The Perils of Giving Up on Persuasion

Let’s get my unpopular opinion out of the way first: I don’t think high voter turnout is a good thing. 

Do I think you, gentle readers, should vote? Sure! If you have the interest in American government and politics to be reading my tappings for The Dispatch on a Monday morning in the middle of August, you’re exactly the kind of person I hope is a very active voter, whatever your politics. Indeed, I think we should make voting a much bigger deal: a national Election Day holiday every other year, including a four-day weekend, rather than the monthlong dribble of early and absentee voting that has evolved over the past four decades.

Between awful primary elections stretching from February through September and the six-week general election, America is subjected to a 10-month ordeal of pandering, attack ads, and fake controversies. We stew in the dumpster juice of our patronizing politics and then wonder why things don’t smell April fresh. 

I have too often stated my objections to America’s odious primary election system, a 45-year experiment, the failure of which is likely unsurpassed by any of the causes of the afflictions of our civic life. But here I go again: While the incentives for extremism and negative partisanship are the worst parts, a close second is that our two parties subject the whole country to what is actually an internal matter. Deciding which starting players the blue team and the red team pick should not drain the time, attention, and resources of state and local governments. If I could, I’d outlaw state-sponsored primaries today and make the parties choose their own candidates and leave the rest of us the heck out of it. Here endeth the harrumphing. 

So, when I say that voter turnout isn’t a good thing, I don’t mean that voting itself or democracy are bad things. Indeed, I wish we had a more appropriately reverent attitude toward our great inheritance of self-government. I would love it if more Americans felt privileged to be able to cast their ballot, knowing how rare a blessing government of, for, and by the people really is. The fact that so many Americans think so little of their right to vote that they neglect it is a sad reflection of the apathy that has been a byproduct of our extraordinary success. But that’s not the same as saying that higher turnout is a good thing unto itself

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