The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of the Davis Clipper.
Changes in election procedures are a solution in search of a problem. The flavor of the season is the option to conduct city elections by mail. No longer would citizens have to take ten minutes out of the day to let their voice be heard; they would merely have to hand a pre-stamped envelope to their letter carrier.
The premise behind the change is that it will increase voter participation. No doubt! But if increasing voter turnout is really the end-all, why not recruit armed National Guardsmen to round up all registered voters and force them to the polls? That would ensure 100 percent voter participation.
Yet numerous cities are considering the mail-in concept and several (Riverdale City, for instance) are adopting it. The goal is to boost voter participation from about 20 percent to 60 percent.
Granted, voter turnout in the U.S. is shameful. The majority of voting-age citizens don’t vote at all, even in national elections, and often more than one-third of all registered voters fail to show up at the voting booths. We have become lazy proponents of democracy, shrugging our shoulders and voicing the belief that “my vote doesn’t make any difference anyway.”
But if low voter participation is shameful, it is not necessarily a problem. In sales, the money goes to the salesman who shows up in the client’s office. In business, the employee who shows up for work is the one receiving the paycheck.
Elections should be no different. Decisions should be made by those who care and make an effort. I don’t want my mayor or councilmembers being electing by people who don’t know the difference between smoking pot and a pothole.
A mail-only vote comes with all kinds of problems. First, it’s more expensive. In the case of Layton City, population 100,000, the city election would cost more than double, from $31,000 to as much as $70,000, according to the city recorder.
It also makes it difficult to guarantee that the intended voter is actually the person marking the ballot. I can visualize a husband or wife signing his or her spouse’s ballot or berating them into voting a certain way. It is easier to vote your conscience behind a ballot booth curtain than it is over the kitchen table.
It can also lead to more uninformed voting. (“Susan, this is that guy in the war, the one who mows his lawn so evenly. Let’s vote for him.”) It could also lead to higher campaign costs for candidates, who would need mailers sent to every registered voter household rather than the lower number deemed most likely to vote.
If I had any doubts about opposing mail-in systems and expanding the voting base, it ended this week when I read recent tweets and comments from people proclaiming the innocence of the Tsarnaev brothers connected to the Boston Marathon bombings. Despite a letter from the younger brother admitting their involvement, more than 6,000 people have “liked” a Facebook site claiming the brothers were “set up.”
“Yes, I like Justin Bieber and I like Jahar (Tsarnaev),” was posted from a young woman’s account. “I know he’s innocent, he is far too beautiful.”
With this kind of intellectual reasoning, I don’t think making it easier to vote will improve the governance in our cities or our nation.