To the Editor:
In the July 7 Islander, both the State of Maine column by Jill Goldthwait and an editorial struck a common theme: the lack of voter turnout. While the concern is commendable, the proposals offered are fraught with unwarranted assumptions, leading to unwarranted conclusions.
One common theme is the assumption that larger voter turnout is a good thing in and of itself. To this end, we in this country have spent ever more effort to make it easy to register and vote. We have “motor-voter” registration. In Maine, as in many other states, we allow multiple absentee or early-voter balloting. In Maine, we allow same-day registration.
And the Islander‘s editorial proposes open primaries as a way to increase participation.
All of these things lead to potential problems.
Motor-voter laws and same-day registration can easily lead to voter fraud; anyone can apply for a driver’s license, and thereby register to vote. Anyone can walk in off the street and claim to be a resident and vote. Early voting can lead, and probably did in this year’s Republican primary, to voters casting an early vote for someone for whom they might not have voted if given a bit longer look at that candidate. Many votes were wasted in the Republican primary for candidates who quickly disappeared from the debate stage. Waiting until the field was winnowed down may have allowed these voters to cast their votes more productively – it might even be argued that such wasted votes allowed Donald Trump his victory.
Voting is a privilege and a duty, not a birthright. Making voting too easy simply leads, if indeed it does increase turnout, to votes being cast by the lazy, the uninformed and the makers of snap decisions. Frankly, these are not the kinds of people we should want voting. But in the name of turnout, we have encouraged them.
Open primaries easily can lead to manipulation. As a Republican, I could vote for Bernie Sanders because I believe him to be the weaker candidate against my party’s nominee. The same calculus applies to a Democrat voting for Trump. There are parties for a reason. While not always consistent, our parties are generally broadly identifiable with a particular philosophy of government, which is why most of us belong to one or another. Generally, Independents are that in name only. They adhere to the point-of-view of one of the parties, but identify themselves as Independent either to disguise their views, or because they did not get the party’s nomination.
In sum, the solution to greater voter turnout is for politicians to speak more clearly about their viewpoints so that the voter actually understands what he’s voting for. In this year (like many others) in which neither major candidate has done anything but speak drivel and non-sequiturs, it’s no wonder that voters display no interest. We won’t increase voter participation until and unless we begin to have honest discussions of the issues. And as long as the level of political discourse remains as puerile as it is, encouraging more people who respond to this kind of nonsense to vote just adds to the damage.