Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What Election Day Should Look Like

If it were up to me, elections would be more like this:

There would be no early voting, except for those who absolutely need it. Candidates would have a full election season to convince voters to vote for them.

Election day would be a national holiday. It would fall on a Monday or Friday instead of the middle of the week. Most of us would have the day off. Those who would have to work, such as fireman and service industry workers, would be provided time in the middle of the day to go vote.

The day would be marked not only by voting, but with celebration. The festivities would begin around 11am with a parade. The parade would end at the town or city square, where the voting booths would also be located. The opening of the polls would be marked in some significant way, such as fireworks or a starter's pistol. An important member of the community would be provided the honor of first in line to vote.

The usual vendors and community groups would have their tables and tents set up. Political parties, groups, and candidates could also have booths (with space distributed equitably) and one last opportunity to convince voters. These groups would also be allowed to give away free food (or booze in honor of an earlier tradition started by George Washington), with a $5 per plate limit. There would be live music, games, and fireworks in the evening.

So what's the point of all this sentimental, civil-religious gobbledygook? To answer this question, I must first point to the work of political scientist Robert Putnam. Putnam has spent most of his career trying understand “social capital.” He wrote a New York Times bestseller on the topic in 2000 called Bowling Alone. Before that, he co-authored one of the most influential books among political scientists—Making Democracy Work. This text examined twenty different regional governments in Italy and found that the democratic institutions that were the most effective and responsive were in communities with strong social ties. The political institutions of communities that engaged in non-political activities together were more effective at responding to the needs of those communities than the political institutions in communities with fewer social ties, or less social capital. In Bowling Alone, Putnam is concerned about diminishing social capital in the US.

If election days were celebrations, consider what that might mean to our young future voters. In some homes, future voters are unaware that an election is taking place. In others, the day is marked by pessimism, cynicism, and negativity, with copious complaints about the process, or choosing between “the lesser of two evils.” Fewer homes, I suspect, mark the day by celebrating the act that most significantly distinguishes democracies from other forms of government.

If future voters were to grow up celebrating election day, on the other hand, they would look forward to the day and view it favorably. In anticipation of the day, they would be more likely to pay attention to the candidates. And, by building social and community ties, our government would be more responsive to voter concerns.

1 comment:

MrsM said...

I never thought about celebrating voting, but that's a great idea! People need to be more connected to voting!

This year we did what we normally do, but we did decide that our oldest was old enough (at six) to introduce to voting, so we sat him down and showed him the ballot, how to fill it out, and how we research our votes (what we consider the most important part of voting). By the time he got to drop the vote in the ballot box he was very excited about "helping (our town) and (our state) and America be the best they can be!" Still, he would have been way more excited if there was a party.

Maybe I could even convince other homeschooling parents and have an election party for the all the kids in 2012! Great idea.