Voting Turnout: Three Simple Ways to Get Out the Vote

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

One of many things I learned from Walter Dean Burnham during my years at MIT was the importance of voting turnout had on electoral outcome. Much of the history of electoral politics in the 20th century is  of efforts to depress turnout. This wasn’t limited to just trying to disenfranchise people of color – as serious as those efforts were.

But it also extended to efforts to suppress and undercount certain types of votes – those of people who lived in cities, for example.

Though most Americans are inured to our screwy electoral system, this situation looks very strange to the rest of the world, to say the least, as the NY Times highlighted in a video and short post today, ‘It’s Like You Want to Stop People From Voting’: How U.S. Elections Look Abroad:

Over to that short NYT post:

Turnout this election is projected to be the highest in a century, and voters are doing everything they can to make their voices count. Waiting in line for hours (even if you’re the mayor). Voting in person despite the pandemic because you fear that your mail-in ballot could be one of the 1.02 million that might be discarded. And casting a ballot despite the potential that someone with a semiautomatic rifle will be watching you at your polling place.

But, does voting have to be so … hard?

Not really. Just watch the video above and you’ll see it’s not like this in other democratic countries around the world. Voting in other democracies is a snap. And, if you’re really lucky, you might score a “democracy sausage.”

When we showed voters from around the world what American elections are like in practice, they weren’t impressed. But they were impressed with our resilience and determination. So, while the world’s “oldest democracy” may be a bit creaky these days, let’s be clear: Go vote! That’s really the best way to make a change.

Why Is this: Why is US Turnout So Low?

Those of us who have long studied the NYT’s failure to highlight salient issues in its often over-the-top ‘comprehensive’ coverage are not surprised the paper doesn’t attempt an answer this basic question.

So I will.

Answer; both major legacy parties benefited. By increasing the size of the party of non-voters, relative to Democrats or Republicans. public policy shifted to the right. And neither major political party needed to worry about catering to the needs of ordinary people. As the twentieth century progressed and became the twentieth-first. and elections became more expensive at the same time that publicly financing them was taken off the table, the importance of donors also increased. And so we find ourselves where we are now.

For the most part, until the present election, turnout has been on a steady downward slope. since 1896. There were some exceptions of course: take the New Deal, for example, and the tiny blip following electoral aftermath of Our Law Professor President. And despite ongoing suppression efforts, it is of course expected to blow out in 2020.

Three Simple Reforms To Increase U.S. Voting Turnout.

As presently envisioned. the Increase Voting Turnout Act (IVTA) would have at least three provisions. Feel free readers, to comment on my suggestions, as well as to put forward your own.

1, Make voting mandatory. Make voting a mandatory civic obligation, as it is in Australia, where  there is a minor fine levied for not voting. Voters who would be most hurt by the need to pay a fine can avoid it by simply voting.

Australia allows for a none-of-the-above option, and so should the U.S. If anything, mandatory voting would embody a small inherent bias against the rich, who could afford to risk the fine they would incur by not voting. So be it. It’s more than about time that our electoral system should cease to do their bidding.

There may be some constitutional objections raised to mandatory voting and I confess I have not given much thought to what they may be and how they may be countered. But let’s first get the ball rolling, by introducing the IVTA legislation. The usual suspects can then crawl out of their holes and file the inevitable ‘Constitutional” challenges.

2. Make Election Day a holiday. Those voters who can ill-afford taking time off to vote avoid the problem by simply not voting. We can fix that. Let’s make Election Day a holiday.

Now, we can quibble as to how often we should give everyone the day off. And please, don’t let Democrats introduce the inevitable qualification requirement. Give everyone the day off – no need to prove you used it for voting.

We can perhaps trust people to do the right thing. And if they don’t, Americans are underholidayed, especially compared to their counterparts in countries with similar incomes. No big cost to letting everyone enjoy one more day of holiday.

So, for starters I propose we create a biennial federal holiday. Let’s be wildly original and call it National Election Day, so we can vote in national elections for Congress and the President.

Too expensive? Well, India manages. As does France. As do I am sure many other countries I cannot now recall.

