Bicycle Diaries: Roll out the vote

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Roll out the vote

5 predictions
about the mid-term elections

Whatever happens next Tuesday, one thing is sure. The personal attacks of both parties, nasty and brutal as they may be, will not turn off American voters. Rather, they'll turn out in large numbers perhaps breaking the record for the 2004 presidential election.

Yeah, I'm an optimist; but for good reason. I believe in the strength of the American democracy especially our collective ability to cut through the BS. If you think I'm being hopelessly naive consider the following predictions.

1. Voter turn-out will be high.
Folks just love to kvetch about about voter apathy. As everyone knows, less than 50% of Americans show up at the polls. What no one seems to realize is that this fact is based on the total voting-age population rather than the total number of eligible voters. In other words, the number of Americans who are not eligible to vote such as immigrants and felons (in most states) has increased dramatically over the last two decades. So when you look only at eligible voters, turn-out rises to around 55%. Moreover, this number remains fairly constant over the last four decades with a low of 52% in 1996 and a high of 60% in 2004.
2. Voter turn-out will demonstrate the strength of American democracy.
Our civic obligations and willingness to fulfill them are actually greater than those of the voters in the other democracies. Sure, Australia (as well as many other countries) uses fines to force its citizens to vote. While this substantially increases turn-out it also increases the number of blank ballots and silly write-in votes for Disney characters and former dictators. At the same time, most other democracies have far fewer national and local elections. Americans, in contrast, vote every four years for president, every two years for Congress, and practically every year for officials at the state and local levels. And despite the inevitable voter fatigue, Americans have started turning out in higher numbers than the Brits since 2004.
3. The increasingly nasty tone of this year's campaign will turn out, not turn off, the voters.
Everyone agrees that since the early 80s campaign ads have become nasty and brutish. Despite this, as I stated above, turn-out has remained fairly constant. And the the record high of 60% in the 2004 presidential elections followed such lovely examples of negative campaigning as The Swift-Boat ads. I figure this happens for two reasons. On the one hand, folks enjoy mud-slinging much in the same way as motorists slow down to gape at highway accidents. On the other hand, while accusing your opponent of treason or sexual deviation doesn't address the issues it does provide a stark contrast between the candidates.
4. This election won't be decided in the final days of the campaign.
It used to be accepted wisdom that the Republicans were superior to the Democrats in mobilizing their voters particularly in the last three days of the campaign. This year, however, Republican mobilization may not make as big a difference. First, the Democrats are putting most of their resources into mobilizing their voters in all fifty states. Second, independents, who now make up 40% of eligible voters, will have a huge impact on the outcome. Third and finally, these voters usually decide for whom they'll vote on day of the election just as they enter the booth.
5. Whatever the outcome, both parties will call for election day voter registration.
Studies show that eligible voters don't decide to go to the polls until election day. Also, every state initiative allowing motorists to register when they renew their licenses haven't increased turn-out. If the Democrats and Republicans want to mobilize voters in 2008, they will have to make registration as easy and as convenient as voting for American Idol.


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