Mini-Rumination: The Folly of “Get Out the Vote” Campaigns

With the election almost upon us and the deadline for registering to vote now passed, we have moved from voter registration drives to get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Egalitarian though he generally is, The Curmudgeon can at times be a bit of an elitist as well, and one of the areas in which his elitism comes to the fore is the subject of get-out-the-vote campaigns.

He doesn’t like them.

Yes, of course, it would be nice if every single eligible voter cast a ballot on election day.

And yes, it would be nice if voter turnout approached the eighty- and ninety-percent levels that are routine in many other democracies.

But personally, The Curmudgeon would rather see a smaller electorate that consists of truly informed people making the decisions rather than sheep who had to be lured to the polls or cajoled or otherwise induced to vote.  What’s the point of driving up voter turnout if the people turning out have no idea for whom they’re voting or why?

It all calls to mind a situation that arose in Philadelphia in 1983 when a massive voter turnout drive was launched to help a man named Wilson Goode in his race against former mayor Frank Rizzo for the Democratic nomination for mayor.  The voter turnout drive was highly effective – so effective in bringing out first-time voters, in fact, that it caused problems.

In the final tally, Goode won a relatively close election over Rizzo.  Hidden beneath that outcome, however, were nearly 20,000 votes cast for Frank Lomento, a street vendor who ran for mayor every four years and generally gathered just a few hundred votes.  It turns out that Lomento received so many votes because so many clueless people were voting for the first time and, not really knowing what they were doing inside the voting booth, pulled the lever closest to the name of the man for whom they wanted to vote:  Wilson Goode.  That level, however, cast a ballot for the pretzel vendor.

Imagine if Rizzo had won that election by fewer than 20,000 votes.  Democracy would have been thwarted by ignorant voters.  (Maybe it would have been just as well:  Wilson Goode went on to become the first American mayor to order his police department to take to the air and bomb his own city.)

So yes, it would be nice if everyone were informed enough and interested enough to vote on election day and yes, The Curmudgeon realizes that the kinds of people who have to be encouraged to vote generally vote for the kinds of candidates he typically supports.  On the whole, however, he’d just as soon leave the voting to people who actually pay attention to the issues and pay attention to the candidates and allow those who don’t know and don’t care to focus on doing what they do best – which is absolutely nothing.

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