How to Save America: A Moonshot for the People to Reclaim Our Democracy
Voter turnout in America this election was abysmal. How bad? Well, recent estimates indicate that about 55% of voting age citizens in America participated in the 2016 election, which is the worst voter turnout in about 20 years.
When compared with other democracies, America’s voter turnout is atrocious. We rank 31st out of 35 countries, according to an August 2016 Pew Research Center ranking (which admittedly does not factor in the recent election).
There’s a myriad of reasons for the low voter turnout rates:
- Political apathy and a lack of civic engagement;
- Gerrymandering and being in a non-competitive district or state;
- Cumbersome processes (needing to go to specific polling places during work hours on a Tuesday, long lines, with far too many ballot measures, etc.);
- Restrictions on voting (e.g., limitations on registration or early voting, voter ID which is really a new form of poll tax, citizen’s challenges);
- Voter intimidation and suppression efforts;
- Whether it is a presidential vs. mid-term election; and
- Other varied factors, including historical disenfranchisement.
So what should we do?
We Need a Fundamental Shift In the Way That We Treat Politics In this Country
The current system centers on engagement, and benefits those being the most engaged as having the most representation. Only the participants’ voices (votes) are heard. This does not reflect the will of the People, but rather just a bare majority of the People.
No Compulsory/Mandatory Voting (We Must Respect Individual Freedom to Vote or Not Vote)
Unlike other countries (such as Belgium or Brazil, for example), I don’t believe that the U.S. would do well with mandatory or compulsory voting (which typically has fines of an escalating nature, including potentially a relinquishment of rights as a citizen).
This is because at the core of American philosophy is the individual’s right to liberty and independence, which flows historically from the American Revolution and the strong distrust of tyrannical systems.
Instead, I believe there might be an alternative means.
Opt In* v. Opt Out Voting
First, we can take a lesson from business, and in particular marketing. Email marketing and consent comes in two general forms: (1) active, or affirmative consent (opt in); or (2) implied, or implicit consent (opt out). For example, if you visit a website, and agree to receiving e-mail marketing for specific purposes, you have provided consent via the former. Meanwhile, the latter is characterized by consent through actions (using that site, e.g.) and then providing an opportunity to limit how information is used, collected, and to “opt out” of certain activities.
Voting in America presently comes in the “opt in” variety, where affirmative steps (generally) need to be taken — first, to register, and then, to vote.
If America were to change its default to an “opt out,” where all eligible citizens over the age of 18 were automatically registered to vote, and affirmative steps had to be taken for that citizen to opt out of voting, we would fundamentally shift the default positions of the electorate from being disllusioned by barriers — as is the case today — to eventually being engaged and consistently voting as time progresses.
Specifically, I would propose a Constitutional Amendment to achieve this. A Constitutional Amendment, which mandates automatic registration of all elgible voting aged citizens in this country. It would be following in a long line of precedence in America’s history, from the 15th Amendment (voting regardless of race), to the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage), and the 26th Amendment (voting age as being 18).
Such an amendment would address the first part of the voting process, making registration to vote an “opt out” system instead of being an “opt in” system. Because it would be automatic, it would be based upon State records, which would verify citizenship and eligibility (being 18, non-felony, etc.), and it should include automatic de-registration due to death or registration in another state.
Federalism concerns would also be nil because it would be a Constitutional Amendment.
*In actuality, the dichotomy isn’t even a pure Opt-In. It’s moreso an Opt-In+ in the since that, registration can be difficult or obtuse, and then additional time and other restrictions, including ID requirements might kick in for actual voting.
Voting Should Be Easy
Part two in fundamentally shifting America’s attitudes towards voting is to make elections so easy and streamlined that doing so becomes the default, as opposed to the exception. This can come in a wide range of possibilities, but it needs to be simple, verifiable, and intimidation and suppression free.
After all, elections shouldn’t be chaotic. They should be orderly and deliberate.
My preferred method, although I’m open to suggestions, is that there be a two-week Vote-by-Mail period, culminating in an Election day, with each ballot having trackable bar codes (or similar technology), so that ballots and votes can be verified and tracked with a paper back-up. No intimidation, no long lines, not susceptible to inclement whether or work-day absences. Obviously details for invalidating mistaken ballots and checks for duplicates will need to be in place.
So What Do We Do?
If America wants to reclaim its voice, there needs to be a movement like there was for Civil Rights, and like there was for Women’s Suffrage. It needs to be politically neutral, and it needs to be massive.
America needs to demand in the millions that their voices be heard, and in one clear voice, it needs to be for America’s voice to be heard again.
Yes, I know this isn’t going to be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. It’s going to be incredibly difficult. There will need to be massive amounts of organizing, and agitating, and engaging with the public and Congress, and State legislators, and governors. But ultimately, isn’t America worth that sort of effort?
Instead of merely protesting Trump being elected (which is a completely healthy and productive outlet when done peacefully), this is one of the things that I think mass protests should focus on — Universal Suffrage.
Tl;DR: America’s voter turnout sucks. Let’s use two of the best ideas by states to fix that. Automatic registration (from Oregon), and vote-by-mail (from Colorado), and let’s protest HARD in the MILLIONS for the implementation of Universal Suffrage amendments.