Election Reform: You Want Our Votes? Make It Worth Our While

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Once reserved for a necessary but ultimately boring civic duty, Election Day could become one of the nation’s most exhilarating holidays. If so, trace it back to today, when former Presidents Carter and Ford delivered a long-awaited report on Election 2000 and how to make future elections run more smoothly. Their recommendations range from the mundane (re-evaluate the efficacy of punch-card ballots) to the nebulous (enforce civil rights statutes) to the vaguely diverting (make Election Day a federal holiday).

A day off, of course, is just the beginning. If true change is ever going to make its way through the towns and boroughs of this great nation, and our democracy is to be truly representative, we all need to get out there and vote. And in order for that to happen, our leaders have to come to terms with this simple fact: Americans are busy people. We don’t do anything unless we’re promised great things for our efforts or, conversely, unless our inaction is linked to dire consequences.

Which tactic works best? It’s really a matter of personal choice. But given that President Bush is a proponent of positive reinforcement (the constituent votes, you give him a cookie) — far more so, anyway, than Al Gore might have been (the constituent can’t figure out the darn ballot, you spend the next four years taking pot-shots at his intelligence) — I suspect the current administration will favor of a reward-based voting system.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for the White House team charged with making voting a more attractive opportunity for all of us:

Private investment accounts for every voter: Now personal finance is easy: Every time you vote, a (tax-free!) dollar is invested in the stock of one of President Bush’s favorite companies. The money can be withdrawn at any time during a Republican administration.

Motor-voter redux: Voting is fun again! Bring your stamped voter I.D. card to any participating fast food restaurant and get a free child-size soda in a collectible "I voted and I can drive" cup.

Bringing the candidates home: When you vote, you could win a weeklong stay from your favorite politician. It’s so simple: A ballot automatically enters you into the "Put out the welcome mat" sweepstakes. The grand prize? A seven-day, seven-night visit from the local, state or national pol of your choice. A big fan of Dennis Hastert? Just think: You could be cooking him breakfast for a whole week! Can’t get enough of Olympia Snowe? You may feel differently after drawing her bath every night!

It’s simple, really. The current administration needs to sit down, take a good hard look at the Carter-Ford recommendations, and then, in public policy terms, "implement" (i.e. ignore) those suggestions while slowly introducing their own, fail-safe incentives. That way, everyone’s happy: The voters, who’ve gained a dollar/a soda/a houseguest; the politicians, who enjoy a newfound rush of popularity; and, of course, the ever-present spirit of our founding fathers, who will look down on us and smile at what we’ve managed to accomplish.