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OP-ED | Voting Rights: ‘Disenfranchise’ This!

by | Jan 27, 2012 12:27am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

As a professional scribbler, one of my end-of-year chores includes assembling a list of overused words and phrases — you know, those seductive or misleading utterances that cause paroxysms of eye-rolling in those of us peck at the keyboard.

Several years ago, that list included the word “disenfranchised.” Now after reading about a recent proposal from Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to enact legislation and amend the state constitution to facilitate “ballot access,” I’m tempted to add disenfranchised to my list for a second time.

“There has been a comprehensive and coordinated assault on the right to vote,” thundered Bilal Sekou, the chairman of Common Cause in Connecticut, during a Capitol press conference with Merrill last week.

Both Sekou and Merrill were responding to recent initiatives in 14 states that require a photo ID to be shown before voting or that make it more difficult to obtain absentee ballots.

Among Merrill’s proposals, which have the full backing of Gov. Malloy, are election-day registration and access to absentee ballots with fewer restrictions. The latter would actually require a constitutional amendment — an enormous amount of work for an already busy legislature grappling with a continuing budget crisis and an educational reform effort that could take up most of the coming legislative session.

“We must, of course, preserve the integrity and security of our elections, but never at the expense of disenfranchising a voter,” Merrill said.

There’s that word again. Dictionary.com defines “disenfranchise” primarily as “to deprive a person of the right to vote or other rights of citizenship.” Secondary and tertiary definitions also contain the word “deprive.”

Now, I understand that there have been efforts in other states to impose restrictions on voter registration drives or to intimidate voters away from the polls. Those actions are clearly wrong and it looks like Merrill’s proposal would address them. But do we have any evidence that voters in Connecticut are being routinely “deprived” of the right to a ballot because of current state election laws?

Does requiring unregistered voters to register no later than seven days before an election “deprive” anyone of the right to vote? Currently, the use of absentee ballots is constitutionally limited to those will be out of town, have an illness or physical disability or have religious objections to voting on the actual day of the election. Do those restrictions “deprive” anyone of the ability to cast a ballot? As an example of the need for a constitutional amendment, Merrill cited voters who found themselves displaced and unable to return to their hometowns for the Nov. 8 municipal elections as a result of last year’s freak late-October snowstorm — a once in a lifetime experience.

Predictably, the impetus behind the proposed changes in the law is low rates of registration (only one in three eligible voters is registered) and what Merrill called “anemic” voter turnout. In last year’s municipal elections, for example, only 30% of eligible voters cast ballots and, in the 2010 state elections that featured a hotly contested governor’s race, 57% bothered to vote.

Would registering hundreds of thousands of additional state residents increase turnout? You’d have to ask yourself whether any adult disengaged enough to remain off the voting rolls would, by the simple act of registration, feel compelled to actually show up at the polling place on the correct day or request and fill out an absentee ballot in advance of the election.

As my distinguished colleague Ray Hackett of the Norwich Bulletin observed last week in a column directed at Merrill, “You see, voter registration isn’t the problem; getting the 2 million who are already registered to participate is.”

Call me a voice in the wilderness, but I’m not one of those observers who thinks increasing voter participation is, by its very definition, a welcome step. It seems that all too often, arguments over increasing voter participation fall along party lines: While few of them will admit it, Democrats think the masses of the unregistered and unmotivated, if prodded to register and vote, would naturally gravitate toward the party of Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans tend to agree, which is precisely why they are often skeptical of such efforts.

As an unaffiliated voter, I carry no brief for either party. But I do think voting should involve some effort and motivation. If you’re currently disinclined to show up at your town hall on election day or request an absentee ballot ahead of time, are you in a position to make an informed choice of candidates? Why do you think school budget referendums in May have such low turnout? Because only the handful of people who paid attention to fiscal matters are motivated enough to make an appearance.

I would submit to Merrill that the real problem is civic disengagement. Most people are either too lazy or too cynical to pay attention. Only about half of Americans can name the vice president of the United States, while 37% know who their governor is. Fewer still can name their congressman or U.S. senator. Asked to name their state representative, only about 20% can muster the wherewithal. Oh, but 93% can identify Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And we want these people to vote? No thanks. Let them stay at home and watch Jersey Shore.

Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company.

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(13) Archived Comments

posted by: Maderine Rue | January 28, 2012  4:18pm

“...low rates of registration (only one in three eligible voters is registered)...”

Wow! That would put CT at the very Bottom of the Barrelful of the 50 states! / Actually, of course, more than three out of four (76.9%) of our 2,757,082 residents age 18 & over (2010 Census) are among the 2,121,442 on the October 2010 voter rolls (SOTS). If we subtract from the 18-&-overs those Ineligible due to noncitizenship and current felony conviction, the true percentage of Eligibles registered becomes higher.