3. Shift the Registration Presumption. As things presently stand, in many places you are presumed not to be allowed to vote in an election unless you have registered to vote.

Why is that? Why is it presumed you haven’t the right to vote unless you have registered. Stated rationale: curbing voter fraud. Real rationale: vote suppression.

Why don’t we shift the presumption?

Instead of as is needing to prove one has registered. how about shifting that presumption so that opponents of you casting your vote would be the ones who would need to would be able to challenge – and prove you lacked- your right to vote?

Let’s make alls states register everyone who’s legally eligible to vote. Some of them already do so.

And going forward, let’s go further. When you’re you’re born in the USA. you’re given a birth certificate.  How about giving you your very own voter identification number at the same time? Then, eighteen years (or whatever number we choose), you can go to the polls and vote.

Note that if you had done something to lose your right to vote – been convicted of a felony, for example – prison authorities could still challenge the presumption that you could vote when you showed up at the polls.

The Bottom Line

These three measures would increase turnout, going forward, whether there is a Trump name on the ballot or not. (It sure hasn’t increased because voters are suddenly enthusiastic about voting for Joe Biden).

I can’t resist adding that it’s not as if Americans don’t know how to vote when there is something to vote for. In the middle of the nineteenth century, turnout  rates averaged in the 80s – compared to the 50-60s we see today.

So, let’s get them back up there.

What are we waiting for?

 

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69 comments

  1. jo6pac

    Sadly the two parties that are the same would never put this into law. They would lose out on $$$$$$$ and control of us on Main Street and that would worry the 1% also.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Look, I realize I am standing in the path of a juggernaut that has been rolling for more than a century. Still, someone needs to say these things, so it might as well be I!

      1. jo6pac

        I agree with you I’m just tired of more of the same. I sadly voted for biden but will go back to voting 3rd party. I do hope things change in my life time but at 73 I’m not sure that will happen without a nation wide strike.

  2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

    Turnout is, to be sure, dropping elsewhere. But that does not change the fact that the rate is comparatively lower in the U.S., as a direct result of these and other factors, as well as I would say the non-responsiveness of the U.S. political system.

    1. Carolinian

      Don’t forget that in many places voting puts you on the jury roles and jury duty is something many would prefer to avoid.

      But I think another big reason–and the low turnout thing has been going on for decades–is that a lot of Americans are both not very political and relatively well off and therefore under motivated, regardless of the schemes of the two parties to suppress. Which is to say if you live in a poor third world country then your life may depend on the right candidate winning and interest and turnout will be high. Whereas in most of the 20th century America was comparatively rich and the urgency wasn’t there. Now that things are becoming more urgent by the minute our democratic institutions are decrepit and neglected. Do they even teach “civics” in school any more? Or is it considered too controversial?

      1. Rod

        jury duty is something many would prefer to avoid.

        Chosen for JD 3 times and served on 1. The process was VERY enlightening for this Citizen and if I ever find my self in a position to request one, I certainly will.
        In my experience, the satisfaction of offering a fellow Citizen a listening ear and compassionate consideration, and maybe Justice, against a well paid prosecution was beyond satisfaction.

  3. MartyH

    And address Gerrymandering, Corporate Personhood (campaign finance, etc.), Partisan Media Monopolization, and ballot “security”. Just sayin’ …

  4. Louis Fyne

    this is an arguable reason: blame the lack of proper civics lessons in school.

    but that is also intermixed with a general sense of political fatalism among many

    (but on the heirarchy of needs, given awful state of reading and math attainment, civics is the least of worries)

  5. L

    Just to be a little positive I will add two things that have happened or started to happen and which I think are being felt in this election: 1) No fault absentee for everyone; and 2) early and easy voting options.

    (1) Lest we forget until very recently (i.e. Pre COVID) you had to be hospitalized or being shot at in order to vote absentee in most states. That is no longer true and that is making a difference. True one party is fighting it tooth an nail but until recently both were and now it is already seen as something worth fighting for.

    (2) Early vote options are being expanded in most states with Texas (parts of it anyway) leading the way with things like drive through polling stations and 24 hour voting. This kind of flexibility is huge, especially in a nation where so many people work so many odd hours. That may well achieve what the national holiday would.

