While we are covering the executive branch in the textbook this week, I wanted to do something slightly off-topic but related to executive branch politics given that we are in an election year: voting. Specifically, I want to talk about voter participation and voter turnout in the U.S. As we know, voting is an essential part of any democracy — arguably the most important part of a democratic government. There are many forms and styles of democracies, but they all require input from the public to be considered, by definition, a democratic mode of governance. Ok, easy enough.
We also know, however, that voter turnout in the United States is low when compared to other democratic nations and low by what we might want it to be. Now the purpose of a democratic government is to represent the demands of the people and the purpose of voting is (in one way) to tell the government what it is that we demand; so, it stands to reason that the more people we have voting, the better our democracy would be at representing the demands of the people. More people voting is better for the health and function of a democracy. Ok.
If more people voting is better for our system, how can we get more people to vote? We, as a group, typically aren’t all that interested in politics, except for maybe once every four years when the presidential election rolls around. So how can we increase voter turnout in the U.S.? We have made it easier to register with “motor-voter laws” (U.S. has a pretty respectable percentage of registered voters); some states will allow you to register to vote on the same day as the election (while others, like Texas, require that you register at least 30 days prior); what about making voting compulsory? While voting is compulsory in two dozen or so countries, Americans typically feel that forcing people to vote goes against understandings of freedom (the problem of “forcing someone to be free”) and that it generally wouldn’t be an effective method to improve turnout any way unless the fines were excessive — in which case people would show up on election day and just check whatever box they saw first just to avoid the fine, and that’s obviously not desirable.
What about public shaming? Some political groups have turned to public shaming in efforts to increase voter turnout by mailing fliers to homes with the resident’s voting records, along with the voting records of their neighbors (not who they voted for, just whether or not they voted). The idea being that if more people knew everyone’s voting history, more people would show up to vote.
What do you think of this approach to increasing voter turnout? Is it an invasion of privacy (voting records – whether or not you voted, not who you voted for – are available to the public) or is it an effective and justifiable tactic? If voter turnout is important to function of a democracy and we have a low voter turnout in the US and especially in Texas, what lengths should we go to in order to get more people to vote?
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