral bureaux, rather than by any national authority. It favours voters who declare their affiliation in advance, which further exposes the system to corruption by the clearly partisan officials who maintain it.
In particular, all U.S. states except for North Dakota require voters to register substantially (generally one month) in advance of the election. As this article in the Detroit Free Press points out, that deadline for Michigan is October 6th. Both your name and your address must exactly match on both your ID and on your Voter Registration card. If you move? Tough luck. This will, ironically, affect some of the foreclosure victims in a cruel way come November. The process is convoluted to say the least — even the Governor of South Carolina was turned away from the polling station a couple of years ago due to a registration snafu. And in this electronic age, why on earth is it even necessary?
Officials in Columbus, Ohio estimated that 5,000 to 15,000 voters were turned away during the last federal election. In 2004, more than 300,000 voters were actually turned away at the polling booth due to ID mismatches around the U.S. According to the same report: “in Ohio, about one-fourth of those registered by Jesse Jackson’s 2004 voter drive found their registrations delayed beyond the election date or lost.”
Most modern democracies have addressed, if not solved, the problem of voter disenfranchisement quite simply: same-day registration requires prospective voters to merely present credentials which prove their eligibility to vote, and *poof* they’re in. In Canada, for example, pre-registration is optional and designed to smooth the process at the polling booths — however voters can still drift into the polling station, present proof of citizenship and residency, and their vote is soon counted. Canada’s electoral system is operated by a federal authority, strangely enough.
So whereas in the U.S. blacks, minorities, and the poor tend to vote to the left, it is clearly to the benefit of the GOP to keep the electoral process as exclusive as possible. And so you have had two consecutive contested Republican victories in the United States. I think it’s pretty clear what effect yet more pretty people telling us to vote will have, and I think it’s similarly clear why no fundamental solutions to the problem of voter disenfranchisement are forthcoming.