    This may be why voter turnout in most states is so high, not just for early voting but for people who did not vote in 2016. And one consequence of COVID may be that the Democrats are forced to abandon their tepid vocal support for expanding the franchise and accept real expansion of access.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      An old comrade and fellow MIT student just flagged the importance of early voting and drop boxes to me. And your comment makes me realize how much I was seeing access in historic terms as tied to physical polling places. I still think we should aim for that national holiday. We need all the days off we can get. But there are other things to pull for as well.

      1. L

        Oh I agree. If anything we need more national holidays anyway, why not election day. Doing that would also help address another critical but often unmentioned problem, a lack of pollworkers. Only the oldest and most dedicated can afford to take time off. I’ve been asked to help them do simple physical tasks like move heavy machines. Sooner or later that would become a threat do democracy in and of itself.

      2. Laura in So Cal

        We embraced early voting on Super Tuesday and it was awesome. We are die-hard in person voters and since Super Tuesday was Los Angeles County’s first election with the new voting machines, we figured there would be problems. They also implemented a county wide “voting center” system so you could vote anywhere in the county. We went to our local voting center on Sunday morning before election Tuesday and were able to vote with no wait and when my husband’s ballot wouldn’t scan, we had plenty of help to get it fixed.
        This election, we voted Sunday morning. There were 7 people in line when they opened and half were just dropping off mail-in ballots. We were in and out in under 10 minutes. Most of our local centers are open Saturday thru Monday for early voting although there are a few centers open for 2 weeks before the election. I do like that people who work odd hours, have child care issues etc. can vote in person much more easily.

    2. Lex

      2) …and in odd places. The gig economy still exists. In trailer parks you have yer permanent residents, long-term (gig workers), and short-term/passing through. One upside of Covid is a lot of wanderers had to come in for a landing, and they’re voting, or at least the ones I’ve talked to are.

    3. wilroncanada

      I agree, L, unfortunately though, when new ideas are tried, chicanery soon follows. I understand that the Trump team has just filed suit to disallow those votes from drive-through voting: about 1.2 million.

  6. Reasons

    What are we waiting for? First – the voting rules are a state thing, not federal. And states will hold on to that right in court. So you will be fighting to increase turnout in states where there is incentive to throttle it down.
    And why declare election day a holiday when so many places have now moved to substantial – or 100 percent – mail-in voting?

    1. edmondo

      A national holiday would be awesome for the PMC. They are the only ones who get paid days off. Are you sure those are the people you want flooding to the polls? They seem to have different interests than working people.

  7. Carla

    “for starters I propose we create a biennial federal holiday”

    Please make it ANNUAL. The first Tuesday in November in the odd-numbered years is when we hold local and municipal elections: for school board, city council, municipal judges, and myriad local issues, including school levies.

    Turnout for muni elections is abysmally low, yet the results of local races can determine a great deal about the character and quality of our communities. In our daily lives, these electoral decisions really matter!

    1. L

      Although we would then need to move many local elections to that day since many are held in Spring but I think that would be worth it.

      1. apleb

        PS: France has no holiday for elections. They vote on Sundays like everyone else. E.g. april 23th 2017 for their president.

      2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

        That’s another option – and I misremembered what happens in France. IIRC, people vote in Sunday, not on a separate holiday. But given the role of religion in America, I thunk voting on a holiday rather than on the weekend is the better idea.

  8. IdahoSpud

    The D party is offering a bucket of urine to drink.
    The R party is offering a bucket of poop to eat.
    The other parties are faring about as well as the Donner Party

    It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. Look, I’m just a worthless, uneducated, white deplorable from Idaho. Can someone please explain why it’s vital that I pick one of these buckets?

    1. L

      At the risk of being crass I would say that if you are gonna consume one, pee is less damaging than poop.

      That said you can also take a page from the Anti-Abortion movement (I refuse to call them pro-life) and pick one thing that you care about and pick the party that is better on that. To my mind if you care about minimum wage, global warming, or corporate power, the Democrats are better, not perfect, but better. And better is definitely a step up.

