So far during this campaign season, our country's collective ID has reigned. Our baser instincts have imprisoned us in an undignified national dialogue -- covering topics from "legitimate rape" to threats of civil war to murderous private equity firms -- that has been both nasty and brutish, but regrettably far from short. Yet on one particular battlefield of the current political war, we have seen signs that the calculating ego is still a force to be reckoned with:
That would be voter ID.
Republicans, recognizing that their opponents' political base is populated by demographic segments -- minorities, the poor, and the elderly -- that disproportionately don't possess photo IDs, have abruptly developed a peculiar paranoia about voter impersonation fraud. No matter that there have only been 10 documented cases of voter impersonation in the entire country in the past decade; this is an enormous threat to the integrity of our democracy.
So in order to fight this phantom menace, the GOP has made voter ID its top legislative priority in states in which it controls the legislature and the governor's mansion. Rick Perry even declared Texas' voter ID bill an "emergency item" in 2011. This leads us to the surprising conclusion that though the governor cannot count the number of departments in the federal government, he apparently can count ballots. On the other hand, the math is fairly simple. As Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mark Turzai, who successfully passed one of these bills, bluntly put it: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done."
Still, I'll grant the Republicans that no one wants voter fraud, so I'd like to propose an alternative solution to this non-existent problem. Instead of requiring voters to produce IDs, we should fight their ids. No, not the violent ids that have dominated our political discourse, but rather the lazy ids that allow citizens to feel like they don't have to participate in our democracy. In short, we should make voting mandatory.
Really, it's a simple proposition: if you don't vote, you will be fined or you will have to do community service. And if everyone has to vote, no one will be able to vote in someone else's place. Of course, requiring voters to exercise their franchise would necessitate a few additional reforms to our electoral system. However, instead of continuing in our nation's peculiar history of making it more difficult to vote, we would actually have to enact changes that would make it easier to do so, changes we should probably have put in place a long time ago anyways.
For example, Election Day should be declared a national holiday, meaning that citizens would no longer have to make the absurd choice between getting paid and going to the polls. Furthermore, polling locations should be made more numerous and more accessible, and transportation should be made readily available for those without the means to travel to cast their ballots. And, last but not least, in addition to penalizing non-voters, we should incentivize voters, preferably with deliciousness. Can't you just imagine the American people enjoying red, white, and blue cupcakes for doing their civic duty? Those "I Voted!" stickers are nice, but they aren't as yummy.
Now some will whine that forcing us to vote would be a gross infringement upon our freedom of speech. Not so. There would be nothing to stop someone from casting a blank ballot or writing in Mickey Mouse. And there is a well known precedent for government compelling citizens to present themselves, that other great institution of just and democratic societies that everyone loves to hate: jury duty.
Still others will argue that much of the electorate is uninformed, and that their participation would do more harm than good. To those individuals, I would pose these questions: do we have any evidence to suggest that voters are any more "informed" than non-voters? How exactly should we test the "informed" status of voters? Or should you just shut your yaps and accept that not everyone who disagrees with you is uninformed?
Right now, we live in a nation of politicians who fear voter turnout. That's because it threatens the tyranny of their minority -- the more voices they silence, the louder they can hear themselves scream. So in order to combat the obnoxious ego that is driving these politicians' demands for IDs, we should fight the idle id that keeps so many potential voters from going to the polls. And the simplest, most elegant way to accomplish both is to make voting mandatory.
Or, at the very least, could we give everyone who votes a cupcake?