Voter registration drives have been ubiquitous this election cycle. These efforts, however, could have a
pernicious effect on the country and Americans' understanding of the
duties of citizenship.
Consider the "Rock the Vote"
campaign. Begun in 1992, Rock the Vote "uses music, popular culture and
new technologies to engage and incite young people to register and vote
in every election." If you visit the Rock the Vote Web site, DJ Diplo
will e-mail you a copy of your state's voter registration form.
Bloggers rave about Mr. Diplo's
work at registration events, noting that his music is so loud that
groupies "can still feel the dull throb of the speakers blasting full
force" 24 hours later.
Not to be outdone by Mr. Diplo, Bothervoting.org offers prospective
voters maps to the polling places and runs an aggressive advertising
campaign. One ad features a blond bombshell salaciously whispering "I
just can't picture myself sleeping with a non-voter." Not only can you
help solve the country's problems by voting, you might get lucky too.
With all the commotion about voter registration, one would think
barriers to registration abound. This is not the case. Since 1995,
state governments have been required to provide uniform registration
services through drivers' license registration centers and government
offices offering public assistance benefits. The states also must
permit citizens to register using mail-in forms. Or they can choose the
old-fashioned way and go to the local voter registration office to fill
out the necessary paperwork.
Participation in local, state, and national elections is not
something Americans should take lightly. In our system of government,
the people are recognized as the ultimate sovereigns and exercise their
power in special conventions (such as the conventions that ratified the
Constitution) or during elections when they vote for representatives,
and, in some states, for various ballot initiatives.
In 1776, the General Court of Massachusetts summed up popular
sovereignty as follows: "It is a maxim, that, in every government,
there must exist, somewhere, a supreme, sovereign, absolute and
uncontrollable power; But this power resides, always in the body of the
people, and it never was, or can be delegated, to one man, or a few."
Thus, elections should be viewed as bulwarks of our Republic.
But for elections to serve this lofty purpose, the people must be
informed. In recognition of this, the First Amendment was added to the
Constitution, in part, to ensure the free flow and availability of
information regarding public concerns. Because an informed electorate
is a prerequisite to an intelligent exercise of the franchise, the
Founding Fathers, in the words of James Madison, viewed the
dissemination of information as "the only effectual guardian of every
other right." An ignorant public exercising the franchise was seen as
inimical to a free society.
Today's mass voter drives stand this notion on its head. Because it
is already so easy to register without the aid of Rock the Vote or
Bothervoting.org, one must wonder what sort of person the mass
voter-registration drives are reaching. Obviously not people who take
their citizenship seriously enough to register without the assistance
of DJ Diplo or the enticement of a "party-on" atmosphere.
Although the First Amendment is still in place and information is
readily available, an intellectual laziness has crept into much of
society. Recent polls show that when asked to name two of Snow White's
Seven Dwarfs and two of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices, 77
percent of those polled were able to identify two dwarfs, while only 24
percent could name two Supreme Court Justices. Regarding the basic
structure of our government, only 42 percent of Americans could name
the three branches, whereas 73 percent could name all of the Three
If Rock the Vote and Bothervoting really wanted to contribute to
solving the problems facing our country they would focus less on
numbers and more on knowledge.
An ignorant voter is more dangerous to the Republic than a nonvoter.
Unfortunately, the registration movement teaches citizens that an
uneducated vote is better than no vote at all. Such a lesson is
pernicious and could have lasting effects on the electorate.