      I know its not the most inspiring speech but that is what had me out voting early and preparing for the fight afterwards.

    2. ambrit

      The “None of the Above” option would be why. That single item would track the “public approval” rate for the ‘officially’ approved candidates.
      An outcome where “None of the Above” wins a contest can be designed to enforce any one of a myriad of ‘alternative’ outcomes, such as a sortitioned ‘winner’ for an office. As an example, suppose that “None of the Above” beats both Trump and Biden. So, as an addendum to the main ballot, run a list of the main Primary contenders from all parties. (Such as Warren and Sanders, ‘Mayor Pete,’ etc.) Whoever from this list gets the most votes is appointed President for the next term. [Now that’s Democracy in action!] This would also evade the aristocratic subterfuge known as the Electoral College.
      Anyway, rant over. Back to our regularly scheduled commentary.
      Sorry Jerri-Lynn. I just saw your comment after mine went into moderation.

      1. J7915

        Just make “none of the above” copyright, trademark and for good measure patented. Else there WILL be someone who changed his name…

        IIRC one of the Sci-Fi greats had the following proposal: instead of voting hold a lottery using Social Security #, or a voter ID#. The catch was that a eligible winner had to take the job. Not anyone who campaigned was commited to the state home for the bewildered, as only a nut case would want the job. Low pay, all the blame etc.

  9. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

    What I am assuming is that if we made it easy and mandatory to vote, the choices wouldn’t be so bad. Imagine if none-of-the-above won consistently.

    1. jo6pac

      That would be great as long as none of the above was in the white house;-)

      I think it was A. C. Clarke that in one his Si-Fi books wrote the president was picked by their SS number.

      1. ambrit

        Asimov also dealt with this in a short story where the most “Average” American was picked by statistics to be the ‘Resident of the United States.’

  10. Andreas

    Additionally…

    We need to think deeply about the disenfranchisement of populous states by having 2 Senators from each state.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Perhaps by taking advantage of the current crisis and have those who are able to (retirees, work-from-home, etc) and with a leftward bent, to relocate to, say, Wyoming. GettIng the Cheneys out of government is a damn fine objective.

    2. tegnost

      The fly in that ointment is the house of reps is population based, so states with larger populations get their voice heard in that chamber. Making the senate population based is like saying I want san francisco to decide on issues for lincoln, nebraska and those two towns don’t have much in common.
      It’s bullying essentially. It’s the same as electoral college grumbling…cali has 55 votes, nebraska has 3, and californians are whining. If you don’t like it divide cali up into three states, you’ll get four more senators, but you’ll give up representatives in each section as well as electoral power. Go ahead, make my day…

  11. John Zelnicker

    “And going forward, let’s go further. When you’re you’re born in the USA. you’re given a birth certificate. How about giving you your very own voter identification number at the same time?”

    We could call it a Voter & Social Security Number (VSSN). (I’m not very imaginative this morning.)

    Back in the day, in the 1960’s, children didn’t get a Social Security Number until they were about to go to work. I think I was 16 when I got mine.

    Nowadays, newborns are registered with Social Security and receive a number as soon as the birth is recorded. I believe this was the result of IRS regulations intended to prevent different taxpayers from claiming the same child as a dependent.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Same for me. IIRC, my mother had to apply for my SSN and I remember getting it, so it was not something I got at birth.

      1. ambrit

        I remember we all got ours in the seventh grade. Sort of a mass “rite of passage” for American youth.

    2. Arizona Slim

      Mom took me to the Social Security office when I was 10 years old. Don’t recall her rationale, but that’s what we did.

  12. Romancing The Loan

    My first objection to fining people for not voting would be that it’s an unconstitutional taking without due process. Trying to add due process to fix the constitutional problem just sounds like adding on a Kafkaesque nightmare of trying to prove you voted.

    More fundamentally making it a fine, like the health insurance mandate, relies on punishing the poor for their (rational) noncompliance. If you don’t vote because you can’t get time off to vote and have no good choices anyway, a fine on top of that will just make you hate the government even more.

    How about the carrot instead of the stick? We tax everyone and you get it back if you vote, plus a little extra.

