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  • Writer Login


    Southern Politics

    Raggin’ on Jax

    by | 5 | Mar 28, 2011

    Any number of people are pointing fingers and beating chests in response to only 30% of Jacksonville, Florida’s registered voters taking part in the latest round of the Mayoral selection process. As a strong believer in citizenship as a bundle of obligations (to vote, to hold office, to serve on juries, to provide material support, to draft legislation and to enforce the law), I certainly agree that 30% is not a good showing.

    (Photo by Tom Arthur)

    However, this is a free country and we are free not to shoulder some of our obligations, or even none at all, on any given day. If that makes us freeloaders, so be it. On the other hand, even the most conscientious among us can’t be expected to carry out obligations all of the time. We can take turns and taking turns makes it possible for every citizen to contribute his/her fair share. Besides, if the candidates for public office are all well qualified, then the hiring process isn’t even as important as, for example, providing material support (paying taxes) and enforcing the law, especially as it applies to ourselves. Obligations to which we subscribe and consent needn’t be onerous.

    On the other hand, low voter participation in elections is not a happenstance. Ever since universal suffrage became the law of the land, the opponents of popular government (government by the people) have put a lot of time and effort into depressing the electorate. And not just on election day. Voter suppression is a 24/7/365 endeavor supported by a wide array of tools and strategies, including, but not limited to:

    1) Restricting eligibility and purging voter rolls.
    2) Scheduling elections on work days.
    3) Touting elections as horse races or popularity contests, instead of a hiring process.
    4) Denigrating governments as social institutions.
    5) Promoting incompetent persons for public office to insure poor service, if not failure and fraud.
    6) Calling candidates’ personal characteristics into question.
    7) Attacking candidates’ associates and relatives and depriving them of privacy and, sometimes, security.
    8) Substituting the idea of democracy-in-a-box for democratic governance.

    All strategies obviously designed to support the proposition that if universal suffrage can’t be reversed, then the next best thing is to “thin” the electorate by any means possible. Low voter participation is a sign of conservative success.

    But, if citizens come to appreciate that the conservatives who slipped into office under false pretenses are not serving their interests, the last thing they should do is blame themselves for not having been aware of the punitive polls in their midst. A lot of effort went into keeping them in the dark.

    Which suggest that the next time around, they’ll be wanting to get both mad and even. And demand better candidates, for a start, even if they have to recruit their friends and neighbors or do it themselves. Self-government isn’t a burden, if we all take turns.

    ###

    Monica Smith

    Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."

     

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    • Glenn Overman

      Monica, the plutocrats have run Jacksonville forever (probably since it was Wacca Pilatka and Cowford). It’s a question of which development rabid gang you want to run with. I’ve seen how it works in this part of the world, up close and personal, and it ain’t pretty. But it will be interesting to see how the gangs realign to the new reality of what voter apathy has wrought. I hope they poke the bear and get their heads bit off. That’s why my friends call me PollyAnna. The whole state needs a high colonic to flush out the parasites that infest the guts of the system. But hey. So does the country.

    • John Hickman

      Liberal democracy without mass participation really is pretty empty. Monica is right that if we want higher voter turnout voters need decent choices on election day. Universal voter registration and compulsory voting would bump up the numbers as well. Australia, the country that gave us the secret ballot, manages to achieve very high turnout by with compulsory voting enforced by small fines.

      • Frank Povah

        That;s been watered down, too, John. Those small fines used to be big fines that got bigger every time you didn’t vote.
        Compulsory voting does make for a percentage of what in Australia are called “donkey votes”, i.e. a voter just marks the candidates in the order in which they are listed (Australia has a “preferential” voting system in Federal elections and in all State elections except Tasmania’s which uses the Hare-Clark method) and a number of “informal” votes, ballot papers incorrectly filled in or deliberately botched but, all in all, I think it’s a better system than “vote if you feel like it”.
        The voluntary vote does allow vested interests on all sides to more easily control who votes how. That is to a certain extent also true in all voting systems, but in Australia it is largely balanced because everyone has to vote and so there is always going to be a fairly largish block of uncontrollable voters.
        in addition, I can see how and why the Primary circus was established – and in many ways it’s a good thing – but it does make it even easier for the most money to win.
        Another thing that puzzles me about the system here is this business about having to “register” your intentions before you actually vote.
        Can someone please justify that in a country that has the secret ballot (but doesn’t want unions to have it)?

        • Voter registration is just one more instance of the persistent effort to stratify society. It’s also consistent with the designation of voting as a privilege, which has to be done in order to justify depriving some people of the “opportunity.” It wouldn’t make much sense to keep people from carrying out an obligation, would it?
          That principle of equality is a persistent source of unease in the American psyche--something that’s prized, but not really liked. Mobility is another. Mobility is prized, but people who move around from residence to residence are suspect. Only people who stay in one place all their lives are supposed to be in charge. Transients make the bureaucrat’s life really difficult, so whenever their interests can be dismissed, that’s a plus. Life would be so much easier if humans just stayed put.

    • Tom Ferguson

      lately “they’ve” been hedging their bets: declaring corporations persons can influence elections big time (last one for example losing Feingold, getting corporate t-baggers, wisconsin & michigan governors)
      and i think their backup is the e-voting system that they probably have rigged (getting us a republican senate/house in ga, senator shameless also) but they mostly have it to defeat any real democracy backlash from their current virulent attack on it.

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