NYT Misses the Point

This article on turn-out pits democracy advocates against opponents of mob rule. The situation is that a minority of eligible voters cast a ballot in the mid-terms. The complications are the steeplechase course required to register, prove identity, get a ballot or get time off to vote on voting day. The pro-democracy side thinks turn-out would go up if voting were as easy as (and cheaper than) buying a Starbucks coffee or a McDonalds burger.

The other side’s view is epitomized by a politician who calls non-voters “political couch potatoes” – namely, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. This side thinks if you don’t vote, you’re stupid, lazy and it’s good for the country that your ignorant vote was never cast. See also John Samples, Cato; Bryan Caplan, George Mason.

Both sides miss the biggest point: neither major political party knocks itself out trying to get all Americans everywhere in the country to vote.

Starbucks would like us all to buy its coffee. McD’s, burgers. Business in general is in the business of maximizing total addressable markets and winners seek total penetration.

But in the business of politics, things are different. Republicans and Democrats write off most of the country.

For all the talk about increased competition for Congressional seats, the two parties conceded most seats a year ago.

In the upcoming presidential election, they will concede each to the other a total of 40 states. These have 81% of the population.

The voters are customers who don’t shop for the product because they hear the marketing message from the R’s and D’s: “we don’t care, do you?”

Suppose victory in the presidential race went to the person who won the biggest number of votes cast in the country. The nominees would compete to sell as many of their burgers (that is, policies & promises) to everyone, lowering barriers to vote for his/her likely voters, doing everything possible to get supporters to turn out everywhere. Everything would change, and we would discover what democracy produced, if every vote for president mattered.

They would even let you register at Amazon and have the ballot delivered to your house. Or vote on-line. What an innovation.

At the congressional level, if districts were not gerrymandered into pretzel shapes but instead purposefully mirrored the balance of voters in every region, then many more seats would be contested, and competitors would make it clear to millions more voters that their ballots mattered.

The people derided as lazy and stupid by people in the Senate, or at Cato or George Mason, know the biggest thing of all: those who currently control the voting systems in most states don’t want competition to force the parties to seek every vote. So they despise the politicians for not caring about the preferences of the people. And the Republic is at risk of dying.