October 16, 2006

Bread and Circuses, Pizza and Parades

by PG

Despite the cliche that 1L year is the worst, I am much busier this semester than I was two years ago, or six years ago, and so I am not engaging in any election day activities. No going door-to-door for Democratic candidates, and it's not because I'm a little discouraged that the only candidate for whom I canvassed back in college who actually won an election has decided not to bid for the 2008 presidential nomination. (Maybe it was the peculiar magic of his running in an odd-numbered year with no federal Dems on the ticket to jinx him?) No Election Protection, even though my own experience at the polls in Ohio in 2004 reassured me that at least there had been no malfeasance at my precinct.

So I deleted the partisan e-mail from the law school Democrats asking me to join a free trip to Pennsylvania, despite my interest in the Senate race, and am ignoring the encouragement of Working Assets/ Act for Change to "organize non-partisan neighborhood celebrations on Election Day at or near polling stations." This year, just figuring out whether to vote for Kinky is enough work. I'm also a little doubtful about whether throwing a party near a polling site is appropriate. I don't particularly want to encourage voting from people who will change their minds about whether to exercise the franchise based on a donut or pizza; if I'm going to give my time, I'd rather provide transportation, or child or eldercare -- things whose lack legitimately keep people who would like to vote from doing so. I suppose one could say that the provision of donuts or pizza will allow voters to save the time they otherwise would have to spend on getting a meal themselves, but then presumably it ought to be healthy food.

I don't like the sense of having to bribe or coax people to vote, but I do like to see communities that are enthusiastic about elections. For example, Sussex County's return day is pretty cute:

Join history in the making when the winning and losing candidates from Election Day 2006 (November 7) ride together in open horse drawn carriages and antique automobiles in a biennial parade 200 years in the making. The PARADE steps off at 1:30 p.m. starting at Sussex Central Elementary School (former high school)proceeding east on Market Street around the historic Circle, turning at Grace United Methodist Church then west on Pine Street back to Sussex Central Elementary School. After the parade join Delaware's political leaders on the Wilmington Trust Main Stage on The Circle in front of the historic Sussex County Courthouse (circa 1837) to hear the Town Crier deliver the returns from the Courthouse balcony. The dramatic "Burial of the Tomahawk" by Sussex County's party chairmen officially ends Delaware's political season.
You'd almost think they didn't get HBO.

October 16, 2006 08:16 PM | TrackBack

There are Western democracies where people are legally rquired to vote, and get prosecuted and fined if they fail to do so. Australia is the example that leaps to mind. I find the notion of mandatory voting weird and troublesome, but I can't fully articulate why. In light of this post, I wonder if you have any thoughts on it?

Posted by: Tom T. at October 17, 2006 11:17 PM

I'm opposed to mandatory voting because I don't think voting has much import if you're just pulling the lever because you have to. As many people have observed, voting is not rational behavior because the trouble the individual takes to go vote is so much greater than the importance her vote will have in almost all elections. At the individual level, voting is really more like expressive behavior, and forcing people to do this is a bad idea. Also, I think the deliberate refusal to vote is also a form of expression that should be respected even if I think it is stupid (much like flag-burning).

However, I do wish the U.S. would adopt mandatory voting nations' grant of a day off for national elections. This may disadvantage voting in states that have their local elections in off-years (as Virginia does), but I think it genuinely would be helpful in increasing voter turnout, especially if we moved elections to Wednesday so people wouldn't try to make it a long weekend by taking off Monday. If you get a day off in the middle of the workweek, in November, and you still can't get off your rear to go vote, you probably shouldn't be helping to decide these matters anyway.

I really do like the attempt to create a sense of community celebration around elections; I find it bizarre that we make a big deal about the Fourth of July, yet don't get a day off or even have special car sales for the day on which we actually do the work of democracy.

Posted by: PG at October 18, 2006 01:07 AM
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