  13. Comboman

    Some sort of ranked choice/proportional voting system would encourage more voters, so they didn’t think they were forced to vote for their least favorite to keep from throwing away their vote. Or what if each party could run their top two primary candidates? Imagine a 4-way vote between Trump, Biden, Bernie and Bill Weld. Party with the most votes wins, but candidate with most votes from that party becomes president.

    1. BlakeFelix

      I like proportional, but I think range voting is strictly better than ranked choice. The game theory for ranked choice gets weird in the weeds.

  14. sam

    Love your proposal but I would strike early voting (too incumbent/reputation friendly and diminishes the impact of effective campaigning/canvassing/persuading and also late breaking news) and VBM (over reliant on signature verification and too fixed address reliant for universal participation). Let’s focus on in person voting as a one day community event.

  15. lyle

    Actually in a number of states even before this year there was open voteing for all and/or universal mail voting. A simple change is for all states to allow no excuse mail voting, and offer a 2 week early voting period. (or a bit more radical make the early voting period the election and abolish the election day completely) This year with turnouts for early voting and mail voting up to 80 to 90% of the total vote in 2016. By making it election Fortnight (meaning 2 weeks), the need for a holiday is elimiated, Further you can reduce somewhat the number of polling places. Registration is already done by postcard or online in 40 states. One minor point is to perhaps make the last date to apply for a mail ballot 2-3 weeks before election, ask folks to return the ballot asap and not less than 10 days before the deadline.

  16. Braden

    I’d scrape #1, but eagerly embrace #s 2 & 3. In a political system you should have the right to withhold your consent to be governed. A mandatory system, even one with a none of the above option, implies that I must participate in the maintenance of a political system or be subject to coercion. If such a requirement is necessary to ensure the perception of a healthy democracy, but I would argue is more effectively illustrates its own weakness. Political systems that produce broadly just outcomes don’t need to be maintained through state coercion.

    Also, number 4 should be publicly counted paper ballots. Fraud is, and will increasingly be used, to suppress voter turnout. The only antidote is to be able to come down to your local county election office and actually watch election officials open, count, and tally your vote.

  17. hunkerdown

    • Individual mandate
    • Marketplace
    • Community rating

    It’s like the ACA but for voting, and even then lacking the minimal regulation of the wholesomeness of the product or even the slightest assurance that viable product will be offered in their jurisdiction. Because markets I guess.

    This is in no way a brand-management or marketing problem. The problem is that the offering is not fit for purpose for 40% of would-be customers — without the artificial flavoring of pathos, festivity and sport, perhaps 80% would skip it — and the manufacturers of that offering are absolutely committed to keeping the beef filet to themselves and putting horse in the cans because markets and Jesus and Arthur Young and Alexander Hamilton all told us to create poor people. When people can get their own words made law without some oligarch needing to speak for them, those 40% will turn out.

  18. Andreas

    I had posted a comment sometime prior to the 11:51 am comment from me that has not appeared.
    Seems odd. Has it gone missing?
    Please advise.

  19. flora

    As long as the two main private political parties — GOP and Dem — have a near lock on who will be on the ballot in all states, mandatory voting forces a lot of people to vote for candidates they don’t want, and gives an appearance of public acceptance of the winner, which may be an illusion. Sort of like forcing people to buy expensive, crappy, health insurance. imo.

    (My state plays games with third parties in national elections; sometime Green Party is on the ballot, sometime Libertarian Party is on the ballot. Other times not in national elections.)

    1. ambrit

      Have a “None of the Above” box. If that ‘candidate’ wins, think up something creative to follow.

      1. lyle

        Most states allow a writein on the balot which amounts the the same thing as none of the above. If nothing bettery you could always write yourself in. It is basically a protest vote.

  20. Jeremy Grimm

    Making voting easier and more reliable is a good idea. I would also like to have something to vote for and some means to find out what each candidate stands for and has actually supported in their past offices. I think I miss the League of Women Voters and the information they provided. Also it would be very nice to have more reliable Media — reliable in providing information and informed well-considered independent opinion. I would like elections decided on issues, character, ability, and demonstrated follow-through. I want the money removed from the political process. I want to open my email without getting smothered with political spam. I would like to have political advertising expunged from my television, youtube, and radio programming [I long ago abjured the so-called social media]. I could go on, but we don’t live in that America of dreams.

