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Issue No. 1 - THE VOTE
C O N T E N T S :

Update » No Paper, No Trail: An Open Invitation to Electoral Fraud


A Vote That Counts

2002 Elections Underscore Imperative of Major Reform

Libertarian Solutions for Revitalizing Our Democracy

Spoiled? Ralph Nader and Voting Patterns in 2000

Post-Democracy: The Dystopian Future of Our Winner-Take-All Politics

Voter Turnout: How To Hit 90% by 2010

Vote, Organize, Vote, and Win - For a Progressive Society

SPECIAL: G&G Wellness

Voter Turnout: How to Hit 90% by 2010

On November 5, fully 37% of the nation's voting age population showed up at the polls. This ranks us 139th out of 172 countries around the globe, and dead last among the industrial democratic countries we consider our peers*. Even places like India, Syria, and Venezuela beat us again and again.

So what's next -- 30% of us show up? 20%? Voter turnout has been slowly sliding for decades, and it's time to take action and rescue this democracy. Four bold but sensible changes would achieve 90% voter turnout by the year 2010.

Sound impossible? Many young democracies around the globe - countries that Jimmy Carter visits as a "democracy observer" - routinely see over 80% of eligible voters show up, while we the "Mother Democracy" have at our disposal tremendous resources that sit idle. When 35 other nations regularly see over 80% turnout, 90% is a worthy and reasonable goal for the US.

Here's how to hit 90% by 2010:

  1. Make Election Day a national holiday. Complete with star-spangled banners, apple pie, and TV documentaries on the wars our predecessors fought to preserve our democracy, an Election Day holiday would be worthwhile and patriotic. Holidays change behavior. A day devoted to voting and involving ourselves in politics will make us more active citizens and bring more of us to the polls.

    Yes, the business community will oppose a new holiday, but the fact is we have fewer holidays than any other industrial country and Election Day is already a national holiday in many countries; perhaps make it a Wednesday to reduce the temptation to take a four-day weekend. Delaware, Hawaii, and several other states already treat Election Day as a holiday, but upon going national the holiday will enter our collective awareness and become a phenomenon.

    And in addition to fostering a celebration of our democracy, an Election Day holiday would remove the classist problem workers have in getting off work to vote - or justifying to their boss two hours away from work. Laws in many states already require employers to let workers leave to vote, but only if workers ask. An Election Day holiday would equalize boss and worker in the eyes of our democracy, and ensure no one has to ask permission to vote. Election Day would become a beautiful celebration of our democracy, a time as festive, patriotic, and meaningful as the Forth of July.
  2. Improve voter choice by enabling voters to vote for whom they believe in. A simple voting mechanism called "Instant Runoff Voting" (IRV), which is already in use in many countries, allows voters to rank their choices in order of preference. This eminently sensible voting system is discussed in other articles (and in the resources section) of this issue of Garlic & Grass. But simply put, IRV allows a Florida voter to designate Nader first and Gore second - thus allowing him to voice his true beliefs while electing his second preference. Gore wins, Bush goes back to Texas.

    Best of all, IRV enables voters to express more of their opinions and wishes to their government, which in turn creates a better, more vibrant Democracy. By collecting more than a simple yes/no, Gore/Bush vote, we more fully engage people and elect more representative voices to better govern us.
  3. Include "None of the Above." Once we have IRV and an Election Day holiday, we further enhance voter choice by including on all ballots several opt-out choices: "None of the above," "I don't have enough information," and "I don't care." Thus the pollsters and media learn still more about the will and feelings of common Americans. Every year the corporate media tells us that voters are apathetic, satisfied, or turned off - why not let voters tell us themselves?

    This may sound like a joke to some, but for many it will make voting more inclusive and more honest.
  4. Use a small carrot instead of a big stick. With these reforms in place, we take the final step: institute a small reward system to bring people to the booths. Upon voting, each voter receives $100 - money that he or she has already paid on his or her April tax return. The progressive in me would also make this a progressive tax: those making less than $40,000 annually wouldn't pay the $100 in April but would still get a $100 check upon voting (voter turnout today is lowest among the poor); those making less than $150,000 would pay $100 and receive $100; and those making over $150,000, who have succeeded in our American system and whose turn it is now to sustain our American democracy, would pay $500 and receive the standard $100 upon voting. This limited investment in our democracy would pay tremendous dividends.

    In some 30 countries, from Brazil to Italy to Australia, voting is mandatory and failure to vote is punishable by law. We don't need forced voting in the US -- positive rather than negative consequences will work better anyway. No, it works like this: everyone goes to the polls, votes, gets $100, and then saves the money or enjoys a fancy Election Day holiday dinner. Some may still view this as forced voting and forego the $100, but how much coercion is it really with the "None of the above" and "I don't care" options?

Other steps should be taken as well, from nonpartisan debate commissions to proportional representation, but these four steps alone would bring us to 90% by 2010. And from there we'll be able to create public policy that truly reflects the will of voters.

Ultimately, the question we have to ask ourselves is, do we want to make voting an essential American activity? Isn't it time to do something bold? Today many of us see voting as important but don't have time to vote, or feel constrained to vote for a despised candidate. Let's take these four sensible steps and enjoy the countless ways a reinvigorated democracy will improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Election Day:
Take the day off, Cast your vote, Take your $100, Celebrate America.

Tony Brasunas publishes Garlic & Grass. Contact him at tony@brasunas.com.


* Sources for statistics:

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