BUT: 1 out of 5 eligibles Unregistered is still way too high. Reasonable measures to reduce that gap should be taken.

(Census: http://2010.census.gov/2010census/popmap/ipmtext.php?fl=09

SOTS: http://www.sots.ct.gov/sots/lib/sots/electionservices/registration_and_enrollment_stats/2011_registration_and_enrollment_statistics.pdf )

posted by: Maderine Rue | January 30, 2012  2:41pm

Terry, you’re right - because I didn’t Try to, since it was more snarky Fun to just wallop you on your big arithmetical error. (Which I’m sure was actually more of an inadvertent choice of words: you probably meant to say something like ‘only about 1 in 3 of those registered vote in the municipal elections,’ which would be true.)

So now, to answer your central question(s) - registering more voters, chiefly from among the ranks of the less-motivated and less-informed, will increase participation in the sense of raising the absolute Number (“raw” number, as they say) of people voting; and also raising the Percentage of the total “eligible” (i.e. age 18-and-over) population that votes. However It will tend to REDUCE the “turnout” as a percentage of the REGISTERED population, due to the infusion of lower-information & lower-motivation folks into the electoral rolls.

Which reveals the answer to your question,  Will more registration produce “a more informed electorate?” : of course not.  But as a small-d democratic nation we (rightly) quit trying to prevent, or deter, or discourage, voting by the Ill-informed proletariat a long time ago, Terry. E.g., we banned Literacy tests; and we haven’t tried to substitute Knowledge exams.

I’d venture to guess that in the earliest days of the republic,  the voter-eligible citizenry—free white male property owners over 21—probably WAS the best-informed segment of the population. / So what?

posted by: ... | January 30, 2012  4:04pm


I wonder about the feasibility of making days of election (primary and general) federal holidays. We’d probably have to take a huge enough step just for the general to be a holiday. But perhaps if there was a higher participation rate in primaries, there would be a result in a higher participation in the general (with both being days off for citizens to vote).

Or even moving election days from these ridiculous Tuesday (someone please tell me why we have elections on Tuesdays?) to Saturdays, when (in the very least) fewer people are working. Sadly, there are a lot of people who are not getting to vote before 9am, or after 5pm unless they are extremely enthusiastic about the candidates available to them.

posted by: SocialButterfly | January 30, 2012  9:45pm

Only one of three eligible voters are registered, as two-thirds of the people are possibly turned off by the poor voting choices that were elected. Why vote, when the majority voting—pick mostly losers in office, whether they are Democrats or Republicans.

We need to encourage better people, including more women, to run for office—then more citizens will vote.

posted by: Maderine Rue | January 30, 2012  10:55pm

Terry: actually, per the stats to which I linked, in CT it’s closer to ‘1 in 4 eligibles are Unregistered’ - or even to 1 in 5, discounting for Ineligible noncitizens & current felons - rather than 1 in 3; but I Quibble. / As maybe you’ve Noticed. :)

And no, in CT anyway, today’s election laws - having been substantially Reformed over the past several decades -  now pose no big obstacles to registration and voting. (Some low Hurdles remain, perhaps; no high Barriers.)  Recall that I wrote “...as a small-d democratic nation we (rightly) **quit trying** to prevent, or deter, or discourage, voting by the Ill-informed proletariat a long time ago.”

Now if Sec’y Merrill’s proposals can lower our remaining hurdles a bit more (but not to the point of producing administrative chaos & gridlock) - thus coaxing Some of the chronic Nonparticipants to the polls - then that’s all to the good, IMO. (I say “some” because you’ll never get ‘em All.)

But sadly, numerous other states are trying to Regress nowadays. Hopefully this too shall pass.

And again No, my point is Not that “...those who can’t read or understand the law”  [note: or the News] “are at an unfair disadvantage.” Those who possess the Capacity to read & understand, but choose not to Use it, are at a Fair disadvantage, since in such case it is self-imposed. / But I’d still like to see them encouraged to vote - and yes, to Learn.  / And I will not Celebrate the self-satisfying presumption that some folks, whom I am pleased to deem More Ignorant than Me, don’t vote, while I, in my Wisdom, do.  :)

posted by: Maderine Rue | January 31, 2012  12:18am

Reasonable, be reasonable ;) and read the Comment colloquy between author Terry & me. It’s not 1 out of 3 eligibles registered. It’s over 3 out of 4, maybe even 4 out of 5 and up, depending on one’s selected Numbers.