  21. nippersmom

    The single best way to improve voter turnout is to improve the quality of candidates. That won’t happen as long as the donor class controls both parties and all major media outlets.

  22. Christopher Herbert

    I think it should be mandatory. It is a citizen’s responsibility to participate in the government. To advise and consent, if you will. I also believe we need to restrain private debt. This is the primary lever the oligarchy depends upon for their political influence. They are the creditors. They own the palace and the yachts, the indebted are their serfs. The public debt is not a problem. One, it doesn’t fund any Congressional spending. Two it’s a subsidy to the oligarchs who buy this unnecessary debt to insure the safety of their billions in savings. Three the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, has pointed out the Fed could easily ‘let the debt roll off’ over time.

  23. ChrisPacific

    We just had an election here in New Zealand. My voting experience:

    (about a month before election date) I get a registration packet in the mail, containing a voter card with my details. I’m advised that if my details haven’t changed, I can bring the card with me to any polling site. If they have then I should fill out the enclosed forms and they will send me a new card in the mail.

    (two weeks before election date) All polling locations open for early voting. My community (a suburb of around 15k people) has 5-6 of them. Two are within easy walking distance of my house.

    (one week before election date) I decide to cast an early vote and walk to the nearest polling location. There is no line. I take some hand sanitiser and say what electorate I’m voting in. I’m directed to the appropriate table and hand my voting card to a staff member, who locates my entry in the roll, crosses me off, and hands me a ballot paper. I go to a booth, mark the paper with my vote and drop it in the ballot box on the way out. Then I walk home. Total elapsed time: about 20 minutes, most of which was the walking.

    (election date) I forget all about the election and spend time with my family instead, before going online to check counts in the evening.

    Nothing about the above process is difficult. It just needs focus and investment (the Electoral Commission hired about 25000 temporary staff to run it, for a population of around 4 million). If the US actually wanted to increase voter turnout, it would be quite easy to do.

  24. josh

    Just reviewed my ballot for tomorrow with my young son. Only 2 of the dozen or so local races on the ballot are competitive, they’re both non-partisan, and either choice would be fine. Half have no challenger at all. I’m writing in my son for most of them. He needs to earn his keep. My vote is statistical noise for the races that actually matter. We are surprised people don’t vote?

  25. Kaligula

    Re #3. Shift the Registration Presumption: probably another Dem “qualification” effort. In my home state MN, many voters are so-so eager to *prove* who they are by automatically presenting a driver’s license. They are sometimes pissed when poll workers refuse that. They are amazed that if they show up they are presumed to be real!

  26. Andreas

    Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right and ability to vote.

    Universal mail-in voting or …

    Universal online voting — If the world can handle every other type of secure transaction online, surely the world can do it safely and reliably for voting. Lot’s of things can support this including emails of one’s voting from a voting system to the state and to the voter. This would save vast amounts of money, eliminate voter intimidation at polls, and deliver near immediate results. The world moves billions of dollars around securely everyday. I don’t underestimate that this would require effort to establish, but nothing in the laws of physics stands in the way of doing this. Make the system available to state and local election boards.

    Constitutional amendment to establish the popular vote deciding presidential elections (and/or any legislative support prior to such an amendment passing). Provide incentives to smaller states to support such an amendment.

    End districting for Federal elections of the House of Representatives. This might require two steps: (1) Have every voter in a state vote for all representative positions. (2) Following (1), have the voters select their specific representatives that will support them from the selected group.

    Statehood for all inhabited US territories.

    Statehood for Washington, DC.

    Rank voting for all Federal elections.

    Senate — Give deep thought to representing populations in the Senate as opposed to over representing states with minuscule populations. A first step might require the aggregation of low population states.

    A new reconstruction — Take U.S. Grant’s approach during Reconstruction to root out institutional corruption and racism at every level (including at the Supreme and Federal courts).

