Bob Franken: No voting, voting no

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, March 24, 2015 2:38pm
  • Opinion

President Barack Obama simply was mulling an idea out loud when he spoke in Cleveland. Maybe, said the president, it’s time to follow the lead of 26 other countries and make casting a ballot on Election Day compulsory: “It would be transformative if everybody voted — that would counteract money more than anything.” Perhaps it would. It certainly would make buying a political office, which is the way you do it in our system nowadays, much more expensive. The fat cats would have to spend a bigger chunk of their treasure to make sure our government continued to protect their interests, usually to the detriment of everyone else’s.

And we definitely have a participation problem in the U.S. of A., where in the 2014 mid-terms, only 37 percent of people actually voted. That’s dismal, but still, making it mandatory is not only unconstitutional, it’s really dopey.

There’s a big reason Americans don’t bother, and that is because they don’t believe it really matters. The system is so controlled by the powerful few that actually getting involved is a waste of time and energy. The luminaries from both parties get pathetic ratings in every preference poll, and it’s gotten to the point that any person of quality avoids politics altogether because the only way to win is to sell your soul. So, in effect, not voting is a vote against the system.

If somehow mandatory voting was ever taken seriously as an idea, there would be only one way to make it fair, and that would be to allow a choice of “None of the Above.” There has been occasional discussion about the “Vote No” option, and in fact, Nevada is a NOTA state now. You want mandatory voting throughout the country, include “None of the Above” on every ballot.

With Ted Cruz announcing that he will be running for president, and Hillary Clinton a presumed lock for the Democratic nomination, it sets up the possibility that millions will range from disgusted to less-than-enthusiastic about their choices. Clinton-Cruz, Clinton-Bush (the same old, same old lineup), Clinton-Walker, Clinton-Paul, whatever — given those kinds of options, there are a bunch of people who might want to seriously consider living as an ex-pat.

For four straight months, when Gallup has polled to determine what respondents consider to be our nation’s No. 1 problem, at the top of the list is “government” — chosen by 18 percent. The economy, by the way, is second at 11 percent. The Declaration of Independence cites our aspirations to be a country that operates with “the consent of the governed.” But here we are stuck in an apathy of the governed, at best. Part of the reason is the perceived Hobson’s choice presented on the ballot. Probably that should be supplemented with a “Vote No” option.

But then comes the question of what would happen in those frequent cases where “None” won. Would you have to hold another election? What if “None” kept winning, leaving a seat unfilled. Of course, there are those who believe that we’d be better off with all the seats unfilled, but the real point here is that there are solid reasons why Americans don’t vote. Most elections come down to a dreary choice of select the one you dislike least.

On those occasions when the country does have an exciting option, the number of voters soars. When Barack Obama first presented himself as a historic candidate, the percentage was a comparatively robust 63 percent of those eligible. In 2012, the enthusiasm had waned, and the turnout was 57 percent. Mandatory participation won’t change the fact that we are a disgusted nation. What’s mandatory is that we don’t ignore that.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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