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OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: Voting for rain

by Bradley Gitz | July 26, 2021 at 5:01 a.m.

Confession: I'm in favor of "voter suppression." Not by the government, but by the weather.

I've always prayed for torrential downpours across the nation on Election Day (and now, with early voting, for a couple weeks' worth).

I think the quality of elected officials and public policy is enhanced by discouraging fair-weather voters from voting.

To understand that position, it might help to think of the nation's (actually any democratic nation's) potential electorate as consisting of four groups of varying size.

The first, Group A, includes folks who vote come hell or high water in every election they can. They vote (and make an effort to inform themselves on what they are voting for) because they see it as their civic duty. They are the ideal voters of democratic theory that we never have enough of in practice.

The next group, Group B, consists of those who vote only occasionally, only in presidential elections, and even then only if it isn't too inconvenient. They are, alas, probably greater in number than those in Group A, and the ones referred to when Winston Churchill reportedly said that the best argument against democracy was a "five-minute conversation with the average voter." That they won't vote if it takes too much trouble should raise questions about what they contribute to the commonweal on the occasions when they manage to rouse themselves.

Group C consists of those who never vote, because they don't care, don't pay attention and as a result are even more clueless than those in Group B. This is the largest group of the four, probably comprising (based on presidential election turnout over time) around 40 percent of eligible voters. They do little damage to the system because they don't inject their cluelessness into it in any way and because home on Election Day is a good place to be if you don't know which candidate is the Democrat and which the Republican.

The final group, Group D, is the smallest and includes irascible folks who are often well-informed but for various reasons of alleged principle (refusal to validate "the system," dislike of both political parties, etc.) stubbornly and even proudly refuse to vote. Like those in Group A and unlike those in Groups B and C, their decision-making is unlikely to be influenced by making voting more or less convenient.

What this means, for all practical purposes, is that voter "reform" proposals like the Democrats' "For the People Act" represent efforts to expand turnout by moving more people, presumably as many as possible (so long as they are thought to lean Democrat), from Group C into Group B; that is, to make voting as easy as possible to get more clueless voters to deposit ballots.

If successful, such efforts would therefore make the ratio between Groups A and B (between informed and clueless voters), which probably already tilts too much in favor of B, tilt even further.

Republican talking points frequently argue that a fraudulent vote cancels out a legal vote, which is true as far as it goes, but it might also be worth considering that the vote of a clueless person effectively cancels out the vote of an informed one.

Since Georgia's new voter law permits people to use the final four digits of their Social Security number as sufficient proof of identification, the burden falls on critics to present evidence that there are lots of people out there who don't know their Social Security numbers but somehow know all about the candidates and their positions on the issues.

Questioning the goal of still further maximizing voter turnout, and thus the caliber of electorate such measures would produce, isn't at all incompatible with support for democracy, clearly the best (or at least the least bad) form of government for a range of reasons that don't require romanticizing it (among which is included the fact that countries which permit elections tend to also permit a great deal else that falls under the category of "unalienable rights").

One of the Chicago expressways upon which I learned to drive is named after a man, Adlai Stevenson, who had impeccable liberal credentials and twice carried the Democratic Party torch against Dwight Eisenhower. When someone told Stevenson that he had the support of "every thinking person in America," he allegedly replied, "But I need a majority."

Several decades ago, when I was teaching out east, we lived next to a rather unsavory brood that started their Fourth of July celebration a tad early one year, cracking the keg at about 8 a.m. and fully crocked by 9, after which a heated argument broke out that almost led to blows (it was impossible not to hear this because our bedroom window overlooked their backyard). One side claimed that the Fourth of July was the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The other just as adamantly said that it was the day the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor (à la Sen. Bluto Blutarsky).

I think of that drunken argument whenever I hear someone claim that American democracy is imperiled unless we make it easier for people who don't know their Social Security numbers to vote.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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