    1. lyle

      Note that the point about the senate can not be changed without consent of states that would have their representation reduced Meaning it would take all 50 states to ratify that amendment, and it is clear that a state like Wyoming would never ratify it.

  27. Gordon

    Voting here in the UK is run by the principle local authorities. That’s metropolitan boroughs in the big cities with populations typically of 250 – 300k and district authorities elsewhere which can be rather smaller.

    Hence registration is totally apolitical and nothing to do with political parties. If the parties want to know who their voters are, they must canvass to find out. Voting rolls are regularly updated to allow for people moving, dying etc. It used to be only once a year, but I think you can now ask the local authority to update your record at any time – e.g. if you’ve just moved in. At any rate they check annually sending round a circular for the head of the household to complete and return (or update online). Kids turning 18 in the year have their birthday recorded and can vote at any election after it.

    The ‘Electoral Rolls’ that result are organised in street order and are publicly available to inspect at libraries or buy for a small fee and are marked to show who voted (although not how they voted).

    A few weeks before an election the local authority mails everyone a card with their polling number (which can change from year to year as it street sequential) and a notice of where the polling station is, opening times etc. That’s usually a primary school, church hall or similar rented for the day and staffed by the local authority. Almost invariably thee are only one or two votes as we don’t have the many lesser posts elected. If there is more than one (e.g. national + local) they will be on different (and differently coloured) paper.

    At the end of the day boxes are sealed and taken to the count – invariably a single venue (usually a sports hall or similar) even if a local authority is doing, say three parliamentary constituencies in its area. Counters are recruited for the day from local authority staff and (in the past, perhaps not now) bank tellers and work on the inside of tables arranged into hollow squares or rectangles, first straightening the papers out then piling them up in bundles for each candidate before starting the count proper.

    Party workers mill about outside the squares of tables to observe but not touch. In practice they mostly talk to each other. Any unclear ballots (e.g. where someone has marked one box, then changed their mind, crossed it out and marked another) are put aside and taken to the Returning Officer, the local authority official in charge of proceedings, who huddles with the candidates’ agents. If they decide a voter’s intention was clear it goes ahead. I once saw sad faces in all boxes which all agreed was invalid! This adjudication only ever involves a very few votes.

    Some authorities count overnight but some, especially more rural ones, count the following day. The last to declare a result are always far flung Scottish island constituencies where getting boxes to the counting centre takes time.

    One BIG advantage is no voting machines. To corrupt the system would require corrupting a very large number of clerical grade staff so it simply doesn’t happen. Of course, we don’t have the long lists of minor posts I this the US has but I think that’s an advantage. It means those elected are responsible for everything.

    Another BIG advantage is before the votes are cast. Campaign spending is limited to a small amount per voter although all parties cheat in tight races. Also, no paid broadcast advertising is allowed. Instead each party gets a small number (based on their vote at the previous election) of ‘Party Political Broadcasts’ (PPBs) – 5-minute slots to make their case. Also, broadcasters are legally bound to deliver balanced reporting during the campaign; there is always squabbling about it but it sort of works. But… Brexit happened largely because LEAVE found a way to drive a coach & horses through legislation by using social media to target susceptible voters.

  28. Hank Linderman

    I have a bit of a different take, which is if you want the Parties to change, you need to show up at the local level, the more of you the better. Get new people involved who are willing to work on local Exec Committees, or at least show up to vote for the local county party leaders you favor.

    Next year is an org year in Kentucky, I will be spending my time recruiting people to simply show up and vote for new leadership. I’m recruiting Young Democrats, Indivisibles, Sunshine Movementers, BLM, Hood 2 Holler, UAW, teachers, students, farmers, musicians, artists, retirees.

    Then the trick will be helping them learn to work together. None of the groups mentioned above will be sufficient on their own to make the changes that are needed. So, they will need to find out how to listen to each other, and ultimately stand up for each other even when they disagree.

    Also, whatever happens I’m running again.

    It is much more difficult to show up and work than it is to complain that everyone is doing it all wrong, but it is massively more effective. I simply don’t see any other solution. Please, get involved and make a difference.

    Best…H
    Democratic nominee for Congress KY2
    Hank4KY.com

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