Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Big turnout in Tunisia

We could learn a few things about appreciating democracy from countries that are relatively new to it. In Tunisia this week, something like 80 or 90 % of registered voters went to the polls, and peacefully went about selecting a new assembly. Meanwhile, legislators in the United States, which has shamefully low rates of participation, are busy dreaming up ways of making it more difficult for people to vote, on the pretext that they are worried about voter fraud, a practically non-existent problem in this country. If we were seriously interested in preventing voter fraud, we might try the simple, cheap and effective method they use in Tunisia:

Many of the reports about the election are focused on the outcome, indicating that an Islamist party, Ennahda, won the largest number of seats. But the outcome is only one indication of whether Tunisia is headed toward becoming a free society or not. At this stage, perhaps the level of participation is more important. And perhaps more important than that will be the Constitution that Tunisians write for themselves, and how it will limit the government's powers and protect the people's rights.

Sometimes we act as though people in a country like Tunisia have only two choices. They can elect a secularist government that represses religion, or they can elect a religious government that enforces religious laws. They can have a dictatorship that used to prohibit women from wearing headscarves in public, or they can have an Islamist government might force all women to wear headscarves in public. And headscarves are only an example of course.

But there is a third choice. I am not a believer that the US Constitution is perfect, but one thing we got profoundly right was the government's attitude toward religion. The First Amendment requires the government to tolerate all forms of religious practice, but forbids it from forcing any religion on us. I don't think any other countries have come up with a better solution to the problem of government and religion, than that. What we should be watching for in Tunisia, and in other countries affected by the Arab spring, is whether these countries will implement similar Constitutional protections on individual rights. And then we won't have to worry quite so much about which party wins any particular election.


  1. << If we were seriously interested in preventing voter fraud, we might try the simple, cheap and effective method they use in Tunisia:

    Dipping your finger in ink means you voted. It says nothing about whether you should have voted or are legal to vote, or voted for your brother or sister or in our country voted under a stolen SS#. This is a flawed analogy. Do you know anybody whose identity has not been compromised? Crap, I have cut up cards a half dozen times.

    I have never missed an opportinuty to vote. I imagine you have a similar record. Can you imagine, if you and I were not allowed to vote for over 42 years! A 90% voter turnout would be low.

    You are an attorney. You know that our voting system is flawed. Why would you oppose closing those flaws? I understand and agree that our nation's legal system would rather allow guilty people to go free in court to avoid sentencing innocents. But our legal system demands we know who we are dealing with, down to DNA. Are you saying you are opposed to showing ID at a polling place?

  2. The reason I oppose efforts to make it more difficult to vote is that they are an attempt to fix a problem that barely exists. The problem we have in this country is not that there are a lot of illegal aliens trying to vote. Think about it. Why would someone who doesn't belong here risk exposure by voting illegally? And why would anyone need to entice illegals to vote, when there are so many legally registered voters out there who just need prodding to get to the polls? The real problem we have in this country is low voter turnout. Shamefully low voter turnout. So by tightening up ID requirements to cure a non-existent problem, we are making our real problem worse.

    The other reason I oppose these efforts is that they are politically motivated. Republicans know that if you make it more difficult to vote, that is usually going to be to the advantage of Republicans and the disadvantage of Democrats. The motives of these people are so transparent. Because the poor and the elderly and others who might not have drivers' licenses are more heavily Democratic voters. That's just a fact. Note that it is only state legislatures with a Republican majority that are rushing to pass all these laws to make it harder to vote. That is not a coincidence.

    If the proponents of these laws would combine efforts to reduce fraud with efforts to increase turnout, then I might be willing to concede they are trying to do something legitimate. But the proponents of these rules also opposed things like motor voter, which has made it much easier for people to register, by allowing them to register to vote at the DMV. These campaigns are anti-democratic, fraudulent and discriminatory.

  3. And to answer your question, I do oppose requiring voters to show ID. It is completely unnecessary. When you show up to vote, you have to give your address, and you have to sign your name. There are people there who can challenge you if you don't live in the neighborhood. This has always been sufficient throughout our history.

    We don't need to turn away voters who forgot their ID, or have no ID. Because that is what happens when you impose those rules. People who are legally entitled to vote are prevented or discouraged from voting.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to provide detailed opinions and examples. For your arguments to be convincing I would have to believe (1) that voter fraud is not an issue worth being concerned about (2) that showing a simple picture ID would make it so difficult to vote that a significant number of people wouldn't vote.

    I believe some people vote more than once or as other people and I believe that some voters have stolen SS#s and should not vote at all. I think this number is greater than the number of voters who simply wouldn't vote because they had to show picture ID.

    Where we do agree is that voter efforts to end voter fraud should be combined with efforts to increase voter turnout. As with most issues of the day this one is often discussed from the view of the far left or far right and neither is completely correct.

    There are solutions both sides should be able to live with: we should agree that the wink and a nudge attitude about Chicago style voting is wrong and could be addressed by having a voter ID program. We should also put in place programs like motor voter and others to significantly increase legal voter turn out, particularly the old and poor who might need assistance securing ID and getting to the polls.

    The same people on the far left who are fearful of a voter ID program because a few voters might not bother with it are often supportive of some form of amnesty that might add millions of voters more likely to vote with them. The paranoia of the left and right is blinding us as a country of opportunities to sort good and bad.

  5. I am not making an argument. I am just providing facts. There have been many attempts to prove that there is a significant amount of voter fraud, but the fact is that the amount of voter fraud is insignificant. In a country where half the people don't even bother to vote, what makes you think that there are a lot of people who are voting twice? In a country that is cracking down on illegal immigration, what makes you think that somebody who is here is illegally would want to risk their entire lives by voting? It's not happening.

    You can't just believe whatever you want, because it fits into your narrative that both left and right must be wrong and the center has all the sensible answers. Facts are facts, and the fact is that we do not have a significant problem with voter fraud. We just don't.

  6. Thanks. I will re-read your posts again in search of the facts I missed.

    To be clear, I am saying we should work like hell to increase legal voter turn out on BOTH sides and prevent illegal voting on both sides.
    I agree with you, I don't think non citizens are voting.

    As you say, our real issue is that half the country doesn't bother to vote. Illegal voting is a relatively small number and the number of disenfranchised voters is higher than illegal voting but still relatively low. Still I don't approve of either.

    Do you think it is possible that by asking for a voter ID card, voter turn out might actually increase? Voting esteem might be increased? If no, do you have suggestions? At this point some voters may feel the system is rigged and low turnout is a symptom of discouragement and apathy.

    Yet local elections are decided by hundreds of votes in big cities and state and national elections by thousands. Every vote counts. Perhaps an ID card would heighten awareness. There has got to be an answer.