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Voting, Right?

I spent quite a few minutes today trying to explain to my Perfect Non-Reader (of this Tohu Bohu) why I disagreed with the Supreme Court’s action today striking down the enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act. Fortunately, the field on which she and her elementary-school classmates played soccer was on a (fairly gentle) slope.

I do want to point out the two-party political context (other than the obvious one, which is that after each party broke in half over civil rights, My Party became the party of Civil Rights and the Other Party became the party of opposition thereto) in the attitude to voting itself: the Other Party is concerned about overvoting, and My Party is concerned about undervoting.

Now, is the Other Party actually, really concerned about overvoting? I don’t know. Practically, they have introduced measures to combat it. Requiring voters to have IDs, reducing the number of polling places and the times they are open, reducing or eliminating the provisions set up to ease registration, opposing funding to voter-registration organizations, aggressively purging registration rolls, disenfranchising felons. And rhetorically, they just seem really upset over the possibility that people are voting who oughtn’t be voting. Or that somebody is voting two or three times under different names. They talk and act as if they are convinced that overvoting is a huge, huge deal.

My Party, on the other hand, opposes the ID requirement because the idea that somebody who is legally entitled to vote might be unable to do is so appalling to us that the overvoting problem just pales in comparison. The idea that a handful of people will have their franchise taken away because they didn’t know about the registration requirement until too late is terrible, so we want same-day registration, even if that means some sneaky guys will get two votes, and we support voter-registration drives, even if that means that somebody is putting Mickey Mouse on the rolls. The idea that somebody, somewhere is choosing between standing on line to vote or getting paid for work is outrageous, so we support vote-by-mail and early polling hours. And, of course, the idea that the bulk of the vote is being miscounted by a machine reader is nearly the ultimate terror for our conception of democracy.

It’s a mindset, an instinct. I think it correlates to the universe we see—I really don’t think there is much overvoting in America these days, and it’s pretty obvious that a whole bunch of us don’t vote. But mostly, it’s this mindset, and the mindset is largely independent of any actual empirical evidence quantifying which is a more or less frequent issue at the moment.

And I think it comes down to something fairly simple: how do you feel about somebody being denied a vote? And how do you feel about somebody casting a fraudulent ballot? Which one of those makes you burn?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I would add one more distinction between undervoting and overvoting: at its core, undervoting is a problem for citizens feeling that they have a say in government, and overvoting is a problem for knowing that the result is accurate according to whatever set of rules happen to be in place. It's a focus on those doing the electing vs. a focus on those elected.

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