Mt. Vernon Register-News


March 26, 2014

Not voting shouldn't be a choice for Americans

When this November we elect the people to lead our country, maybe 40 percent or even fewer will go to vote. Is it too late to stop this disgrace?

To take a page from “Nudge,” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, we might try “nudging” people to vote. Here’s one way: a personal, guilt-inducing letter of invitation to everyone to vote, mailed by every secretary of state to every citizen, registered or not, for whom there is a driver’s license or state identification of any kind.

Some may groan: If increasing turnout is the goal, why not change the election date to Sunday? Why not mail a ballot to everyone? Indeed, why not have compulsory voting?

But apart from starting brawls, all those things require a change in the law. Nothing, not one thing, stops the secretary of state of Illinois, or Massachusetts, or California, from just sending out an innocent little letter inviting citizens to vote, and reminding them of their civic obligation to do so.

At the moment, polarization is driving our politics, and our divided government leads to gridlock, which frustrates voters and makes it all seem pointless. Naming and shaming people who don’t vote has the potential to change that.

You might say: “Bah, humbug. No letter of invitation will have any effect on me.” You probably don’t even care what your neighbors are doing.

But we don’t care about you. By your very reading of this op-ed article, you have already demonstrated a higher-than- average propensity to vote. The purpose here is to prey on people who don’t know what they ought to do.

This little epiphany came to me of late while traveling in a foreign country, where they always do things differently — and in particular, it happened on a trip in September to Berlin, just before the national elections. A friend there handed me such a letter of invitation — to be sure, more stiffly Teutonic than feel-good American in style. Yet reading it, I felt, well … nudged, and even envious that I had no chance to be a good German.

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