That said, I endorse your proposal that “We need to encourage better people…”. Yes, I’m all for better people.  :)

posted by: sharewhut | February 2, 2012  6:54pm

I see the numbers as a red herring in the whole deal- (as evidenced above) drawing attention from the real issue being argued by the ‘disenfranchisement’ crowd: PHOTO ID’s! How in the heck is it depriving someone of their right to vote by making them show they’re who they claim to be? If it was the 60’s or 70’s I could understand this- how many of us had cardboard Driver’s Licenses or other ID forms?
Now everything, Driver’s Licenses, Student ID’s from college down to elementary school, employee ID’s, public assistance programs,.... on ad nauseum… is by photo. It is not difficult (in fact almost impossible to NOT get) some form of photo ID. Realistically (IMHO) the only people pressing to not require positive ID are those who at some level (conscious or not) see voter in some way fraud to their benefit.

posted by: Maderine Rue | February 3, 2012  2:48am

“I see the numbers as a red herring in the whole deal- (as evidenced above…)”

Whereas I, sharewhut, see said numerals as neither scarlet Fish nor azure Fowl, but rather as neutrally Colorless [not to say, Whitebread] arbiters of the Argument.

“...those who at some level (conscious or not) see voter in some way fraud to their benefit.”

uhh…share Whut??

posted by: sharewhut | February 3, 2012  12:41pm

I mis-edited a bit before posting, should have been “... see voter fraud as…”
Claiming to ‘disenfranchise’ voters by requiring proof of identity is ridiculous- plenty of forms of photo ID are available. Requiring registering before day of election, what’s the excuse not to preregister? It’s too inconvenient to get out ahead of time to register? Be real, if you can make it to the store for milk or smokes, or get to a Dr. visit you can get to Town Hall at least once in the 51 weeks between an election and the week before the next. And if you don’t move around much it’s not like you have to be inconvenienced more than a few times in your lifetime.
Maybe I’m over simplifying it but there is nothing that takes away a person’s right to vote or discourages participation by-
-Timely registration
-vote ( or get absentee) where you’re registered, and
-Prove who you are when voting.
The biggest (potential/alleged/perceived) discouragement would be to community organizers/get out the vote activists who are said to load up a van at a shelter, helping those folks exercise their right to vote several times in various locations.
By throwing out percentages of unregistered potential voters to support same day registration, claiming that to not allow would deprive them is backwards- they’re not being denied, rather they have elected to not participate in a timely manner. Liken it to betting windows closing or lottery terminals shutting down before race/drawing. You can’t walk up after race has begun and say “I wanted to bet on leader, let me put my money down now please”.
I should/could have boiled it down to this:
There are reasonable rules a,b,&c in the process- register on time, prove who you are, and vote.
Fail on any of those and you have surrendered your privilege this time around, and need to make a better effort over the next 51 weeks so you don’t miss out next time.

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 3, 2012  2:49pm

Maderine Rue: Terry Cowgill’s point of “one out of three” estimated potential voters not voting,” was disturbing—but your estimate of one out of four or five, potentials not voting—“IS ALARMING!”.

When people do not exercize their constitutional right to vote—we end up electing “socialists”—claiming to be Democrats or Republicans.

The last presidential election, is a good example. I think a very intelligent Terry Cowgill—will agree with that assessment.

posted by: Maderine Rue | February 4, 2012  1:41am

Reasonable, as a Thinker you may be quite Reasonable but as a Reader, you seem somewhat less than Meticulous. The cognitive dissonance generated by this   odd confluence of traits is Both “disturbing” And “ALARMING.”

As even a Halfway-careful review of the Previous commenposts will reveal, Terry’s original (mis)statement re “ ‘one out of three’ estimated potential voters not voting” was incorrect, as he acknowledged & credibly explained. The valid statistic is that roughly 1 of 3—or, per my less-pessimistic math, 1 of 4 or 5—eligible Registrants are, in fact Registered to vote—which is sharply distinguishable from an estimate of “one out of four or five, potentials *not voting*”.

“When people do not exercize their constitutional right to vote—we end up electing “socialists”—claiming to be Democrats or Republicans.”

Quite the contrary, Reasonable. Rule of Thumb (go ahead, ask any professional political Operative): in general Elections (as distinct from party Primaries). when voter turnout is low, conservatives win. When it’s high, liberals do. / It’s called, Vox Populi.

posted by: SocialButterfly | February 4, 2012  3:53pm

Maderine Rue:  I may be be “less than meticulous,” as you described me, as I only attempt to be reasonable, which means that you apparently are extremely careful about minute details, or a perfectionist. And you even chided Terry Cowgill on an alleged, arithmetical error, also.
You must feel good about yourself—by pointing our other peoples flaws, by being meticulous.
However, the topic was “Voting Rights,” and everyone can’t express themselves to match your “flawless, editorially-expressive-demeanor.”

That’s why this is the Ct. News Junkie.

posted by: Maderine Rue | February 4, 2012  4:03pm

Oops. / My apologies to Reasonable.  Now I’M the one who totally screwed up the statistics, in my last-previous comment. And here I was berating YOU for allegedly not being “careful.” My Very Bad. Sorry.

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