By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog
As a general rule, Save Jerseyans, you should always apply extra scrutiny to any legislation (1) named after a person (e.g. “Tara’s Law” to ban rubber nipples) or (2) that’s name is chock full of patriotic flummery (e.g. “The Good American Act” which requires registration of all nipples, rubber or otherwise, with the NSA for tracking purposes). It’s almost always a ploy to dupe voters into supporting something they’d never, ever back if the bill’s name correlated to what it actually accomplished.
New Jersey’s “Democracy Act” is definitely NOT the exception to the rule.
The legislation (S-50/A-4613) which Gov. Christie is likely to veto despite a Dem Jersey City pep rally on Wednesday attempts a number of dramatic changes to the voter system in New Jersey including expanded early voting and automatic MVC voting registration. Same-day voter registration almost made the cut, too, but it was dumped at the last minute. Even state Senator Ron Rice, a Newark Democrat unafraid to buck the machine boys, openly complained that same-day registration was fertile territory for voter fraud. A Brick City legislator would know, right?
But let’s set aside the voter fraud issue for now.
We’ll assume that New Jersey’s Trenton Democrats and the machines in which they serve as cogs genuinely want to increase voter turnout, legitimate voter turnout, for a good faith purpose (that was hard to type).
Is more voting, simply for the sake of driving up turnout, an actual problem? And is more turnout always necessarily a good thing?
Plenty of intelligent people say “no.” For example, Democrats frequently talk about the need to expand voting access in minority communities as a justification for the proposed changes, but in 2012, black voting outpaced white voting for the first time ever. How did that happen if the process is somehow institutionally racist or unfair?
In any event, in some circumstances, abstention could be a perfectly valid way to protest the available choices in a two-party system since not everyone subscribes to the “lesser of two evils” paradigm. It’s also a mistake to assume that the voters who aren’t showing up necessarily represent a different or constructive point of view and therefore, by suddenly participating, they’d produce a different, better electoral result. What’s more, active voters are likely those who follow politics more closely relative to the general population or, one could argue, those who have invested more time or energy into the process itself for a host of reasons including socioeconomic status (if you pay more taxes, you’re more likely to care what happens).
Think of the minimal effort required to get up and go vote – and it really is minimal, you jokers – as a sort of self-selection process.
Besides: do we really want the lazy, uninformed and disengaged showing up at the polls and impacting public policy? I’d sure hope not. Check out the results of this April 2015 Stockton civics survey in case you missed it; a disturbingly huge percentage of New Jerseyans don’t know very basic things about how their government functions. It’s pathetic and sad… and I’m glad many of them don’t vote in their current condition.
New Jersey contains 40 legislative districts with 80 Assembly seats on the ballot this November. How many seats are truly up for grabs? Maybe six. And that’s thanks to a 2011 Democrat-drawn legislative redistricting map deliberately designed to stymie challengers and protect incumbents.
Let’s assume I’m a Republican living in a deep blue machine county and a gerrymandered legislative district. Absent a competitive local race, what’s my incentive to waste a lunch hour at a polling station when the pretense of democracy is exactly that, a pretense, and nothing more? You can’t change Trenton without changing the assholes who occupy its halls of power!
But I digress. You get the point. American culture is increasingly coarse, self-absorbed and, largely by choice, shockingly ignorant when it comes to the larger world (foreign affairs, economics, etc.). Our priorities are whacked out. I’m sure we could go the full mile and let citizens select leaders by text message via the couch just as if they were voting for the winner of Dancing with the Stars but it’d likely be a complete and utter disaster substantively. We’re not even sure, as this Pew study demonstrates, that early voting truly increases turnout. Pew discovered how sometimes depresses it for a host of fascinating reasons.
Yet here’s the rub: to the extent depressed turnout is actually a problem (a premise we’re not prepared to accept for all of the reasons discussed above and others I don’t have time to type) and an avoidable one at that, the ball is undeniably in the court of the majority party. If Steve Sweeney and his Democrat team mates genuinely want to generate more meaningful, positive participation in New Jersey elections, Save Jerseyans, then there are a number of areas where they could make a meaningful difference by increasing the quality of voting and not just the quantity of voters. Reforming the civics-deprived education system would be a great place to start. Swearing off their machine overlords and initiating immediate redistricting reform would represent another big step in the right direction. Informed voters with a stake in the game who believe they’ve got a real chance to change things with their vote just might show up in greater numbers.
Rub #2? Informed voting isn’t what they want or they would’ve tried to facilitate it for all of the reasons discussed above, folks, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the right kind of change especially during your next MVC visit, stranded in an endless angry line along with our fellow involuntary and questionably-engaged Democracy Act voters.